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Spring into gardening action

By Caitlin Rickard crickard@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated Mar 22, 2014 at 12:25 AM

With the spring season officially underway, it’s just about time to start thinking about dusting off those gardening gloves and tools and getting down and dirty.

As the weather slowly begins to turn from frigid to bearable to finally short-sleeve weather, it also brings out the best in our greens, be it vegetables, plants and anything in between.

“The first thing I tell people is this time of the year is the most underutilized when it comes to gardening and planting,” said Justin Stefanski, Wilson County horticultural extension agent. “There are so many great things we can start to grow right now and people don’t know.”

Two methods to go about it, Stefanski said, is by direct seeding, or seeding directly into your garden, or buying as transplants from places like Home Depot.

According to Stefanski, there are countless different types of vegetables that are good to grow and should start cropping up along with the new weather and spring season.

He said some vegetables to note include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi, a type of turnip cabbage that’s leaves and roots are both edible.

“Lettuce is another one that is super easy to grow from seeds, along with spinach and carrots,” Stefanski said. “People might also try putting out onions or baby onion sets, too.”

Along with these options, he also added more options like white potatoes, radishes, turnips, mustard greens, collard greens and artichokes. 

“Starting about late February all the way to the middle of April people can start to sow their garden,” Stefanski said. “And a lot of this stuff people don’t usually grow, but they are options and are good this time of the year.”

Flower-wise, Stefanski said those options are a little more limited.

“We still are transitioning with the seasons and the weather, so we still have cold nights and things like that that aren’t great for planting flowers just yet,” Stefanski said. 

He added that the only flowers that really grow in the cold and wintertime are pansies and violas, which are usually planted in the fall. 

“This time of the year there are very few things, we’re pretty much in the dead zone between spring and summer,” Stefanski said. 

However, Stefanski said wildflowers would start popping up around this time.

As far as herbs and summer vegetables, Stefanski said he thought it best to hold off until the first of May.

“People always want to plant early, but it never fails we always get a late cold night and things like that that can affect the summer vegetables and herbs,” Stefanski said. 

When planting summer vegetables, which he said included things like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, watermelon, okra, beans, pumpkin and sweet potatoes, among others, it’s best to wait until a little later and be safe rather than sorry.

“Any summer herbs, summer vegetables and flowers that are annual like marigolds and stuff like that people like to plant, I always say wait until at least May 1,” Stefanski said. “Before that and you’re taking a chance that it might get cold.”

He noted that winter vegetables, on the other hand, were pretty cold-hearty and could survive temperatures in the 20s.

Now that you know what to plant and when, you might be wondering what grows best in Wilson County.

“We’ve got every bug known to man here, so gardening in Tennessee is not necessarily easy,” Stefanski said. “The climate we have here is, believe it or not, really similar to southeast Asia’s.”

By having a similar climate to somewhere like Thailand, for example, Stefanski said that opens the doors for invasive bugs to find their way here.

“There’s a lot that can grow well here, but we have to deal with diseases and insects that someone in Ohio, for example, wouldn’t have to,” Stefanski said. “I think the southeast is hit the hardest with stuff like that, and also the humidity and unpredictable weather is a factor.”

A good way to combat pesky insects and prevent diseases in your garden is by “scouting.”

“Just always look at your vegetables and leaves for signs of bugs and diseases and try to eliminate that at the first sign something is wrong,” Stefanski said. “Try to get those out as soon as you see them because they will spread.”

Stefanski said when considering what vegetables and flowers you might want to add to your garden, most everything has the green-thumb stamp of approval in Wilson County.

“Really anything and all that I’ve mentioned grows well here,” Stefanski said.

However, he suggested planting plants native to Tennessee.

“If you plant an evergreen that grows in Colorado, it won’t do as well here because of the soil and temperature,” Stefanski said. 

He said good things to keep in mind are oak, maple and the Tennessee purple coneflower, a plant that was thought to be extinct but was found and reintroduced.

“It’s endemic to Middle Tennessee, so it’s only found in the Middle Tennessee area and nowhere else on Earth,” Stefanski said. “It’s something you can now find at your garden centers. People love it, birds love it and it’s totally native.”

For those looking for fresh produce now that the weather is right, don’t forget about Lebanon’s Farmers Market, located at 143 South Maple Street.

Jeff Baines said the market is open six days a week Monday through Saturday from daylight to dusk and serves locally home-grown produce.

Baines said the market was technically open now, but he didn’t expect to see much of a turnout, if any at all, until the weather got warmer.

“December through February it’s usually dead, but you will start seeing people out there around March and now that it’s getting into early spring,” Baines said. “You really will start seeing more come out around May.”

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