Green thumb John Slowey is itching to muddy-up his hands.
Slowey, beginning his 26th season at Sunnycrest Greenhouses, 19725 S. Governors Hwy., Flossmoor, looks at the arrival of meteorological spring in a different way than most. He rolls up his sleeves and goes back to work.
And he is happy to share a bit of his expertise with fellow gardening enthusiasts. When to start planting? What to plant? How to prepare for spring? He offers these tips:
1. Plan Your Garden
Slowey recommends you pick the flowers or vegetables you want to grow and then map what your garden will look like in a rough sketch. He says you should pick a site in your yard that will bask in full sunlight for six to eight hours each day. And it’s OK to get started now.
2. Prepare the Soil
Slowey says preparing the soil is important step, but one that often is overlooked or undervalued. “Soil around here varies so much,” he said. “In areas with new construction—homes built in the last five years—usually you find a lot of clay in the soil. You need to amend the soil and improve drainage.” He recommends incorporating organic matter, such as peat moss and animal manures.
“The key with preparing the soil is to get it as loose as possible and as well-draining as possible,” Slowey said. “If you have loose soil, your root vegetables will flourish. If you have heavy soil, it will impede the way the tubers form.”
He says you should be able to drive your hand at least 12 inches into the soil after you’ve loosened it with a shovel or tiller. He recommends renting a tiller and digging into your project as soon as the soil in your garden is dry enough to work with—and this year that could be two to three weeks ahead of schedule.
3. What to Plant
Slowey said cool-season vegetables where seeds are sown directly into the ground can be planted as soon as your soil is ready. He suggests starting with radishes, beets, carrots and lettuces. For other vegetables, he recommends starting plants indoors in egg cartons or pots. He said these plants will need to be “hardened off” before you can transplant them into your garden. Let them sit outside when there is no threat of frost to acclimate them to the weather.
For those interested in starting flowers, Slowey suggests pansies, dianthus (commonly called pinks or carnations) and snapdragons. “But that would be a little bit later,” he said. “I would wait a good month before I put anything outside.” Again, he said you can plant flowers inside in pots and move them outside when there is no threat of a freeze.
In the perennial area, he said ground covers such as ajuga, English ivy, vica minor and pachysandra can be planted early.
Slowey said you should not be afraid to ask questions or consult with experts at your local nursery or garden center.