Grab your gardening shovel: It’s time to plant
By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Emilee Boster
If you want a garden full of delicious fruits, fresh vegetables and pretty flowers this year, this week is prime time to get planting.
Neal Hargle, the Tuscaloosa County Extension agent for home grounds, gardens and pests, said between now and the end of April is the best time for gardeners to plant in Tuscaloosa.
“We are actually just right into our planting season right now,” he said. “This week is probably the best time for us to plant.”
Hargle has been a Tuscaloosa County Extension agent for 13 years and regularly makes home visits and hosts programs that educate locals about gardening. It may feel overwhelming for beginners, Hargle said, but he does have some tips for budding gardeners.
Your first step is choosing your type of garden. Depending on how much space and time you have, you can grow in anything from tiny pots to an in-ground backyard paradise.
For beginners, a container garden is a good starting point. You can use a pot, bucket, watering trough or store-bought container garden. Container gardens or raised bed gardens need fresh garden soil from a store.
If you’re planting in the ground, you’ll need to clear out your gardening area with a tiller to aerate the soil.
The type and size of your garden determines what you can potentially plant. Hargle said some easier plants for beginners include tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and peppers. Those can be planted together in small container gardens, large raised beds or in-ground gardens.
For larger gardens, beginners could consider corn, green beans or peas.
Some people may assume that because of their smaller size container gardens can only hold flowers, but plenty of plants can thrive in pots. Consider blueberries, herbs, cherry tomatoes or potatoes.
Hargle suggests beginners start with transplants, which are seedlings or small plants, instead of planting seeds. Transplanting is easier for beginning gardeners because all you have to do is plop them into their new home and keep up with watering.
You can purchase transplants at many local feed and seed stores like Riverside Feed & Seed, Anders Hardware and Hillcrest Feed & Garden Supply or at local nurseries. Hargle said he encourages purchasing your transplants the evening of or day after trucks deliver them to the store.
In Tuscaloosa, that’s often Tuesday. That way you’ll find the largest selection of plants and they haven’t been sitting out in the sun too long. Wait at least a day after your purchase before planting.
It is also important to add two different varieties to the garden to cross-pollinate. Wind or insects can transfer pollen from your plants, which usually results in a larger harvest. Read your plant’s information that comes on the bag or container to learn cross-pollination needs for each plant.
But not all bugs are good news.
“We are here in the South. We can grow a lot of plants almost year-round,” said Hargle. “We have a lot of diseases and insects to deal with. You need to make a plan. When you are planting these plants, when you get your fertilizer, also get your insecticide and fungicide as well.”
Speaking of fertilizer, plants need nutrients to thrive. Fertilizers come in many forms, from natural like chicken manure and bone meal to synthetic fertilizers purchased a garden store. Throughout the growing season, add these products to the plant by following the instructions. But be aware that some fertilizers require a post-harvest interval date, meaning there’s a period after adding your fertilizer that you shouldn’t eat the vegetables or fruits to avoid potential illness.
Keeping fungus at bay is another consideration for many gardeners. If you’re concerned or see evidence of it, you can apply a fungicide according to the instructions on the container.
Hargle said gardens do not need more or less than an inch of rainfall each week. He recommends planters track the amount of rainfall per week with a rain gauge or an empty tuna can. If the gauge has an inch of water or the tuna can is full, then you can hold off on watering your plants.
Watering daily often leaves your plants too wet and causes root rot or other issues. And don’t water in the afternoon, Hargle said, because the water takes longer to evaporation and encourages fungal growth. Instead, water in the morning before 10:30 so the sun can evaporate water off the foliage and reduce fungal growth potential.
If you’re lacking in the green thumb department, house plants are a simpler alternative to growing outdoors.
Tuscaloosa’s House Plant Collective offers house plants, potting soil and decorative pots for beginners and experienced house plant owners alike. Each potted plant in the store features a label detailing the plant’s water and sunlight needs so they can flourish.
Store Manager Kate Jones said the store first assesses a customer’s planting experience before searching for suitable plants.
For beginners, Jones said recommends a snake plant. They don’t need much water or sun, meaning they’re low maintenance and can handle a lot of potential abuse.
“In a room without house plants, it’s very sterile,” Jones said. “If you bring a house plant in, it’s more warmer and more colorful.”
According to Just House Plants, house plants also have science-supported benefits like reducing harmful air pollutants, increasing indoor humidity and reducing allergens.
Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, now’s a perfect time to dive into the world of gardening.