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Spring has sprung - along with the urge to garden

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By Alice Du Pont

“As soon as there is a little sign of warmth, people start getting antsy. They want to work in the yard and they are ready to plant," said Alex Bolques, a horticulturist with Gadsden County Cooperative Extension Service.

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He said there are different categories property owners should consider when deciding how to plant. First, there is the public landscape that people see when they pass a home or that which is readily seen by public traffic.

Secondly, there is the service area where people keep their boats, where the dog house is located or where the trash cans are kept. The third category is the private area, one that cannot be seen from the street or the backyard.

"Most effort is, and should be, put into what people can see," Bolques said. "That is your plants, your house paint."

He suggests that people plant what will grow well in this climate. People who stick with azaleas enjoy the colors and the hardiness of the plants.

Another way to add curb appeal with little work is to plant grasses or shrubs. This is an area in which a lot of people make mistakes, Bolques said. They often use more when less is better. He said the biggest blunders happen when homeowners plant too much. Yards become overcrowded with too many shrubs and too many flowers.

"I have seen people basically take a good house with a functional, balanced yard and make it out of balance. I have never seen people work so hard to make a mess," he said, pointing to a house in downtown Quincy that is a classic example of too many plants and flowers.

When shrubs obscure the front entrance or the windows, it's too much. Low shrubs in front of a house add more curb appeal because the home can be seem. And while it may be tempting to go out and buy flowers because they are beautiful, Bolques warns that flowers also should be planted in moderation. Ground cover should be kept low and flowers, tastefully planted around mailboxes or trees, are attractive to the eye and add to the home's appeal.

"It used to be that garden people (those who work in garden shops and nurseries) were not well trained in the kinds of plants and flowers that should be purchased and how to plant them. But the industry addressed that by offering a certification through Florida Nursery and Growers Association, which is now training people who work in garden shops and nurseries. These people learn how to grow and can offer great advice when you go in to buy at retail establishments," Bolques said.

Bolques said the best time to plant is around April 15. A lot of people are tempted to plant early, especially as the temperature climbs and native vegetation begins to bloom.

But home gardeners should be careful when planting early. He said although the air temperature may be warm, the ground temperature is colder and could possibly harm tender plants. He also advises gardeners buy vegetation that is hardy and tolerant of this climate.

"There is the risk of losing tender vegetation. With this environment we could have a late freeze. Of course, if there is a cold snap, people could always over them with straw or plastic but it really is safer just to wait," he said.

Gertrude Lewis recently spent time pruning and cleaning up her yard. Numerous rosebud trees were in bloom all around her yard. She said she planted them several years ago and the ease of care and the beauty have made the trees ideal for her yard.

Bolques said Lewis is a smart gardener because the plants she has selected are native to the area, sustainable, resistant to insects and only need occasional fertilizer.

"Gardening doesn't need to be intimidating. It is supposed to be relaxing. To be a good gardener, just use common sense and don't over do it," he said.