What’s Hot in the Greenhouse this Spring

Still thinking about what to put in your garden? Vibrant colors, fresh produce and outdoor living areas are a good start. Here are a few other ideas to make your yard stand out.

There’s no better sense of accomplishment than looking at something and saying, “I did that.” Creating a work of art is a great accomplishment, but can you imagine the feeling of making dinner with produce grown in your own backyard?

Creating a great landscape or garden is something worthy of a pat on the back. It’s a labor of love, and plenty of hard work will get you there. Just remember: that’s what makes it all worthwhile in the end.

“There’s a wealth of different plants for people to grow, from vegetables to trees,” says Barb Kindinger, a landscape designer who’s been with Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery and Garden Center, in Crystal Lake, since 1980. “With winter being so long, we all long to enjoy the outdoors again.”

So, what are you interested in planting this season? Experts in our area are ready to offer up some of their favorites.

Making Your Yard Stand Out

One surefire way to make a home stand out is to plant things that give off bright, vibrant colors.

Velma Powers, a landscape designer with Foracres Landscape Group, in St. Charles, says redbuds are very much in demand this time of year. Their distinctive, light-violet blooms stand out.

“That’s a tree that everyone seems to notice,” she says. “The flowers emerge before the leaves unfurl, so all of the branches are covered with pink and purple flowers. These tiny flowers that outline all the branches make this tree spectacular.”

Hydrangea shrubs are also a popular type of plant because of their can’t-miss colors. These plants produce beautiful, colorful blooms in hues like baby blue, bright pink and lavender. In some cases, multiple colors can appear on the same plant.

“You should add compost to alter the pH of the soil, which will determine the color of blooms you get,” Powers says. “If you want blue hydrangeas, you need ericaceous compost. For other colors and white, normal, multi-purpose compost is fine.”

These shrubs create beautiful, big flowers, and they have a long bloom cycle that also adds to their appeal. Just make sure to plant them now so they can soak up moisture before the unforgiving summer heat arrives.

“You can also let them dry and use them in various arrangements,” Powers says. “It’s a very showy type of flower and it’ll grab your attention.”

Sean Ducey, plant manager at Whispering Hills Garden & Landscape Center, in Cary, says it’s worthwhile to plant more trees in the yard. Ducey points to several benefits of having trees, including a decreased demand for air conditioning because of the shade they offer; improved stormwater runoff because they absorb and filter rainwater; and, of course added aesthetic value.

“If you have the space, you should consider planting a shade tree,” Ducey says. “With all the options out there for trees, anyone should be able to find one that fits their landscape.”

No matter what you plant, it won’t grow and blossom without proper care and maintenance.
“New plants need our help,” Ducey says. “You can’t expect a new plant to take off and fully establish itself on its own. Mother Nature can be very fickle, and we don’t always get what we need for new plants to establish themselves, so we have to help them along the way.”

Since not all plants need the same care, Ducey suggests using professional guidance when getting started. That includes asking questions and gathering tips before making your purchase.

Marcy Cronin, of Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery and Garden Center, in Crystal Lake, says it’s important to supply a new transplant with some fertilizer.

“Fertilizing is very important,” she says. “Plants, like people, can survive on water alone, but we’re all much happier and thrive with nutrients from food. Fertilizer is the food for your plants.”

Outdoor Living Spaces

Since more people are spending additional time at home, many are putting more emphasis into outdoor living spaces. They’re transforming their backyards into an added living room, and that means a few luxurious amenities are sure to come with. Today’s trendiest patios allow people to cook, relax and, in some cases, even watch television under the stars.

“People are also transforming their backyards with outdoor kitchen areas and barbecue areas,” Powers says.
It’s not unusual to see firepits and fireplaces mixed into the arrangement, as well. They’re ideal for those summer nights where it’s a little chilly and company is staying late. All the fixings for s’mores are not included, however.

One amenity that’s sure to make the imagination wander is a water feature. That signature sound of water trickling down a bed of rocks creates a calming and soothing atmosphere.

“That’s becoming very popular,” Powers says.

Putting together an outdoor living space is sort of like decorating indoors. It just depends on your available space and your budget. Plus, help from an expert can make a serious difference. Professional landscapers bring with them years of knowledge and experience to plan and install everything correctly. They also understand the various local ordinances regarding patios, outdoor kitchens, sunrooms, pergolas and other shelters. If done properly, these outdoor spaces can add serious value to a home while adding another comfortable place to entertain guests.

And a little added privacy goes a long way, too.

“With COVID-19 forcing people to stay home more, they’re wanting to make their outdoor spaces quaint and more private,” Ducey says. “Evergreens have been the biggest seller, by far. If you want to enjoy a cup of coffee and check your emails, you might not want to do it while you’re watching your neighbors.”

Tie it all together with a few well-placed containers, as well. A few big planters mixed with a few smaller planters will help to add color and interest around your outdoor space. Plan each one with a burst of color and something fun that spills over the side. Of course, you can always go the more practical route and raise vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and hot peppers in containers. In fact, those winding tomato vines might even be heartier and healthier if they’re grown in a large-enough container. All they need is soil, water and plenty of sunlight.

“Even people with limited space can still plant vegetables in containers on their deck or patio,” Cronin says.

Growing Your Own Ingredients

Why go to the store to purchase fruits and vegetables when you can just grow your own? Lots of people have been asking this question over the past year. Last summer, many people were motivated by uncertainty and a shortage of particular food items. So, they’ve been growing their own, and they appear ready to do it again this summer.

“They’ve started to plant vegetable gardens, berries and fruit trees,” Cronin says. “The therapeutic benefits of gardening were in high demand as people wanted something, anything, to do together outside, and some might not have realized how beneficial it would be. Having experienced how good it feels to dig in the soil and watch something grow – and taste how much more flavorful produce is when it comes from their backyard – they love it.”

Ducey is encouraging people this year to grow their own crops, whether it’s planting an apple or cherry tree or turning over some soil and growing vegetables like turnips and carrots.

“From fruit trees to vegetable gardens, there are so many options for people to start growing their own food,” Ducey says. “One reason that people say they don’t grow their own food is because of the time it takes, and they don’t know where to start. Now that people have more time, and there’s so much information on the internet, there really isn’t an excuse not to give it a try.”

Cronin says it’s a little too early to predict what people will grow this year, but last year edible plants were a big seller. So far, she sees the trend continuing, if not accelerating.

Countryside grows all of the vegetable plants it sells – although there’s also a wide selection of seeds for those who like to sow their own.

“The plants are responsibly grown right here in our greenhouses by our professional staff, and they are never treated with pesticides,” Cronin says. “The quality and yield from Countryside Home Grown vegetable plants can’t be beat.”

Remember, a little preparation goes a long way. Countryside’s experts can help to strategize the right locations for your garden and connect you with the right supporting elements – including soil additives like fertilizers and compost.

“If people are growing edible plants, they need to have six to eight hours of direct sunlight on their plants regardless of whether they’re being planted in the ground or in containers,” Cronin says.

Growing your own food is even sweeter when you have a little help. Get the children involved, and create some long-lasting memories in the process.

“Kids love watching things grow, and while they may not eat the broccoli that you care for, they’ll still feel some form of satisfaction in what they’ve accomplished,” Ducey says.

No matter what you decide to grow in your yard this season, the benefits of adding plants and trees makes all the sweat equity worth it.

“Fruit trees and berry bushes are a great addition to your landscape, as they’ll provide you with delicious goodness, they’ll increase your property value and they’ll be a benefit for generations to come,” Cronin says.