May 15, 2019

Deep In The Dirt: Spring Gardening Tips

By Mark Gunnery

Echinacea, a plant native to the region, attracts pollinators like bees

Echinacea, a plant native to the region, attracts pollinators like bees

Spring is in full effect, and veggies, herbs and flowers are popping up in gardens across the Washington region. Gardening, though, can be intimidating when you are just getting started, or don’t have access to large green spaces, or if you’ve already gotten behind on weeding and planting.

Fear not, we’ve got tips from local urban farmers and garden educators about how to approach gardening this time of year.

No Yard? No Problem!

Space is at a premium in the Washington region, and many people don’t have much of it to grow things in. That shouldn’t discourage potential gardeners, though, according to Jake Dacks, garden manager with Washington Youth Garden. “If you don’t have access to space outside and have a kitchen with a windowsill you can grow herbs inside of there,” he said on today’s Kojo Show. “Herbs are handy to have in the kitchen anyway, and are easy to grow inside with a low amount of direct sunlight.”

Container gardening is another option. Kate Lee, farm director for D.C. Greens, suggests planting vegetable varieties that grow in smaller shapes and sizes, like Persian cucumbers or Mexican sour gherkins as alternatives to market cucumbers. One rule of thumb, she says, is “smaller space, smaller vegetable.”

April Showers Bring May . . . Weeds?

It’s been a rainy few weeks, and with rain comes weeds. Many gardeners love to plant and harvest their crops but are less excited about pulling weeds. Violet King, though, thinks of weeding as therapeutic. “I know that some people hate it,” the farm manager for Dreaming Out Loud’s Farm at Kelly Miller says, “but it’s a way you can zone out, or tune in, and connect with your soil, your plants, and your surroundings. If you’re with other people it’s a great time to get to know those people while you’re doing this chore together.”  

For really difficult weeds, though, she recommends silage tarps, which are polyethylene sheets that stimulate weed germination, then block out sun light, leading the weeds to die quickly after growing.

But How Bad Are Weeds Anyway?

Before you pull all your weeds, though, learn to identify them. “A weed isn’t necessarily a bad plant,” Kate Lee says. “Many weeds we think are annoying in the garden are edible.” She suggests going on a walking tour with Little Red Bird Botanicals, a local organization that helps people recognize edible and medicinal herbs.  

Native Plants: Good For Birds And Bugs, Lower Maintenance For Gardeners

Plants that are native to the Washington region are vital for habitat creation for birds and pollinating insects. But they can also be easier to care for than non-native ornamentals. “When you’re trying to grow a plant that’s preprogrammed to grow in this area,” Kate Lee says, “they suffer less disease and predation.”

Some plants that are native to the region–and which attract beneficial insects and birds–include echinacea, goldenrod, bee balm, baptisia, mountain mint and milkweed, according Jake Dacks.

Better Late Than Never?

Many people don’t start thinking about gardening until the weather warms up deep into the spring. Is it too late to start a garden more than halfway through the season? Kate Lee says no. “It’s never too late to start a garden,” she says. “But the season for lettuce, spinach and greens is behind us, and right now you want to turn your soil, plant your pots, add some good compost, and start thinking about squashes, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes.”

It may be too late to start some plants by seed, but that shouldn’t discourage gardeners. There are plenty of places around the region to buy young plants that you can put either right into the ground or into a pot. One option is Mighty Greens D.C. a youth-led entrepreneurship cooperative that sells seeds, plants, produce and other products in Washington.  



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