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Warm spring weekends bring out the gardeners

Meagan Provencher fields questions about plants year round.

But around the middle of May, one question in particular sprouts constantly, from a wide range of visitors to the Wasco Nursery, west of St. Charles, where Provencher works as the senior landscape designer.

"People want to know: Is it too late to plant?" Provencher said. "It's the question I get more than any other this time of year.

"And the answer is, there's nothing that says have to have your planting done by Mother's Day or June 1 or any date. So many people believe it, but you can go all summer long."

As spring weather has warmed the air and the soil, it has also heated the desire of amateur home landscapers and gardeners to get outside and dig in the dirt.

Managers at local garden centers, including Provencher at Wasco Nursery and Joe  Heidgen, co-owner at Shady Hill Gardens in Elburn, said the month of May consistently ranks as the busiest time of the year for their greenhouses and nurseries.

"When the weather gets warm like this, I don't know how many people might come through here on a weekend day," said Provencher. "Hundreds? Thousands? All I know is, they just keep streaming on through here, and it's great."

Heidgen and Provencher said many of their customers are looking to jump on the trend of "container gardening," which allows gardeners to plant flowers or vegetables in pots and boxes, rather than in the ground.

Heidgen said many of his customers are turning to container gardening to grow plants that are relatively easy to grow and yet save space.

Provencher said perennial gardening has also become increasingly popular, as some homeowners seek flowering plants that blossom year after year.

But others seem to have developed a flare for the exotic, Heidgen said, choosing more tropical varieties of plants that can survive in northern Illinois' climate only in the summer. He said particularly popular plants include hibiscus, mandevilla and papyrus grass.

The gardening center managers also noted that last year's drought did not seem to discourage many people from planting again this year. Rather, they said, it may have produced better educated and more determined gardeners.

"Things that survived the drought, and did well, have also become popular," Heidgen said.

He said many gardeners, for instance, learned last year that, if they kept up with watering, the heat produced bumper crops of tomatoes, squash and other backyard fruits and vegetables.

At the Wasco Nursery on Sunday, Brian Wiedenhoeft, of Geneva, said he intended to again plant annual red and white petunias this year along the front of his home, as he has for years.

He said the planting marks his only foray into gardening each year.

"It really makes the front of the house pop, you know?" Wiedenhoeft said.

He said the petunias, while noticeably smaller, seemed to pull through last summer's drought. And that, he said, reinforced his decision to plant them again this year.

Others out on Sunday had more ambitious gardening and landscaping projects.

Maureen and Ray Zmich, of the Windings subdivision, west of St. Charles, said they were in the process of reclaiming a portion of their wooded lot that had become overrun with invasive weeds and shrubs.

The work included clearing the invasive plants, creating trails with mulch and stone, and replanting other, more desirous flowers and other plants.

"We were out all morning (Sunday)," Maureen said. "And we just ran out of plants."

KNOW MORE: Want to know what you can do to succeed at your next gardening project? Meagan Provencher of the Wasco Nursery, west of St. Charles, and Joe Heidgen of the Shady Hill Gardens near Elburn, offer some tips:

- Don't think it's too late to plant. Did you run out of time to plant in May? No worries, said Provencher. "We plant from early spring to Christmas," she said. "It can be done."

- Take the time to improve your soil. Heidgen recommended using compost, peat or other organic material to augment your dirt. He also recommended changing at least half of the soil in planting containers annually. "It can be boring, but it's a lot of the determination in how it's going to turn out," he said.

- Don't overthink things. Don't become too consumed with worry about pests or diseases. "I kill stuff all the time," Provencher said. "Just take it and learn from it."

- Get dirty. There's no substitute for getting down and working the soil.

- Don't be afraid to ask for help. "We're here to answer your questions and help you achieve your goals," Provencher said.

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