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If You Started A Garden Last Year, Resolve To Keep It Growing In 2021

If You Started A Garden Last Year, Resolve To Keep It Growing In 2021

By Natalie Carmolli, Proven Winners® ColorChoice®
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice®

Upon completing the strangest year most of us have experienced, one positive thing 2020 has brought is a renewed interest in gardening. Maybe it's the outdoor activity that is healthy for both the body and mind. Perhaps it's the feeling of being responsible for something growing when so many things seem to be heading in the opposite direction. No matter the reason, according to the Axiom 2021 Gardening Insights Survey, 42% of those who already regularly garden spent more time gardening last year and plan to do the same in 2021. A majority of new gardeners are younger (ages 19-39) and over 80% of them have resolved to grow more in 2021. If either of these groups sound like you, here are a few fun and easy ways to keep that resolution.

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Choose Plants That Provide A Big Payoff – Without A Lot Of Work

We’ve all been there: You’ve chosen a plant because it looked so beautiful in a magazine, or at the garden center, so you bought it and brought it home. You found a suitable spot for it, dug a nice, big hole, and popped it in. You mulched around it, gave it regular water …maybe even gave it an encouraging pep talk, but it wouldn’t flower; or it just didn’t thrive at all in your garden. All that work and money down the drain. Not a good way to stay interested in your new gardening hobby.

Oftentimes plants just need a year to get established. That shrub or perennial you planted last year could surprise you this year by awakening from dormancy with a flush of healthy growth and a flock of flowers. Early spring is a good time to work a little fertilizer or organic mulch around the base of the plant – before it starts to flower. This may give it just the boost it needs to thrive all summer.

When you’re choosing new additions to your garden, look for plants that bloom reliably and are easy to maintain. The panicle hydrangea is just such a plant; they are simply the easiest, most satisfying type of hydrangeas to grow. As long as you have a sunny spot and regular water, they will give you loads of big colorful flowers all summer.

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If you’ve walked by many gardens or perused a gardening book featuring panicle hydrangeas, you’ve probably noticed the classic, green-flowered ‘Limelight’ hydrangea. It’s no accident that this is such a popular plant. It performs like a champ and will make you look like a gardening rock star. There’s also a new version of this hydrangea coming to garden centers this year called Limelight Prime® H. paniculata. It has the same signature lime-green flowers, but they stay green longer, then transition to a vibrant raspberry-pink color more quickly than 'Limelight.' It's also more compact, maxing out at just 4-6' tall and wide, so if your space is just a bit too small for a 6-8’ ‘Limelight’, this could be a great alternative. (And you’d be the first on your block to have one!)

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Need one that’s even smaller? Try Fire Light Tidbit®. It's a new dwarf panicle hydrangea with big, full-sized flowers that adorn it from top to bottom. It only grows to 2-3' tall and 3' wide, so even if you didn't think you had room for a panicle hydrangea, this little guy will fit into smaller spaces or even in a container! Both are hardy in USDA Zones 3-8.

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For those still yearning for a classic bigleaf hydrangea but have struggled with ones that don't bloom reliably, Let's Dance Can-Do H. serrata is another new hydrangea that you can find in garden centers this year. Think of it as a mountain hydrangea that masquerades as a bigleaf, with mophead blooms that can change color depending on soil acidity/alkalinity. This hydrangea does everything you love about a bigleaf, but its flowers support pollinators better since the fertile florets are more accessible. It's more reliable than a conventional bigleaf, too, because it sets buds along the entire branch, not just at the tips. So if the tips are cut off or get damaged by a late frost, the lower buds will still bloom. Hardy in USDA Zones 4-9.

Make Garden Choices That Fill Your Senses

One thing that makes gardening so popular is that it appeals to all your senses, such as the interesting textures of foliage, the vibrant colors and sweet scents of flowers, and the taste of edible plants. Food gardening surged last year as people planted victory gardens and seed sales exploded. But not everyone has the time and patience for seeds. If you tried growing fruits and vegetables from seeds and only had marginal luck, don’t get down on yourself! Starting plants from seed takes a lot of nurturing. On the other hand, starter plants (plugs) can have more immediate gratification and greater success, especially in colder climates where the growing season is shorter. Try Proven Winners Tempting Tomatoes. In a 4.25” or 1-quart starter pot, they are designed to be easy to grow and provide a tremendous container-to-table harvest. The Berried Treasure line of strawberries produces delicious sweet strawberries all summer and are also beautiful ornamentally. Think about adding their colorful flowers and pendants of rich, red berries to the edges of your mixed annuals pots this summer!

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Plants that will support pollinators and feed wildlife is also a great way to feel immense satisfaction from time spent in your garden. If you’re thinking perennially, choose smaller versions of classic shrubs like Low Scape Mound Aronia, a dwarf version of the original larger native chokeberry with white spring flowers for pollinators, purple summer berries for birds, and a bright red fall foliage show, but in a garden-friendly 2' size.

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Where To Find Your Next New Garden Addition

Last year may have proved tough to fulfill all your gardening needs. Nurseries and garden centers were looking forward to a regular ol’ spring when COVID hit and sales exploded. There was no way anyone could have been properly prepared for that. This year, local independent garden centers and nurseries are going to be ready to sell more plants and supplies. Check with them first to see if they carry what you’re looking for. There’s nothing like being able to touch and see your new plant in person before you purchase it. If they don't have what you’re looking for, ask for it by name! Garden center owners don't know there's a demand for new plants unless their customers tell them. They can likely order it, or suggest attractive alternatives.

Online retailers like Great Garden Plants, Garden Crossings, White Flower Farm, and are also stepping up their games to be sure they have plenty of plants in stock, ready to ship in the spring.

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The More You Know, The More You’ll Grow

In 2020, 82% of Axiom survey respondents said they felt successful in their gardens. Staying engaged with gardening is easier when you feel like you have a sound basis for understanding what works and what might not work in your garden.

People find useful information on gardening podcasts, through their local extension offices, and online via social media and in training videos by experts such as Garden Answer and Proven Winners® ColorChoice® fast answers.

The staff at local garden centers are also a great resource. Most are trained to answer questions and offer advice. Proven Winners has gone one step further, offering garden center staff training and identifying them as a Certified Garden Center upon completion. When this identification is part of a nursery's listing, consumers have the extra assurance that they can find expert assistance among its staff.

Gardeners can also visit the Proven Winners feedback page, where horticultural experts are on call to help everyone find success at any stage of their gardening journey. 

Many will look to this new year and the changes it will bring with renewed hope and anticipation. But some of the things 2020 brought into our lives, like the renewed interest in safe, healthy outdoor activities, we’ll want to hold on to. Hopefully, these easy tips will help keep you engaged and growing into 2021, and beyond.

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