Dig in! It’s time to plan, plant, nurture, grow

For many, the zing in the air this time of year has them rushing to their area garden shops for supplies, eager to add new life to their dreary landscape.

The Penn State Extension Master Gardener classes can help all gardeners from novice to veterans, said Barbara Rosenberg, master gardener of Cambria County.

“We try to address issues that a person who hasn’t even started their garden yet would be interested in – and our hope is that this would entice them to become a gardener – all the way up to experienced gardeners,” Rosenberg said. She added that like every other field, gardeners usually specialize.

“I, for example, don’t know anything about companion planting, so even though I’ve been a master gardener for probably 16 years, I am looking forward to hearing about that. The beauty of gardening is that there are always new things to learn.”

The program, which has volunteers in 58 Pennsylvania counties, offers services such as educational programs and the manning of a gardening helpline, according to the Penn State Extension website.

The local helpline runs through September and is manned 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Tuesday.

Bernice Cellini, master gardener of Blair County, said she enjoys working the garden line.

“You get some satisfaction,” she said. “You’re helping somebody.”

People can bring in specimens to the Penn State Extension office, 310 Airport Drive, Martinsburg, too.

The Blair County master gardeners recently held classes covering the topics of soil, annuals and perennials and vegetables, Cellini said.

“A lot of people wonder why they don’t get any tomatoes or their flowers don’t bloom right. It’s because of the soil. And there’s a saying, ‘If you take care of the soil, the plants will take care of themselves,'” she said.

A soil test is available through Penn State Extension for $9, she said. Testing the soil will reveal what additives, such as nitrogen or phosphorus, are needed, and Penn State will send a report on a soil’s results.

Make observations before picking out plants.

“I have a corner where we get very little sun so I want to plant something that takes a lot of shade. For instance, like hostas or pachysandra and ferns, that’s good for the shade,” Cellini said. “But when the plants say full sun, you need at least six hours of full sun. Now if you want to plant seeds, you need to make sure you follow directions on the seed pack. It’ll tell you part shade, full sun, whatever, but you always follow the directions.”

Fertilize about once a week, and consider adding compost to your garden soil.

The organic matter “is really good for the soil. And there’s a lot of people who make their own home compost, but if not, you can buy it for a couple bucks in a garden center,” Cellini said.

Watch out for what Cellini said they call good bugs and bad bugs.

Lady bugs are an example of a good bug, and they eat a bad bug known as aphids, which will “suck the juice out of the leaves and the leaves will turn brittle,” Cellini said.

The Penn State Extension website posted a document on creating a “Good Bug Tub,” a mobile tub filled with plants to attract good bugs that one can move around a garden as needed. Plants suggested included basil, dill and yarrow.

With a colony collapse of honey bees over the last several years, picking plants to attract the buzzing pollinators is “a good idea,” Cellini said. Lamb’s Ears is “an excellent” choice, she said.

Checking on plants is also part of gardening.

“As your plants are growing, you just need to observe them a couple times a week, especially to make sure that the leaves aren’t turning brown or they look wilted. You can see if they need fertilized. You just can’t stick something – except for hostas … in the ground and expect it to come up without a little attention.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.