Good to Grow: Gardeners, pick your players

To many, March Madness is 68 college basketball teams battling to win a championship. To a gardener, March Madness is all about preparing to be in the garden.

Oh, I’m not completely immune to sports, but it’s almost spring, and I am ready to be outside.

Let’s talk game plans. Coaches have a play book; gardeners have a blueprint of their garden space. Both coaches and gardeners will think about last year’s team, who will be returning, and where there are gaps.

It has been a mild winter; this should be a good sign for returning perennials. Colorful annuals will be added to create pockets of color for the team.

Much like coaches recruiting the best players, my gardening friends are studying seed catalogs to find this year’s star performers for their team. They are reading plant descriptions, including height of the mature plant, what soil conditions bring out its best performance, how well it plays with others and whether it will be a needy or strong recruit.

Just as a coach goes on the road to watch their recruits in action, plant lovers will be visiting garden centers to inspect the roots and leaves of their potential players. When choosing plants, notice the root system. Is it tight and full? Are the roots growing through the bottom of the containers?

This often happens with perennials, and these plants are begging for more space and will need a little encouragement to spread their roots when it’s time to plant. I do this by gently loosening the roots right before I place them in their new soil.

You want the leaves to be strong and green. If the leaves are dry, brittle, and brown, the plants may not have had enough water. If this is the case, I do a little quick pruning on the spot, trying to decide if this new recruit is healthy and ready for my team.

When choosing players for your garden, remember: Teams develop over time. You do not have to buy the biggest, showiest plant on the lot. Just like a first-year recruit, some plants will need to be nurtured and given time to mature.

To me these are the best plants. I love watching them grow and earn their place on the team over time.

Also, don’t forget sideline players — they are still part of the team. Border plants can be overlooked, yet they are an invaluable player to the team, defining spaces and drawing your eye along the shape of the garden bed.

We talked a bit about annuals. I think of them as the cheerleaders of the team. They are colorful, and your eye is naturally drawn to their beauty and excitement. Use them in pots and spots where you want your eye to land.

Maybe you have a signature color or flower you plant every year. For me, its geraniums. They remind me of my mom, and although I may vary between red and pink on any given year, you will always find pots of them throughout my garden.

Before the season starts, take a look in the locker room. Is your equipment ready? Hopefully you cleaned your tools and stored them properly in the fall, but now is the time to get serious.

Are the blades sharp on your clippers, hoes and lawnmowers? Do you have a few pairs of garden gloves that don’t have holes in them? Should you plan to pick up a few additional containers, tomato cages and stakes, and twine?

Twine is a slam dunk. All serious gardeners have rolls and rolls of twine. It seems like I find a million uses for twine — wrapping packages, tying plants to stakes, hanging herbs to dry and measuring spaces.

When it’s game time, after the last frost, you will be ready to plant a championship garden. You will have decided on your Sweet 16 or Elite Eight plants. I would guarantee by this time, you have found your star player and are ready to give them plenty of court time.

As a reminder, from a design viewpoint, I like plantings in odd numbers. An example would be one, three, or five clumps of daisies. It’s easy on the eye, and creates a flow to your garden.

Don’t forget the paparazzi. Take pictures of your garden at every stage. One, it’s fun; and two, you will have a reminder for next year. In August, when summer plants are at their peak, it’s hard to remember where the tulips and daffodils are planted.

At the little house on the big hill, we are united on garden decisions, but a divided house during basketball season. Half bleed blue, and half are loyal to our blue and-gold.

Me? I tend to cheer for the underdog. I love a good comeback story — in sports or in the garden.