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Tips to grow better than ever this year


Illustration by Kathleen White

Illustration by Kathleen White

Horticulturist Lynn Ellen Wolf has been helping Philadelphians make the most of their gardens at the Greensgrow Farms nursery since 2008. Here are her tips on making the most of the season. 

  • Start with a vision. “Before you come [to the nursery], take some time to look through stacks of books [or online],” says Wolf. “Don’t even read anything, just look at all the pictures and try and figure out what you really want.” She recommends the Free Library’s troves of books on plants and gardening.
  • Plants are for animals and insects, too. Gardens can be plagued by pests, but don’t forget about the good guys.
    “I tend to encourage people to grow things with tiny flowers like dill and fennel, because those tiny, tiny flowers attract a lot of beneficial insects, including green lacewings,” which in their larval state eat a variety of pest insects, says Wolf. Borage, an herb with edible blue flowers, attracts pollinators and adds a refreshing cucumber flavor when its leaves are muddled in drinks. 
  • Shady space? Plant accordingly. Most fruiting plants need eight hours a day or more of full sun, so if your space is shady, stick with herbs and leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, kale, collards or tatsoi. Hardy perennial herbs like rosemary and thyme also work well, and even basil can thrive in shade.
    “You can do any kind of mint,” says Wolf, but plant it in a container unless you want it to take over your space. Try apple or chocolate mint or its citrusy cousin, lemon balm.
  • Stick to a schedule. Weeding and watering will make or break your garden. Wolf says even five or 10 minutes a day will help. Get a buddy or co-gardener to keep things watered (and harvest what’s ready so it doesn’t go to waste) if you’ll be busy or away. 
  • Get the right tools. Wolf’s new favorite tool, the Japanese grass sickle, is a great multitasker.  “You can use it to [weed], to do light pruning, [and] I’ve used it to saw off a tiny branch here and there because it’s serrated enough that you can use it like a little saw,” she says. It can also remove the roots of stubborn weed trees.

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