Embracing the Bounty of Garden Season 2024

Expert Insights on Sustainable Gardening Practices

Since early January, my mind has been swirling with multiple goals. Assessing what worked last year, deciding what plants to add/subtract and updating designs for a few perennial beds are on my ‘to-do list’ for garden season 2024.  I’ve enjoyed the winter stillness by attending an online course by Benjamin Vogt, author of Prairie Up, and watching gardening zooms sponsored by Wild Ones, (www.wildones.org). Wild Ones mission is “connecting people and native plants for a healthy planet” and is a fabulous resource for design plans and information on adding native plants to the landscape.  

Additionally, I had a wonderful conversation with Mandy Smith, our local Penn State Master Gardener Coordinator and Extension Educator. 

With a Bachelor of Science degree in Horticulture from PSU and extensive experience working for botanical gardens, she is a wealth of information and a proven resource. Honoring her innate desire to connect people with plants, she entered the world of environmental education and has been with us in Westmoreland County since February of 2020 at the extension office, 214 Donohoe Road in Greensburg.

When discussing native plants, Mandy stressed the absolute value of their presence in the home landscape.  She confirmed the changes that are happening in the horticultural industry and the public’s acceptance and desire to purchase native plants.  

So, what are native plants? Simply put, they are plants native to Western Pennsylvania, Piedmont Region, Zone 6A. Growing up in ‘the Burgh,’ we human natives understand Steelers culture, a work ethic and the value of family. It’s the same for plants. They grew up here. They thrive here. They belong here. They do not require extra care, fertilizer or a lot of tending. They are host plants for our local insects and birds who, without them, will not be able to reproduce or thrive.  

Here’s where humans must connect the dots. If you desire to see more birds, butterflies, bumblebees or fireflies in the landscape, plant native plants. It’s really that simple. And please, most importantly, use chemicals of any sort as a last resort.      

The PSU Demonstration Gardens at the Donohoe Center showcase native plants.  

“These are educational spaces that showcase styles of gardening and plants that do well in our region along with visual inspiration,” Mandy says. 

Just walking in the space is a pleasure. My favorite is the new Pollinator Garden, along with the Herb and Cottage Gardens. Even in winter, with standing seed heads, it is quite beautiful.

There is a wealth of gardening information to be found at extension.psu.edu. Also, the Master Gardener Hotline opens officially on April 1 and can field questions from home gardeners. The phone number is (724) 858-4045.   Lastly, the annual plant sale is on May 11, 2024, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Donohoe Center. Of course, there will be native plants for sale along with annuals and vegetables. 

Speaking of vegetables, let’s talk peas. Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17 is the time to plant peas! The cold temperatures are what make the most wonderful, sweet homegrown peas. A few years ago, Doug Oster (www.dougoster.com), a Pittsburgh gardener and author, recommended this practice during a COVID Zoom. And boy, was he right. I never even liked peas! But homegrown peas are like none other and so worth the effort.  

I always choose non-GMO seeds. A real success in my home garden in 2023 were Lincoln Peas from Burpee.com. Plant them near a trellis or support, which will provide a welcome place for the delicate shoots to climb. I found mine at www.gardeners.com

Enjoy the beginning of the growing season, observe the beauty of spring and what nature is providing for bees and birds, take a hike in our native forests and check out spring ephemerals, and of course, welcome blooming crocuses, snow drops, daffodils, and hyacinths!