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Bettendorf Magazine: How to Grow Your Best Garden This Spring

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Alexia Patramanis browses at Wallace's Garden Center

The snow has melted. The sun blazes high in the cerulean sky. Birds chirp jauntily from trees beginning to bloom for the summer. It’s officially spring time, and that signals one thing for many people.

It’s time to get to work on your lawn and garden.

Whether you’re a seasoned plant lover, starting a vegetable garden, or looking to design new landscaping for your home, you need to know how to care for the plants and flowers you choose to decorate your space. Three Bettendorf plant and garden experts have all of the tips you’ll need to create an outdoor space you love.

Be Patient

Pat Wohlford of the Tri-City Garden Club (a Quad-Cities regional garden club founded in 1919 by Elizabeth Putnam) has one piece of advice when it comes to warming weather: Don’t rush it.

“People are so anxious,” Wohlford said. “But the official last frost date is May 15th.”

Wohlford, a past president, has been a member of the group, which manages the Centennial Garden in Middle Park, since 1996. Over the decades, she’s become well-versed in the language of gardening. She explained to me how the United States is divided into zones that indicate when to begin planting each season.

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Centennial Garden at Middle Park, Bettendorf.

“[Bettendorf is] a zone 5b. The whole country is divided into zones according to temperature. It has to do with how cold it can get for a [perennial] plant, which is one that comes up by itself every year, to survive,” she said. She emphasized the importance of paying attention to labels to ensure you are buying plants for your zone.

Plan Ahead

Knowing what you want out of your garden before you start planting is a surefire way to set yourself up for success. You should never dive into gardening season without understanding what you’re planning and where you’re planting it.

“Think ahead of time¬—what is your goal and what do you have space for. We can help you realize how to get there and the best way about it,” said Wallace’s Garden Center General Manager Kate Terrell. She recommends preparing not only a monetary budget, but also a time and space budget to know how much work you’re able to put in to your garden.

We can’t control nature, but we can try our best to prepare for whatever it may throw at us. Brad Snider, a landscape designer with Greenspace Associates, stressed the importance of knowing the conditions of the site you’re planning on utilizing.

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Landscape designed by Greenspace Associates.

“Is it sunny or shady? Is it wet or dry? What are the soil conditions?” Snider asked. These will factor in to all of your choices on what plants you choose and how you will care for them.

When you’re ready to start your garden care for the season, begin with cleaning up debris from the fall and winter. Some people choose to clean up the dead plant material in the fall, while some, like Wohlford, leave it for the winter.

“I like leaving habitat for birds. Everything that goes to seed is food for the birds. The other thing is that there are critters like butterflies and beneficial insects that lay eggs in plants,” she explained.

Understand our Climate

A beautiful, blooming garden in the summer brings a sense of peace and joy you can’t find anywhere else. But in order to support a thriving garden, you need to prepare it to survive all four seasons we see in Bettendorf.

“The main thing that damages our plants are the winters, because there’s certain plants that people want to have here but they just can’t survive because of our winters,” Snider said.

Snider recommends hydrangeas as a strong flower to survive winters. Shrubbery such as spirea and juniper are also great in the Midwest. If you are a vegetable gardener, lettuce and radishes are two crops that can survive colder weather.

It’s also possible to utilize your lawn area and home to create a climate that supports plants that otherwise may not grow well in Bettendorf.

“Once in a while, there will be something that is planted close to a house and the shade and warmth from the building creates a little microclimate,” said Wohlford. If you’re lucky enough to have a lawn design that allows you to create warmth for a plant, make sure to incorporate that into your garden plan from the beginning.

Use Your Resources

The beauty of Bettendorf didn’t come about by accident. Resources and experts abound in this area, and you don’t have to go at it alone.

Wallace’s Garden Center has more than ten horticulturists on staff, including Terrell, who has a B.S. in Horticulture from Iowa State University. The locally-owned business is happy to offer up their knowledge and answer any questions. Wohlford said she frequently visits Wallace’s when she needs something for her garden and appreciates the information she receives from them that she wouldn’t find at large chain retailers.

For those just entering the gardening world, Wohlford says online resources are plentiful to assist you in planting the correct plants in the correct place. Additionally, there is an Iowa State University Extension office for Scott County located on Tanglefoot Lane in Bettendorf. The office will answer any question and even assist you in testing your soil.

A large-scale landscape design project can be an even bigger investment than a garden. Landscape design includes softscape—plant material such as flowers, shrubs, and mulching—or hardscape like retaining walls, pavers, and outdoor furniture. A company such as Greenspace Associates can assist you in designing and implementing a concept for an outdoor oasis of your dreams.

“You run a lot of risks if you do it yourself,” Snider said. “You might pick wrong plants that may not survive in the location, and you’ll end up spending money to replace them. If you’re doing an outdoor room or hardscape, you might select the wrong material and install it incorrectly. You can’t beat professionally designed. We kind of know what we’re doing.”

Garden With Your Heart

Terrell believes one can showcase their personality through their plant and gardening choices. As you plan your garden, consider choosing plants that will bring you peace and happiness. Maybe you saw a certain flower on a special vacation. Maybe the scent of a specific herb reminds you of a loved one.

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Bright, cheerful flowers at Wallace's Garden Center.

“It’s important for people to garden in a way that brings them joy,” Terrell said.

Wallace’s, which grows most of their own plants themselves, has seen a trend in bright, warm colors for their plants this year. Oranges, hot coral, yellow, anything to brighten up a space. A popular choice has been bi-colored flowers, such as petunias, geraniums, and marigolds.

“Probably the number one trend that we’re seeing is more bold and happy color,” Terrell said. “That’s been a trend for the past few years with COVID. People want to have things around them that are bright, colorful, and happy.”

Your entire outdoor space should be a place where you can relax and connect with nature. Invest in your entire landscape design as you work on your garden and create an oasis filled with comfort.

“Your outside space is just an extension of the interior of your house. We want the outside to reflect what we enjoy doing,” Snider said.

If you enjoy hosting family parties, you may want to add a swimming pool for the kids and a nice patio with quality furniture at which the parents will hang out and supervise. Invest in a fire pit and outdoor lighting to extend the use of your area when we dive into fall.

“Anything you can do indoors, you can do outdoors,” Snider said. “We’ve done refrigerators, grills, access doors, trash compactors, sinks.”

Be Diligent in Your Garden Care

Gardening is a hobby that brings joy and pleasure to millions, but you have to put in work to reap the benefits of beautiful plants and vegetables.

That means spending time in the sun, lifting and moving garden supplies, and getting your hands dirty. Caring for your garden on a regular basis will be imperative to keeping it healthy.

“If you don’t stay on top of weeding your garden, things can get out of control,” Wohlford said. “It’s not a job that everybody likes to do. Mulch helps greatly with weed control.”

No matter what you decide to plant this year, what you’re putting them in matters the most. Ensure you’re buying the right size pot or container with good material and a quality soil. Terrell referenced an old gardening adage that says “you should always put a $10 plant in a $20 hole.”

“If you take the time and effort to start with really good soil for the plants to grow in, you’ll see much better success.”

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