Do plants typically wither away and die in your presence, even when you regale them with tales of Steelers games past and saving your parking spot with a chair? If you’re a city-dwelling yinzer without a green thumb, then we have some helpful gardening tips for you that don’t involve talking to your plants, courtesy of Trax Farms Market!
Trax Farms Market, located in Finleyville, has been farming fruit and vegetables for over 150 years. They operate a large-scale retail market and garden center with 15 different departments, they are home to an Arsenal Cider House and Arrowhead Wine Shop location, and they host frequent events. They focus on providing exceptional service and a broad variety of plants, flowers, trees, and more in their greenhouses and outdoor areas, including many items that you might not find elsewhere.
We recently visited Trax Farms Market and spoke to Matthew Hirsch, an experienced associate. He has been working in the nursery industry for over 35 years and he has a degree in horticulture from Penn State University. Matthew gave us his best tips and tricks so that those of us who are new to gardening (or just struggle with it) can turn our thumbs green too!
Don’t fret if you don’t have a yard for a garden. You can start an urban garden in any size area, whether it be out on your balcony, going up your front porch steps, or even inside your bathroom. If you don’t have a plot in the ground, just use containers like pots and window boxes. Fairy Gardens with dwarf plants and miniature figurines are a popular trend right now, and hanging plants also conserve space.
You probably won’t need much in terms of tools. Hirsch recommends the following for a basic starter gardening kit: a small hand spade to dig and shift soil, a pair of pruners for removing old flowers and straggly growth, a watering can, and any soil or containers that you will need. If you’d prefer not to use your bare hands, you can also get gloves for working with your plants and weeding.
Water is an important determiner of success. Did you know that you can water a plant too much? For most plants, overwatering is actually worse than underwatering. Timing matters too—it’s better to water in the morning, and you’ll want to water plants close to their roots. If your plant’s leaves start turning brown, that can be a sign that you need to change your watering habits.
Some plants and flowers work best in outdoor spaces. The newer hydrangeas this season are easier to grow and more reliable than in the past and are a beautiful, compact option for partial sun or shade outside. There are also smaller versions of certain shrubs and perennials available, or you could go for a miniature raspberry bush that does well in the sun. Sunflowers are easy to grow and will brighten up a yard. You could even start a themed “pizza garden” out on your balcony for toppings like tomatoes, basils, and peppers.
Other options are great inside! Succulents are low maintenance and the perfect choice for indoor plants. “Clean Air Houseplants” are highly beneficial because they help absorb indoor pollutants, like the chemicals in carpeting, while also giving off oxygen. Ficus plants, which include fig trees, are in vogue right now for home décor. Some plants still require a lot of light though, such as herb gardens, but they can be done inside if you have a bright south facing window.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match. You don’t need to stick to just one theme in your garden; you can mix herbs, vegetables, plants, and flowers in the same area or even in the same pots sometimes. Look up “companion plants” to find specific ones that do well together or benefit each other. If you add some flowers to a vegetable garden, you can attract helpful pollinators like bees and butterflies, which have a positive impact on the environment. At Trax Farms Market, you can actually buy a colander with multiple harvests for a salad growing right in it!
Pay attention to the climate and the time of year. Many plants come with a “heartiness zone” tag on them to tell you what temperatures they can sustain. When temperatures start dropping around September in Pittsburgh, you’ll want to move tropical plants indoors, some of which can lie dormant until spring. Many annual vegetables or flowers don’t like frost and should be put inside for winter, while others can withstand the cold, like pansies. Starting in early May, you can usually look at the long-range forecast and put certain plants back outside if it’s above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Other vegetables, like spinach, don’t do well in super hot temperatures.
Consider when you want to see your garden grow. Annuals, which complete their life cycle in one year, are sometimes called the Rock Stars of the Plant World because they “live fast and die young,” while perennials will usually last at least a few years. Many shrubs and flowers have a season when they’ll be at their best and brightest bloom. If you’re patient enough to grow your garden from scratch, you can get packets of seeds, which are cheaper than full plants. Think about how long it will take to grow your garden, how often you’ll need to replant items, and what season and length of time you’d like to see flowers at their full bloom.
Getting the correct information is key. Gardening is pretty straightforward, as long as you get the correct information about how to care for the plants you purchase and follow the instructions. For instance, some soils are better suited for containers rather than the ground, while a particular tree might thrive in the sun instead of the shade. Look for labels on plants with details about their care, and don’t be afraid to ask questions when you’re speaking to a horticulture professional or nursery employee.
Go to a knowledgeable garden center. Go to a garden center, such as Trax Farms Market, and ask their associates for help. You can explain what kind of space you have, how much sun or shade you get, the amount of time you can devote to gardening, plus your budget and preferences. When possible, provide measurements and bring images of the area, or pull up photos from the internet of plants and gardens that you like. They should be able to recommend specific products that will work in your space and provide helpful tips for your garden.
Trax Farms Market has a huge assortment of plants, trees, shrubs, flowers, fruits, vegetables, and more, along with friendly associates who can help you with your gardening needs. It’s a scenic and relaxing spot to spend time right outside of the city, so be sure to visit Trax Farms Market to get your garden started!
This content was provided by a local, independent contributor to Made in PGH, a lifestyle blog.
Sponsored by Trax Farms.