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Plant now and other garden tips from PA Herb and Garden

Gardening isn't "rocket science," said state certified horticulturist George Weigel. Here's the tips to solve common problems.

Sometimes the only possible explanation is that you don't have a green thumb. No matter what you seem to do, your home garden just doesn't look the way you'd like it to.

George Weigel, a certified state horticulturist and writer of gardening books "Pennsylvania Getting Started Garden Guide," in 2014, and "Month-by-Month Gardening in Pennsylvania," in 2015, was a featured speaker at the 18th Annual Pennsylvania Herb and Garden Festival. He has some tips you can use this spring.

Tip 1: Plant already

A lot of people start planting their vegetables around Mother's Day in early May. That way the plants can enjoy hotter and sunnier weather.

This is wrong, Weigel said.

"There are things that need to be planted right now," he said. "Two thirds of vegetables can and should be in the ground right now."

While certain vegetables -- like peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes -- can't tolerate frost and would flourish in hotter weather, others don't do as well in the heat.

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peas, leaks, onions, spinach, radishes, potatoes and most perennial herbs like thyme, oregano and sage should all be planted around now, he said.

Tip 2: Raise it up

A lot of soil is lousy for vegetable growth, Weigel said.

In central Pennsylvania, much of the soil is made of clay which is too dense to allow for optimal root structures to flourish for your plants.

While digging a hole and improving the soil can work, Weigel said he likes raised beds to ensure good soil.

"If you're going to plant right into clay then your roots will be stunted," he said. "You're just going to get much better fruits, tomatoes, red beets, carrots" and other plants.

Loosen the soil and add compost to allow for six inches for the roots to flourish.

Tip 3: Widen your rows

"It makes no sense to plant one skinny row and then have a two foot wide space," he said, "because the spaces are just wasted space."

Instead, have rows about 4-feet wide with the two-feet spaces for you to work in. You can reach into the middle of the row.

Tip 4: Seeds matter

Not all seeds are the same, Weigel said.

Seed breeders market all kinds of different varieties of each plant. Some of them are hardier than others and some are more delicious.

Oftentimes gardeners will pick up a cheap seed packet and then figure that the yield was so bad because they had failed to water adequately or had neglected to do something else.

Not so, Weigel said. You get what you pay for in the seeds.

A good way to test what you like best, he said, is to buy different varieties of seeds and then grow them next to each other and compare. Or a curious gardener could visit a trial garden run by a university, like the one at 1446 Auction Rd. in Manheim, Lancaster County, run by Penn State Extension. Weigel also lists his preferred seed varieties on his website at

Tip 5: Just water

Weigel said watering makes more of a difference than the fertilizer you use. But, really, good gardening comes down to three things: Good soil, pick a good variety of seeds and keep the plants watered. The water needs vary by plants and recommendations can be found on the packet or through an Internet search.

"It's not rocket science," he said. "People have been growing edible food for centuries but people just got away from it."

About the festival

The Pennsylvania Herb and Garden Festival was started in 1997 to educate people about herbs and pollination and to protect honeybees and butterflies, said Susan Eggleston, the festival's president.