Ah, spring: the season of rebirth, renewal, and growth. Breathe in the air full of the fresh blossoms of flowers, feel the first warm breezes, gaze at the profusion of color, and listen to the birds chirping and insects buzzing.
Most of the United States just went into daylight saving time on March 9 with instructions to “spring forward” with our clocks. On Thursday, March 20, 2014, we spring forward for real as it is the Spring or Vernal Equinox, fondly known as the official first day of spring. After a brutal winter and the first full month of spring and National Garden Month—April– just around the corner, many minds turn toward planting and gardening with their promise of getting back in touch with nature.
Play the Zone
Before you pull on the mud boots and pick up your gloves and tools, you’ll want to determine where you are in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for the United States. The climate where you garden affects the fruits and vegetables that you can grow successfully. Local nurseries and garden centers will typically stock plants that perform well in your climate, but it’s important to know your planting zone if you are ordering seeds, bulbs, or plants from non-local establishments.
Image: USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (Source: USDA)
How does your garden grow?
If you pore over seed catalogs, browse gardening Web sites, stroll the store aisles of soil, pots, and plants, and read gardening books in the dark winter months, then you probably have the gardening bug. You can also learn to recognize the real insects that you have in your garden with The Bug Book: A Garden Field Guide from the EPA. Gardeners can toil away only to find that someone else is enticed by the new plants; that’s when some choose to control pests by using chemicals. Be extra safe and learn about the effects of pest control, especially if you have children. Greenscaping (see this EPA guide) is an alternative method of dealing with those tiny invaders in your garden.
Image: Lady bugs gathering on an oak branch (Source: NPS)
Practice safe gardening
In any outdoor activity, you want to be safe and healthy in the garden. While you are digging away and pulling weeds, you can get quite a sunburn or get dehydrated. The EPA’s Mission: Sunwise Activity Book helps educate kids on how to be safe in the sun and to use sunscreen. Check out these health and safety tips so that you can continue to enjoy the time spent outdoors.
When it comes to tackling bigger projects, read up first to learn what to look for in your own backyard, starting with those stately trees. How to Prune Trees is a best-selling quick guide to smart practices on trimming branches for optimum tree health. How to Recognize Hazardous Defects in Trees is an overview of common issues with trees.
Removing a tree altogether is sometimes the only safe option; Why Would Anyone Cut a Tree Down? is a book for children that explains how taking away an unhealthy tree can benefit the overall environment of the garden.
As always, with any larger gardening issues, you’ll want to consult a professional arborist for concerns with your trees.
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow
Gardening is an ideal activity for children. Not only are they out in nature and physically active, but they also learn about where healthy food comes from while observing the weather, biology, zoology, and conservation. The First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, has been teaching the message of healthy living through nutritious, locally grown food in her White House Kitchen Garden. Plants grown right outside the White House in Washington, DC, end up on the dining table of the President’s family. Whether you are building a kitchen garden, a school garden, or a community garden, Let’s Move has more information for you, including a diagram of the White House Kitchen Garden if you want to recreate it in your own backyard.
Schools are well aware of the educational benefits of gardening; it begins as early as pre-school. (Download the free “Grow It, Try It, Like It! Preschool Fun with Fruits and Vegetables” garden-themed nutrition education kit.) Teachers can find resources and lesson plans from the EPA to incorporate gardening into their school curriculum. And if April showers are in the forecast, little ones can still learn about nature by curling up with a delightful illustrated book about The Little Acorn, which tells of the cycle of growth and change in the garden that starts with just one seed.
Watch the video below as First Lady Michelle Obama and White House chef Sam Kass tell the story of the first garden on White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden during World War II.
“Inside the White House: The Kitchen Garden” video of First Lady Michelle Obama and White House chef Sam Kass telling the story of the first garden on White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden during World War II. This new garden was planted in the Spring of 2009 with the help of local elementary school children and has yielded a constant supply fresh produce for the First Family and White House events. Published May 10, 2012. (Source: White House Let’s Move YouTube Channel)
You can find more White House garden videos and gardening ideas for kids on the Let’s Move Gardening Guide web page.
Look for inspiration in public spaces
Some folks are lucky enough to own a big garden plot; others grow plants in containers on a balcony or place herb pots by a sunny window. No matter how you garden, you can always look for inspiration for your gardening pursuits. There are a number of places to visit in spring to see the variety of plants. It’s especially helpful to visit places where plants are labeled so that you know what to look for at a local nursery or plant sale.
Image: Cymbidium ‘Hearts of Gold’ orchid in bloom at the U.S. Botanic Garden
In the nation’s capital, Washington, DC you can go to the United States Botanic Garden and see what’s in bloom or learn how to attract butterflies to your garden.
You can also purchase A Botanic Garden for the Nation: the United States Botanic Garden (ePub eBook), a GPO Online Bookstore perennial favorite (pun intended).
Peeking out from among the azaleas at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC.
While in the DC area, don’t miss the United States National Arboretum. You can see every single plant contained there, search for individual plants and see exactly where they are located on this interactive map.
Find out what’s in bloom during the month of your visit. (If visiting in April, don’t miss their world-famous display of azaleas / rhododendrons which bloom sometime in April. Check their Azalea page for current bloom conditions.)
The arboretum also has full color posters to help you identify crape myrtles, shrubs, and trees.
Image: Guide to Lagerstroemia, commonly known as crape myrtle or crepe myrtle, from the National Arboretum. (Source: U.S. National Arboretum)
Learn about gardening by joining others
You can learn so much about gardening by meeting other like-minded folks. If you don’t have your own garden, you might want to join a community garden or find a local gardening group or volunteer at a gardening club. Urban soils have their own unique characteristics and benefits; find out how to grow gardens in urban soil, then enjoy the benefits that come from gardening in urban landscapes in Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-Being Through Urban Landscapes, available from GPO’s U.S. Government Online Bookstore.
Image: Urban gardeners at work planting new seedlings (Source: NIH)
It’s food for thought
The first presidents were known not only for their political endeavors, but also for their farms, gardens and orchards. If planted and maintained well, gardens and orchards can last for decades, even centuries.
Learn more about the legacy and preservation of historic orchards in the U.S. with these two publications available from GPO’s U.S. Government Online Bookstore:
Image: World War II USDA poster promoting Victory gardens: “Uncle Sam says GARDEN to Cut Food Costs” (Source: National Archives)
How can I get these and other Federal Government publications on Gardening?
In addition to clicking on the links in the article above to find the publications, you may find gardening publications from the following:
- Shop Online Anytime: You can buy eBooks as well as print publications (with FREE Standard Shipping worldwide) from GPO’s U.S. Government Online Bookstore website at http://bookstore.gpo.gov:
- Visit a Federal Depository Library: Search for U.S. Government publications in a nearby Federal depository library. Librarians: You can find the records for most titles in the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP), or search for published U.S. Government eBooks in GPO’s Federal Depository Library Program’s special eBooks at GPO page.
- Visit a Public Library: Ask your local public librarian about Federal eBooks that may be available for library patrons to check out through the library’s Overdrive subscription.
About the author: Kristina Bobe is a Senior Planning and Development Specialist for the U.S. Government Printing Office’s Library Services & Content Management (LSCM) Division. Additional content, images and editing provided by Michele Bartram, Government Book Talk Editor and Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC.