Have you ever gone to the grocery store hungry and bought way more than what was on your list? That’s how I feel during catalog season. After the hustle and bustle of being thankful and decking the halls with friends and family, I’m ready for spring and eager to get my hands back in the dirt. I’m so “hungry,” I could order every flower, plant, tree and seed I see in those catalogs! Maybe it will make spring come sooner? Not likely.

How do you curb that appetite? Planning. Here’s where a little planning will go a long way. The best plan starts during the previous planting season. Throughout spring, summer and even fall and winter, make note of areas that need a splash of color or freshened up. Jot down the plants you’ve seen or read about throughout the year and see if they are available in your catalogs. Try to stick to perennials that are native to your area.

Sure, native plants may not bring the tropics to your backyard, but they will definitely give you the most bang for your buck. Native plants are part of our ecosystem already. They are adapted to our soil, climate, insects, etc., and will flourish with the least amount of pampering. Sometimes you just “have to have” that flower or shrub. Just realize it may only be an annual in your backyard or you may have to bring it inside or give it some extra TLC to keep it going.

What if you didn’t start planning last year? No worries: It’s never too late to start. Going back through pictures you took in or of your yard last year may help get your plan started, or maybe you have that one area that needs an overhaul. Does it get morning or afternoon sun? Or is it in deep shade? What else have you grown there? Evergreens or azaleas? If they did well, chances are the soil is acidic. If they didn’t thrive maybe the soil wasn’t acidic enough. If you are unsure, stop at the extension office and get a soil test kit. Get out the shovel and send a sample to Penn State. They will let you know what the pH is and what nutrients are needed for what you would like to grow.

The vegetable seed catalog realm is a whole other universe. Everything from the “newest” and “most resistant to everything” variety to the oldest heirloom known to mankind is available. And those pictures of the bounty – they are enough to make your mouth water. I am very guilty of starting way too many seeds for my own garden. Thankfully my neighbors know to help themselves when the flats of seedlings get put out in my front yard.

Stock up on your tried-and-true favorites, and don’t be afraid to try something new.

Regardless of how you fare this catalog season, rest assured that next year, your mailbox will once again be overflowing with seed and plant catalogs.

Marianne Campbell is a Penn State Extension Master Gardener of Washington County. Washington County Penn State Extension Master Gardeners will hold a Spring Gardening Seminar March 14 at the Washington County Fairgrounds. For more information, call Laura at 724-207-2001. Written by Marianne Campbell Penn State Extension Master Gardener of Washington County.

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