by Sarah Van Buskirk
photography by Nathan Driscoll
The sun is shining a little brighter, ultra violet indexes are rising, and the bees are buzzing a song with the beating of their wings. This could mean only one thing, spring is here. With the grass becoming greener, flowers beginning to bloom, and monarch butterflies starting to show their presence, it is time to start gardening. The question is, what are the best plants to grow in a La Verne garden for spring? The answer is here.
There is a wide variety of agriculture that can be planted in the spring, ranging from herbs to produce, or from flowers to drought tolerant plants.
Horticulturist, Don Delano, runs the Farm at Fairplex, which displays many in season produce products. Delano grows much of his food for the McKinley Grill Restaurant that is connected with the Fairplex Sheraton Hotel. The restaurant uses the Fair’s produce as ingredients in many of its restaurant recipes. Delano says that the best vegetables to grow in La Verne for early spring would be summer squash, zucchini, cauliflower, bell peppers, eggplant, cucumber, jalapenos and tomatoes. The variety of produce that you are able to harvest in the spring allows you to make a variety of recipes all using produce grown from your very own backyard garden.
Eggplants can be a vegetarian alternative by roasting them for crispy eggplant parmesan. Tomatoes can be grown for a refreshing Caprese salad or sliced for a hamburger on Memorial Day. Stuffed bell peppers and jalapenos are a great appetizer or side dish whether it is for game day or a dinner party.
A great time to start planting these is when the daytime outside temperature stays at a steady 65 to 70 degrees range. Delano says the use of fertilizer is recommended; however, make sure that the bag states that it is safe for growing food. Not just any fertilizer will do as it may contaminate the soil and cause the food to be inedible. He says there are some soil additives that provide more nutrients. For example, calcium can be added to the plant’s soil to fight off diseases and pests; spoiled milk is a good at-home remedy for extra calcium. Iron can be added to aid the plant through its growing process and help with the yellowing of leaves. Volcanic ash is another soil micronutrient. Ground corn stimulates the root growth as well as stimulates good bio bacteria in the soil. Boiling pasta water is another good nutrient to bring some starch into the soil.
Spring is a great time to plant herbs such as basil, rosemary and thyme. Throwing in some fresh cut basil to your Caprese salad or adding rosemary to your eggplant parmesan will add a nice touch to your garden grown recipes. Herbs require lots of light, so if you are growing them indoors, put them next to a nice big window. At many grocery stores, “living” herbs are sold. So, if growing from a seed seems too daunting, buying and taking care of the already grown plant may be another option.
Delano says that a good watering schedule for all these plants would be early in the morning. That watering schedule gives the plants time to dry so they are not wet when the sun beats down on them. If the weather is hotter day than usual, watering twice a day would be a good idea.
Not everyone has the ability to grow produce on acres of land, as Delano does on his five acres of garden space inside the Fairplex fence. However, no matter the size of the landscape you have, you will always be able to grow—even if it is in pots on your cement patio. Tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs are just a few of the produce plants that thrive well in a pot. Plants like tomatoes with their long branches like to be surrounded with a cage that you place in the pot so it encourages the plant to grow upward. You can find these cages in almost all garden sections of stores. If potting produce, be more aware of the watering schedule and whether the plants have a proper drainage system. In pots, there is a higher chance of over watering plants, leading to root rot. If you are able, find a 4×4 planting area where the produce will have a chance to grow to its largest potential.
Although La Verne is facing drought and water restrictions, there are many drought tolerant plants that will not only make your garden look beautiful but will also reduce your water usage. John Garrison, owner of Garrison Nursery in Upland, specializes in plants that are in tune to the environment and native to California. Garrison says that white sage and globe mallows are a couple of the best plants that require the least amount of water. Once the roots are grounded, they usually need no further outside watering help. Succulents are other popular plants that thrive in California with its Mediterranean environment. Succulents tend to have colorful foliage that is tinged red and purple in the winter and green in the summer. Garrison says that the watering schedule for succulent plants is more frequent than most people believe. He says they look lush and nice when you water the plant quite frequently. He notes that when their roots become established, succulents are able to withstand dryer conditions. Garrison says he is seeing smaller sized lawns lately with more drought tolerant plants predominate in the design, since they need less water while lawns consume an excess amount of water.
The nursery owner stresses the need for fertilizers due to the texture of the soil in California being sand, gravel or clay. Fertilizers replenish the soil around the roots, allowing for better growth. He recommends a slow-release fertilizer. Garrison says that those specific slow-release fertilizers are great for the environment because the water runoff that goes into drain gutters does not contain any toxic fertilizer chemicals.
Garrison says that limited patio space is overcome by potting these California native plants and succulents. He says shrubs and succulents are great in pots because they will remain as a smaller version. Plus, he says that it is better for the environment to have smaller plants because there will be fewer clippings and green waste. He gives advice for those who are just starting out with gardening or may not have the best green thumb by recommending geraniums and indoor plants. He says geraniums can be planted all year in pots or in the ground and will produce beautiful flowers. He adds that indoor plants are something many people forget about and are on the easier side to take care of, as well as giving us extra oxygen in our homes.
Garrison says he has many California native plants at his nursery that are pest repellent. For example, marigolds repel insects, and if you plant a multiple of them, you will ward off many varieties of insects. Citronella is another insect repelling plant that has gained popularity and is an ingredient in outdoor candles and lotions to repel biting insects. In your garden, bugs that are more prone to biting will be warded off with citronella, especially when summer rolls around and mosquitoes are on the prowl. Garrison adds to the list of herbs for the spring planting, recommending French lavender. It is edible and is also just a great herb to add a pop of color to your garden. The scent of lavender is known to be very soothing. Garrison says that gardening is a great way to relieve stress and wind down. He says that it brings peace to our rushed lives.
For the insects we do want to encourage, nectar plants such as milkweed and the dwarf butterfly bush encourage the presence of butterflies and bees to inhabit your garden. Those plants are high in nectar and draw in butterflies and bees. It is important to be aware of these important insects in your ecosystem as they promote the growth of your garden and help set fruit by pollinating plants. Birds are another great addition to your ecosystem. To encourage their presence, introduce plants that bear berries. The birds will consume the berries and will spread the seeds in their droppings. This may be a reason you have a random berry bush pop up in your garden out of nowhere.
While gardening brings many positive attributes to not only yourself but also to other living things, if you are unable to plant a garden, you can support your local gardeners and farmers through farmers markets and roadside fruit stands.
Adrian Vargas, owner of Vargas Farms, the roadside strawberry farm and stand located on D Street across from Bonita High School, makes his living growing strawberries. Vargas starts selling strawberries in January using strategically placed plastic sheeting that creates a “hot house” climate. Nevertheless, the average temperature he recommends for maximum strawberry production is 80 degrees. He notes that the strawberries enjoy a light shower every once in a while. Vargas says his farm’s watering schedule is on a constant drip system as the soil is very heavy and damp. However, he recommends for people at home growing strawberries to get at least one to two inches of water in the soil each day. He says that his strawberries take away many of the soil nutrients so using fertilizers replenishes the nutrients. He notes that his farm is a pesticide free area, and he would not grow anything he would give to his family or eat himself.
At Vargas Farms, the strawberries are grown in rows in the ground; however, for those at home, growing strawberries in a pot is another great alternative. Though it is best to let any plant have a large area to grow, berries are one plant that give fruit readily if grown in a pot. If possible, find the largest pot available. Other springtime berries you can add to your garden include raspberries and blackberries. With a variety of berries in your backyard, you can create delicious recipes by adding them to the top of some airy angel food cake or preserve them to make sweet homemade jam.
Growing food and plants in your backyard is great for your mental health, sustainability and the ecosystems around you, but if you want to leave the growing to others, farmers markets bring a sense of pride that you are supporting local farmers while improving your health.
Apples, oranges, lemons, strawberries, peaches, nectarines and plums are the staple at most farmers markets in the area. While the city of La Verne does not have a farmers market, they are present in neighboring cities. The San Dimas Farmers Market, located in San Dimas City Hall, happens every Wednesday evening from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The Pomona Farmers Market, located in Purpose Church near Holt and Garey avenues, comes together every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Claremont Farmers and Artisan Market, located on Harvard Avenue, happens every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. And the Upland Farmers Market and Craft Faire, located on Euclid Avenue, takes place every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Oscar De León, the organizer and manager for the Claremont Farmers and Artisans Market and a University of La Verne journalism alumnus, says that coming to a farmers market to support local farmers is a given, but the true magic behind farmers markets is the community factor. De León says that farmers markets bring residents throughout the area who share similar interests to one place to form a community of growers. He says that many times farmers will ask other local farmers what their growing practices are. The home gardener can share in this conversation as well.
Whether you start a garden of your own, or you take a trip to a farmers market this summer, the bounty and benefits are large. The environment and your mental health will thank you for starting up an easy and fun new hobby. ■