EA Gardeners’ Green Thumb Tips

by | Apr 6, 2023 | Arts & Culture, EA Staff News, Public Spaces, Parks & Recreation

We recently explored the Ron and Lydia Harrington Perennial Playspace at Cleveland Botanical Gardens. If you have little ones, this is your spot for inclement days and when the sun is shining head outdoors to the Hershey Children’s Gardens. Inspired by our visit and with spring showing hints of herself we thought it timely to share tips for the new-to-CLE/AKN gardeners. Each of us has had a mentor to help us begin to garden. We are full of it -advice- and hope you find it helpful.

There’s nothing quite like the excitement of seeing your perennials awaken from the garden bed and in first visits to a garden center to purchase seeds, annuals, vegetables, and herbs for the upcoming season. Digging into Northern Ohio soil for the first time this spring? We’ve put together a list of local nurseries and garden centers to buy your annuals, perennials, succulents, water plants, all things blooming and herbaceous. Also included is a list of popular annual plant sales, nearby greenhouses, and offerings from our amazing park systems.  

EA’s Margaux Murphy, Garden Club of Cleveland Horticulture Chair shared: “April is National Native Plant Month co-sponsored by newly retired Ohio Senator Rob Portman in April ’22. If you live close to Lake Erie, spring will start a little later as the lake water temp is still cold, while inland areas will begin blooming with daffodils, crocuses, and forsythia. However, the opposite happens in fall when the lake temp is warm. If your neighborhood is closer to the shoreline you will benefit from warmer days, leaves in their canopy and mums blooming longer. Cleveland has a handful of microclimates, including if you live near a large body of water, river (we’ve got amazing wine growers and wineries in the Grand River Valley due to this effect), or in higher elevations where frost delays spring and it occurs earlier in the fall. On average, the region has spring’s last frost around April 14th and begin in the fall around November 7th. Beware, no absolutes on last frost, its Cleveland, and Clevelanders know, ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes’. The safest rule of thumb is to start planting annuals and tender perennials Memorial Day weekend.”

EA flower captured by EA’s Brad Withers

The plant hardiness zones here are 5b, 6a, 6b. When purchasing perennials, check the tag for the numbered zone to ensure that it’s able to last through winter. A top resource for climate zones is the Arbor Day Foundation site which stays on top of our changing climate.  USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

Watch out for the deer! They love most plants and shrubs ranging from spring tulips to evergreens like arborvitae. Stock up on stinky spray and apply every week or two throughout the growing season, especially in the spring when fresh new leaves, especially hostas are irresistible to them! Cari Ross swears by Liquid Fence Deer & Rabbit Repellent and Laura Uhle uses this monthly service to spray their yard using all natural materials “and we haven’t had deer damage at all”.

To understand your garden’s soil nutrients and acidity levels, we suggest testing so you know if you need to make any amendments. Ohio State University’s Agricultural Extension recommends UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab. Mail a sample of your soil and receive a detailed report for how to create premium growing dirt!

Two books that have been helpful in identifying perennials that do well in our climate:

Growing Perennials in Northern Ohio Book
Perennials for Ohio book

In April, eager gardeners start seeds indoors to get a head start aided by grow lights. Some locals plant cool weather crops where seeds are placed directly into the soil outdoors. These include lettuce, kale, spinach, onions, garlic, beets, celery, cilantro, chives, mint, peas and potatoes.

Peg Furnas at EA recommends “several hardy perennials which any level gardener can successfully grow in our region; Lady’s Mantle, Solomon’s Seal, Hosta (adds color/texture to a shady spot when choosing from the different variations), Peonies (great for cutting and watching the heart-shaped petals, double peonies have over 300 petals, gracefully fall onto your table top), Ferns (so many varieties including two favorites Maidenhair Fern and Ghost Fern), Lily of the Valley, Blue False Indigo, Sea Holly, and Irises. Perennials as they mature need to be split usually in the fall. They are the perfect sharing plant as you swap varieties with your fellow gardeners – a fun and thrifty way to populate your gardens. One never feels alone in their garden amongst crawlers and flying pollinators of every kind. I also keep company with those who’ve shared their splits as I’m reminded of their friendship when tending to my garden.”

Local Garden Walks and Inspiration Gardens

GardenWalk Cleveland A self-guided tour of dozens of gardens in urban neighborhoods to give you inspiration. This year it takes place July 8-9. Grab a friend, your bike or walking shoes, and explore.

Kingwood Center Gardens 47-acres in Mansfield (1 hour south of CLE), former home of the President of Ohio Brass transitioned to public gardens in the 1950’s.

Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens The former home of the CEO of Goodyear Tire, this Tudor home and gardens are stunning and host special events.

Cleveland Cultural Gardens’ One World Day is August 27th. MLK Jr Drive is closed to traffic for you to leisurely stroll around 35 gardens sponsored by the nationalities represented in Cleveland. If you don’t see your own heritage garden you can get a plan together, bring some friends and present your proposal. The Cultural Gardens are beautiful in every season with most in full bloom by mid-summer.

Seeds, Plants and Supplies

The Cleveland Seed Bank holds a winter seed swap in early spring. You can also join the Cleveland Seed Bank to help the worldwide movement to protect local seed supplies and promote shared seed heritage. From the website, you can view the seed exchange if you would like to browse current offerings, or post seeds that you want to exchange. If you are not logged in or registered, you will be prompted to do so before you reach the seed exchange page

In collaboration with the Cleveland Seed Bank, the Seed Library at Cleveland Public Library strives to preserve biodiversity and to promote local, heirloom varieties of plants. The Seed Library allows you to “check out” a packet of heirloom seeds, grow your own heritage vegetables or flowers, save seeds from the best plants, and then lend them to a friend or neighbor, participate in a “seed swap,” or use them yourself next year

Annual Plant Sales

Rockefeller Green House Plant Sale typically occurs in mid-May. If you have never been to this greenhouse, owned by the City of Cleveland, you must check it out. It’s open year round and a perfect way to experience 75-degree humid air in February, the beauty of plants and a sniff of fresh soil.

Tomato Monster (Freakishly Good Heirlooms) pre-sells (they go fast!) You can order many varieties of heirloom tomatoes and some peppers too.

Native Plant Sale at Cleveland Metroparks Canalway Center You can be a steward for wildlife by adding native plants to your landscape. These beautiful, hardy, low-maintenance plants will make your yard an oasis for important native pollinators while creating attractive garden spaces around your home.

Locally Owned Greenhouses and Garden Centers

Yes, you can buy your plants at The Home Depot, but if you prefer to support local folks and communities, shop at a locally-owned garden center, where the staff has expertise on plants that thrive in our zone.

Petitti Garden Centers is 50+ years old, family owned, and has nine locations that have everything you need for indoor and outdoor plants, patio furniture, pots, garden decor etc.

Gale’s Garden Centers is similar to Petitti with Westlake and Willoughby locations.

Bluestone Perrenials Like the name indicates, they only sell perennials and while it’s a 30+ minute drive out to their facility in Madison, OH (Lake County) it is worth it as you drive home smiling with your car packed with plants that didn’t break the bank!

Bremec Garden and Design EA’s Lisa Taylor buys Bremec’s Bonds every year to “try” to save money. It’s where she does her spring flower shopping, picking from their vast selection of annuals with lots of varieties and colors. Lisa loves the “thriller, filler, and spiller” for her pots as well. They have beautiful trees, fountains, large decorative rocks and pond décor. As a transplant herself, Lisa had never planted anything before moving to Cleveland and credits the Bremec staff with helping her figure it all out.

Canterbury Creek Gardens is a chemical-free garden center in Westlake and the sell their own fertilizer and soil as well.

Lakewood Garden Center is a family-owned garden center.

Avonlea Gardens & Inn is a seed to flower farm/florist, specializing in native species. They even recycle your old plastic nursery plant containers.

Trickers Located in Independence, Trickers is America’s oldest water-garden specialty store and also has a vast collection of yard/patio decor.

Havels Flowers Is a family-owned greenhouse with an extensive selection of succulents and cacti.

Lowes Greenhouse in Chagrin Falls offers consultation, classes, events, and a wide array of plants. If you bring in your own pots, they will plant whatever combo you’d like and have them ready for the outdoors when the frost is passed. 

Cool Things To Know About

Rust Belt Riders is a composting company. It began in 2014 as two guys hauling restaurant food waste — via bicycles, at first — to produce organic compost they needed for farming. It has turned into a thriving, city-wide program of both commercial and residential composting.

Cleveland Botanical Garden Green Corps is an urban agricultural work-study program for high school teens that was started in 1996 by the Cleveland Botanical Garden, now a part of Holden Forests & Gardens with the Holden Arboretum. For more than 20 years, they have employed over 1,000 youth who work at urban farms in the Midtown, Slavic Village, Fairfax and Buckeye-Woodland neighborhoods.

Garden Clubs and Library

There are a variety of garden clubs in Cleveland and joining one is a great way to get connected to fellow gardeners in your new town. Applications for membership varies, so we suggest you go to the club’s website you are interested in to find out more.

Cleveland Botanical Gardens, Eleanor Squire Library, has a beautiful library packed with resources and offers classes with knowledgeable staff to assist.

Up for a Challenge? Plant Tubers Grow Dahlias!

If you want to get excited about what our earth can reward you with, here is inspiration from our dahlia champion grower, Cari Ross. “A few years ago, as my spring gardening tasks became pretty routine, I decided to add a challenge to the garden… dahlias!  Once I saw them, I was instantly obsessed. They are absolutely gorgeous and come in almost any size, shape, and color you can imagine. They are a lot of work and take all summer to grow before they begin flowering, but oh the payoff is amazing. Then, once we get a hard frost, the part of the Dahlia plants above ground die. The tubers below ground are not able to survive the cold, so they must be dug up and set to rest indoors in dark/cool environment for a few months. When the ground warms up again in late spring, you plant the tubers, and begin the battle of keeping away the deer, rabbits, slugs and bugs in addition to watering, feeding, pinching and waiting!”

Check out EA’s Brad Withers daily posts of flora/fauna including a clever caption on his Instagram account , He is a champion dahlia grower and shared: “Let’s start with where dahlias should be planted; in full sun for as much of the day as possible. Dahlias need warm, 60-degrees soil so I usually wait until early June to plant. I use pots so it’s easy to move them indoors in the winter months without digging tubers up. Dahlias come in many varieties in form, height and color some will grow 3-4 feet tall. This is where I buy my dahlias, the largest grower in the country with a website with tutorials on planting and care. Because dahlias have short fine roots, they need daily watering, so I hook a timer up to my sprinkler when traveling so they don’t dry out. I also add monthly nutrients to their soil as they seem to be heavy feeders. When you dig tubers up in the fall, box in peat moss and store where they won’t freeze on a sun porch or in a heated garage to replant in the spring. The best part is, the more dahlias you cut, the more they regrow, making for beautiful arrangements for your house and to give to neighbors.”

Executive Arrangements partners with CLE/AKN companies and organizations to help them attract and retain the best possible talent from all over the world. We connect, educate, and acclimate candidates and new hires so they vividly see the quality of life in our region and after just one day of guided exploration in our town, 80% say YES to the job offer. For more info call us at 216.231.9311.