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Ask A Chicago Expert: How To Start Your Dream Garden

After a long and brutal winter earlier this year, Chicago-area gardeners are likely wondering when and how they can start preparing their gardens and backyards for spring. But before grabbing that shovel and getting to work, you'll need to keep a few things in mind. What's popular this spring, and what mistakes should gardeners avoid? For tips on what Chicagoans should keep in mind when gardening this spring, see what a Chicago horticulture expert has to say.

Tony Fulmer (Courtesy of Chalet)

Tony Fulmer
3132 Lake Ave.
Wilmette, IL 60091
(847) 256-0561

Tony Fulmer is the Chief Horticultural Officer at Chalet, which provides landscaping and nursery services and also has a garden center. Fulmer is an Illinois Certified Nursery Professional and has completed the examination to be an ICN Pro. Chalet is a family-owned and award-winning nursery garden center.

Know What You Want From Your Garden

Whether you have a spacious backyard or a sunny spot on your balcony or rooftop for a garden, knowing what to grow this spring can be a difficult decision. What should you consider when planning your garden? According to Fulmer, think of what you want to be able to harvest, and what your family likes to eat. "Look at your space and see what makes sense to you," Fulmer said.

Don't Rush Into Planting

While it might be tempting to head outside and plant your flowers for spring on the first warm day, you don't want to rush things in your garden. Fulmer pointed out that many plants need to be planted at the right time. "The people who try to rush things won't gain anything at all. Peas, cauliflower, onion, lettuce, spinach, chard and kale can all go in earlier when the ground is warm enough. They can take cool night temperatures. Tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash and cucumbers should not go into the ground until at least the middle of May. You don't want them to get frosted, and if it's too cold, they won't grow," he explained.

Add Plants To Your Patio Or Deck

If your backyard is limited or nonexistent, adding potted plants to your patio or deck can add a pop of color to your home this spring. "You need to think about how much you like to water, what kind of look you want and how much light the plants will get. If you have shade during the summer, does it come from a tree or structure?" Fulmer said. If you'd like to plant perennials in pots, he recommended hosta plants for color and to create a striking leaf structure. "Think of the mature size of the plants before putting them in because you need to make sure no one plant takes over the others in the pot," he suggested.

Related: Best Places In Chicago To Watch The Sunset

Got Questions? Find Reliable Resources From The Chicago Area

Are you wondering where you should plant kale in your yard or when to harvest spinach? For gardeners in the Chicago area, Fulmer recommended using an assortment of local sources, starting with a visit to an independent garden center with horticulturists. "You can also head to Chicago Botanic Garden to see plants and plant combinations and see them in the ground. People will pass on a great plant if they see it in a nursery, but seeing the same plant in a pot or in the ground looks completely different," Fulmer said. Fulmer also recommended University of Illinois Extension and The Morton Arboretum for advice on gardening in the Chicago area. Using local sources for gardening will help you make the best choice for your garden.

Watch Out For Wildlife

With coyotes, rabbits, deer and other wild animals regularly visiting Chicago-area gardens, you might be wondering how you can keep your flowers and vegetables from becoming an animal's midnight snack. Fulmer recommends that if you are new to the area, talk to your neighbors and find out which animals are problems. "If you have plants you really want in your garden, plant them in containers and put them close to the house to hopefully discourage the animals," Fulmer added.

Related: Kid-Friendly Gardening: The Best Plants

Megan Horst-Hatch is a runner, reader, baker, gardener, knitter, and other words that end in "-er." She is also the president of Megan Writes, LLC. Her work can be found at

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