Orange and purple. Purple and yellow. Blue and white. Megan McCue walked past tables of pansies, some with two-color faces.
With the warm winter—the last cold snap notwithstanding—gardeners are salivating to start planting.
Some plants, like pansies, are cold-hardy, said McCue, a member of the third generation of her family to run McCue’s Garden Centers—now two, one in Woburn, one in Billerica. So are some vegetables, like cabbage, lettuce, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and swiss chard, and some perennials.
So gardeners can begin to work in their gardens, said McCue, the centers' general manager.
Some seeds can be planted as soon as the ground is workable. "That was three weeks ago,"McCue said. Read seed packages carefully, she urged, before planting the seeds.
Perennials—plants that return year after year but bloom for only a spurt in the spring, summer or fall—can be divided and planted now, too, McCue said.
But gardeners should wait, she said, to plant most annuals—plants that flower from spring to frost—until the last week in May. You can “sneak” more cold-hardy annuals, including dianthus, verbena and petunias, into your garden—as long as you don't mind covering them if the temperature drops.
In the meantime, McCue offered these tips for gardeners.
- Rake your flower beds. Clean off your lawn and even your gutters. Start the growing season with “a clean slate.”
- Make a plan for your garden. See where you can make improvements from last year.
- Have your soil tested. Poor soil is to a garden like a poor foundation to a house, McCue said. If your soil is poor, or doesn’t match your plants’ needs, the plants won’t do well—unless you amend the soil. McCue’s sends soil samples to UMass, Amherst, for analysis, McCue said, for $10. Garden center staff can advise gardeners on how to amend their soil, she said.
- During the growing season, “journal,” or keep notes about how your plants grow. Or photograph them at different times during the growing season.
At her home, McCue grows perennials, “because they come back” year to year, and annuals for cutting and constant color.
McCue has worked at McCue's since she was 8, she said; she started by helping customers carry their purchases to their cars.
McCue’s offers a number of upcoming spring events, including a bee class that explains why bees are critical in the garden (May 19) – they help vegetable and fruit flowers turn into produce; an herb gardening class (May 5); and a fairy gardening class (April 28). Fairy gardens, which are miniature gardens with natural materials found outside, are a “gateway,” McCue said, to getting children into the garden.
McCue’s has stocked some new kinds of plants: alstroemeria that flowers from May through October; air plants that pull moisture from the air; and succulents that also don’t need to be watered often.
Outside, they have past-season perennials for sale at half price.
McCue studied economics in college. She learned about plants, she said, “by osmosis, by doing it every day.” And sometimes making mistakes.
“Gardening is a learning process,” she said.
McCue Garden Centers, Woburn, 200 Cambridge Road, 781-933-1385, www.mccuegardencenter.com; open daily, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.