Get Planting: Spring Has Sprung

March 27, 2018
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Dearborn Market in Holmdel offers an array of baskets filled with spring flowers in their garden center. Photo by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen.

By Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen |

It’s not the snow that spring gardeners worry about. Snow acts as a kind of insulation.

It’s the below freezing temperatures, icy winds and freezing rain that keep us from planting those cold weather vegetables, pansies and especially peas that traditionally go into the ground on St. Patrick’s Day in New Jersey.

But there are ways around this, especially if you have not yet started your seeds indoors for cold weather crops outdoors. Sickles Market has done some of the hard work and currently is selling vegetable 6-packs for $3.99. Offerings included Brussels sprouts and red and green cabbages, which can take 90 to 110 days to mature; peas, which take 58 to 70 days; spinach, 30 to 50 days; Bright Lights Swiss chard (60 days), and romaine, buttercrunch and Red Sails lettuces, 45 to 70 days, depending on the variety.

These veggies won’t do well in heat so the sooner they mature the better the crop. Strawberry plants and blueberry bushes as well as pansies were also available on the outside tables.

But be prepared to cover up the lettuces and Swiss chard if freezing weather is forecast. Better yet, put them in a sunny windowsill or under grow lights for a few more weeks. Last spring, which was cold and wet, even commercial farmers in Monmouth County had to wait to plant or risk losing crops.

In the greenhouse at Dearborn Market in Holmdel, pansies and violas were $2.99 for a 4-inch pot, $2.49 a 4-pack, $2.99 a 6-pack and $15.99 a flat. Vegetables were not out yet.

It’s bunny heaven this time of year at Sickles Market in Little Silver. Photo by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen.

But the greenhouse is featuring the super popular houseplant pilea, short for peperomioides, and also known as the Chinese money plant. Its other nicknames include flying saucer or pancake plant due to its flat leaves the size of silver dollars.

Escape Rooms Lock In The Fun

It’s a green houseplant – no flowers – that prefers diffuse light and a 4-inch pot sells for $14 at Dearborn and about $50 online.

“My plant broker from Canada called and said she had five boxes of them so I asked her to send one,” explained garden center manager Mark Sandstrum, who said he’s still not sure how to pronounce the peperomioides name. “They’re cute. Customers like them.”

He said he also saw them at the annual Philadelphia Flower Show for $50. Popular and rare for now – several of the plants at Dearborn were already multiplying – accounts for the high price elsewhere.

“I think it’s fun to find different plants and things,” he added. “I said, ‘send me something different,’ and this is what I got and I priced them to sell.”

He also has the jewel orchid that is prized for its dramatically colored broad leaves. The tiny white flowers are a bonus and it’s one of a few orchids that grows in soil, he added.

“It looks like the same kind of plant, but really isn’t,” Sandstrum said. “It was a prizewinner at last year’s orchid show.”

A 5-inch pot, currently blooming, sells for $24.99.

Both Sickles and Dearborn are being overrun by rabbits – no, not real ones – plus ducks and chicks in all sizes and shapes for the Easter holiday and the fact that Tuesday was the first day of spring.

Spring flowers in baskets or pots always remind us that the snow outside soon will be gone until next year.

Local Rock at the Holidays: Give and Ye Shall Receive

But if you can’t wait for lettuce, micro greens and tomatoes – or want to enjoy them year round – Quinn Lahm, assistant store manager at Brock Farms in Colts Neck, has one word for you: hydroponics.

Quinn Lahm, assistant store manager at Brock Farms in Colts Neck, with the self-contained OPCOM Farm GrowWall Indoor Smart Hydroponic System that can grow 75 plants at once. Photo by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen.

The garden center has not yet put out its spring vegetable and flower flats, but there are red and green leaf lettuces and tomatoes growing there and doing well.

“Hydroponics can be as simple as you want to make it,” she explained. “If you have a houseplant clipping in water and it grows roots and you’re switching the water out and it’s still growing, you’re doing hydroponics. Just like that.”

The theme for the 2018 Philadelphia Flower Show was water. She saw bonsai trees being grown in water in large glass containers, no soil in sight.

More customers are asking about it, she said, especially older people who’ve moved to 55 and older communities where space is limited and gardening is not allowed.

“Hydroponics doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. It can be a small herb box on windowsill where there’s a little pump and water flowing,” she said.

Brock’s offers Emily’s Garden Hydroponic that’s 16-by-24-by-6 inches with six individual planters for rotation or replacement. It sells for $89.99.

Or you can go bigger with an OPCOM Farm GrowWall Indoor Smart Hydroponic System that is self-contained and fits against the wall. There are five tiers and 75 places for plants. It sells for $999.99.

“Indoor gardening is certainly on the rise and I think a lot of it has to do with making it more approachable for the home gardener,” Lahm said.


Brock Farms
375 Route 34, Colts Neck

Dearborn Market
2170 Route 35, Holmdel

Sickles Market
1 Harrison Ave., Little Silver

This article first appeared in the Home & Garden section of the March 22 – 29, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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