Growing a north country garden: Local professionals offer tips for best results

Timothy Widrick of Zehr's Flowers and Landscaping, Castorland, pulls a shrub out of the ground at a landscaping job in Lowville. Photo by Amanda Morrison.

Planting and maintaining a garden and keeping landscaping lush in the north country is always tricky. Various factors, including late frosts in May and blazing sun and dry soil as early as June, can mean a rocky start to any planting season.

As signs of spring start sprouting, local greenhouses and nurseries become overrun with questioning patrons, wondering what bushes and trees thrive in a cold north country climate and what flowers can be planted in early spring for a summer’s worth of color.

Who better to ask for advice when getting started this planting season than the professionals who own local garden centers?

Jolene K. Rhodes and her husband, Gary L., own Rhodes Greenhouse on Route 3 in Henderson. Rhodes has been a gardening institution in the north country since 1962, each summer offering a greenhouse packed with shrubs, trees, annuals and perennials.

“The question we get most often is asking when it’s safe to plant,” Mrs. Rhodes said. “But the way the weather has gone this year, it is a difficult question to answer. I have seen it snow in June, so you never really know when it’s safe.”

Mrs. Rhodes said that there are quite a few hardy plants that are safe to plant early. They include pansies and petunias, and many shrubs and trees are safe as long as they aren’t flowering nor have blossoms.

“Evergreens are popular and you can plant those early, even if there is new growth that is pretty and soft, if you get a frost you can always trim off those pieces,” she said.

Emerald blue creeping phlox waiting to be planted. Photo by Amanda Morrison.

The advantage to planting trees and shrubs at the first signs of spring is the amount of moisture in the ground, Mrs. Rhodes said. When planting shrubs and trees for landscaping, the most important tip is to keep the plant and its roots watered. In the spring, the ground is often very moist from the winter snow melt and rain, so planting early eliminates constant watering. Mrs. Rhodes said that planting in the early summer months means one would have to regularly water the new plant to keep it moist.

Samantha Widrick, owner of Zehr’s Flowers and Landscaping in Castorland, said that ensuring a new tree or shrub’s roots are established before allowing it to be watered naturally will help the plant’s chances at survival.

“Mulch actually can help the tree or shrub take root, and it will keep the soil underneath moist so you don’t have to water as frequently,” she said.

Ms. Widrick said that the question she hears often is in regards to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

“We hear a lot of, ‘What zone are we in?’” she said. “Much of the area is in Zone 4, but I always suggest they look online to find their exact location and particular zone letter and number.”

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Kyle R. Hayes is associate editor for NNY Living magazine. Contact him at