, Muskogee, OK

February 27, 2013

Hit the books before you turn the soil

By Molly Day
All the Dirt on Gardening

— Spring garden preparation has begun: seed orders are in, pots are cleaned, leaves are raked and the remaining bits of last fall’s garden will go to the compost pile.

Early spring vegetable and flower seeds can be sown indoors under lights now to get them ready for planting outdoors in April. Also, it is time to order from the Tulsa Master Gardener’s spring plant sale. Orders are due March 28 for April 18 pickups. The order form is online at

Between now and the first planting day of spring, there will be plenty of time for learning new tricks and discovering new plants, so here are five books from a new crop of publications that would be good late-winter reading:

• “Seed Starting: How to Grow Healthy Productive Vegetables, Herbs and Flowers from Seed” by Barbara Ellis, 120-page pocket-size paperback, published by Storey ( List price $9; $4 at online vendors.

Ellis says “seeds set the rules,” and to be successful, we just have to discover and follow those rules. She recommends that you start with easy-to-grow plants that you really want to grow. Fast-growing, cool-weather crops are the easiest. Seed types, how to read a seed packet, make your own seed tape, germination tips and seed-saving are included in the first half of the book. The remaining pages are step-by-step techniques to starting seeds in the ground or in containers, under lights or indoors.

• “The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers” by Debra Prinzing and David E. Perry, St. Lynn’s Press ( List price$18; $11 at online book vendors.

The importance of locally grown vegetables and fruit applies to cut flowers and potted plants as well. Bouquets at the farmers’ market are usually grown within 50 miles away. The book is a series of interviews and stories about small growers who are committed to providing beautiful flowers grown in good soil with a minimum of chemical intervention. When you buy local, sustainability and beauty are included.

• “All New Square Foot Gardening: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space” by Mel Bartholomew, Cool Springs Press ( List price $25; $14 online.

The 1981 edition of this book caused a sensation, and the 2013 update has more ideas, how-to illustrations, plant varieties and a planting schedule. The basics are: garden close to the house; build planting boxes; use Mel’s soil mix; skip the fertilizer; plan for easy access; plant in grids, not rows; and plant close together to prevent weeds. To complete the projects, tools and comfort using them will be required.

• “Why Grow That When You Can Grow This? 255 Extraordinary Alternatives to Everyday Problem Plants” by Andrew Keys, Timber Press ( $25 list price; $15 online.

Keys, a native of Mississippi, fell in love with plants early in his life. Whether you are looking for trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, grasses or groundcovers, you will find a way to have what you want. Each page names a popular but problem-causing plant, and a few easier-to-grow “Extraordinary Alternative” plants are described in detail. Plenty of humor and lots of good suggestions will make this a popular choice for new homeowners as well as experienced gardeners.

• “The Speedy Vegetable Garden” by Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz, Timber Press ( List price $19; $13 online.

Diaccono and Leendertz present a new approach to DIY produce: grow sprouts, microgreens, edible flowers, cut-and-come-again salad leaves, and quick-harvest vegetables. The young authors provide plenty of photos, illustrations, recipes and inspiration for those who have little space, not much time or dwindling patience for growing a full-size garden. Plenty of how-to help is included.