Spring into gardening: Plants Plus owner Joe Touchette offers garden tips and trends

Saturday, March 6, 2010
Joe Touchette is owner of Plants Plus in Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

Joe Touchette loves to create a new landscape from scratch -- but he really loves to transform a messy, overgrown yard into a beautiful landscape.

"It's a lot of fun. A lot of times I'll think I should have taken a picture before and after, because it looks so different," says Touchette, owner of Plants Plus in Cape Girardeau. "It's fun to see the reaction of the customer ... to create something for someone and then have them come out and say, 'Wow, that's really neat, it was all worth it.'"

Touchette says his parents, who enjoyed gardening, landscaping, hunting, camping and floating on the river, passed these interests along to him as a child. He grew up in the Chicago suburbs but remembers many trips to Missouri to visit family and pursue outdoor adventures. He liked the area so much that he chose to attend Southeast Missouri State University, then decided to stay after accepting his first job with a local lawn service. Today, Touchette's business is part landscaping service, part garden center.

"I like working with my hands, being outdoors, and building and creating things, like landscapes, that are interesting and eye-catching," says Touchette. The best part of his job, he says, is that he does something different every day, from supervising work crews and hauling dirt to designing landscapes and ordering goods for the shop. Customer traffic may be slow in the winter, but that gives Touchette a chance to prepare for a busy spring season -- and to chat with TBY about gardening advice and how to get a head start this year.

If you want to plant vegetables, now is the time to start growing seeds indoors. Tomatoes are the most popular items at Plants Plus, says Touchette, followed by lettuce. Spinach, broccoli and cauliflower seeds can also be started indoors and moved outside when it gets warm enough, usually around April. Early spring is also a good time to till the garden and flower beds.

While gardeners once opted for simple greenery, such as boxwoods, holly, lilacs and forsythia arranged in straight runs and ending with a tall, pointy shrub, today's gardeners are becoming more creative, looking for colorful, interesting plants in curved flow lines. Touchette expects wave petunias, geraniums and gerbera daisies to be popular again this year.

"Knockout roses are the first truly easy roses to grow," he notes. "They're disease-resistant and you don't have to mess with them too much."

Touchette adds that gardening seems to have grown more popular with the economic downturn: More clients are staying home and working in the yard, hoping to boost their home value and save money by using vegetable gardens. Customers are interested in being "green" and growing organic crops.

But gardening also has personal value, says Touchette.

"It gives a person pride in their work to go out and accomplish something, especially something that will add value and beauty to your home. That's fun. It's also good exercise," he says.

When it comes to gardening tips, Touchette's No. 1 plea is to trim, trim, trim your shrubs.

"People don't realize they have to trim and do maintenance once in a while. You run the risk of having to redo everything if you don't trim enough," he says. Once plants fill out, trimming is essential to maintain the proper shape and to keep the plants in good condition.

For those new to gardening, Touchette recommends starting with a small garden space or area that needs work. Consult magazines and garden centers for advice on what to do with the space and how to take care of the plants. Touchette often finds that once people see how simple and enjoyable gardening can be, they keep coming back for more.

"It helps to have an eye for it, like how things go together, and to know the plants," he adds. "Find out how big they'll get, how to take care of them and whether they need sun or shade."

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