published Saturday, April 21st, 2012

Five tips for buying spring plants

This weekend is the 12th annual Spring Plant Sale & Festival at Crabtree Farms.

More than 100 varieties of plants will be available, including raspberries, aloe and figs.

"We're trying to move toward mostly edible plants," said Melanie Mayo, director of education and outreach.

The plants are grown in Crabtree's greenhouses, rather than being brought in from large nurseries.

"The plants are grown with utmost care, in sustainable conditions so we have top-quality plants. We also test the varieties before we sell them so we know we're selling a plant that will grow well in Chattanooga," Mayo said.

Over the years, she said, they have received excellent feedback from customers who come back time and time again.

This year, they used special potting mixes, including fish emulsion, which keeps plants very strong, she said.

Many heirloom and specialty varieties of tomatoes are available, as well as plenty of herbs, berries and other fruits and vegetables.

The weekend features live music, craft sales and gardening workshops, including Backyard Fruit Gardening and Backyard Organic Gardening.

5 TIPS

Mayo provided this list of plants worth considering.

1 Asparagus and celery. These are two new plants at the sale this year. "I challenge someone to find those somewhere in town," she said.

2 Heirloom tomatoes, like chocolate cherry, and Sungold cherry tomatoes. They're addictive, Mayo said of Sungolds. "I tell my son that they're Skittles because they taste as sweet as a Skittle."

3 Interesting herbs. The array of options includes chocolate mint, lemongrass, fennel, pennyroyal and stevia.

4 Tobacco plant. This can be dried and used to deter pests. "We're not selling it for people to make [cigarettes]," Mayo said. "It's really a pest deterrent."

5 Cactus pear. This is a flowering cactus that produces a fruit. "They pop a flower off the top, and the fruit turns dark purple and tastes almost like a melon," she said. The pad of the cactus is edible as well.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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