The homeowners perspective — that’s the perspective Elsa Sanchez and myself take in teaching our class “Gardening for Fun and Profit” to non-agricultural majors across Penn State. These students, regardless of their college or major, will hopefully be homeowners some time in the future. The objective of the class is to familiarize the students with all the horticultural activities involved in being a homeowner.
It is good to think about all the activities that a homeowner is involved in during the year. Even if you are just starting out and living in an apartment with limited space, you can have indoor houseplants or do some container gardening on the balcony, growing fresh herbs, salad mixes or even a bush tomato plant. There are even extensive rooftop gardens in metropolitan areas.
And when it comes time to start thinking about purchasing your own home, there are even more options to consider. A new home may not have extensive landscaping and you may want to consider developing a landscape plan that incorporates what you want in your property both from the hardscape (patios, walkways, outdoor living areas that include such items as fireplaces, grills, bars, water effects, etc.) and the plant material such as trees and shrubs.
Here you want to consider the colors, textures and having something interesting in the landscape throughout the seasons of the year. Not only the color of the foliage but the look of the bark of trees is an important consideration. Shrubs come in a wide variety of leaf shapes, colors of foliage and flowers and growth habits. It is important to choose plant material that is suited to your area and location. That is where the resources found in your extension service connected to your land-grant university such as Penn State is important, as well as local nurseries and garden centers. They can help you decide what you might do yourself and what needs to be done by professionals.
Lawns are certainly a big item to consider, and in a new property, choosing the right turf grass suited for the site is very important. Is the site shady or sunny; wet or dry; a lot of traffic or not much traffic? Once the decision is made on the grass, then proper preparation of the soil is critical to good establishment. What is the correct soil pH, amount of fertilizer needed, amount the seed to be seeded or amount of sod to be purchased and care and watering afterward?. If you’re purchasing an existing property, then you might need to consider some renovation of the grass areas. Proper timing for fertilizing and weed control is critical to a good lawn, along with proper mowing of the grass and irrigation if needed.
As a homeowner, you might want to consider flower and vegetable gardens. Flower gardens can be annual or perennial beds and also a bed for cutting flowers for decorating inside the home. There are many considerations in these two gardening activities that will keep you busy.
Maybe as a homeowner you might want to plant a home orchard full of apples, peaches, pears, cherries and nectarines as well as some Asian pears or other interesting fruit trees. Also there are a host of small fruits that you might consider planting, such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, currants and gooseberries. If you are inclined and you enjoy a glass of wine, then we move into another whole area of grapes and grape growing. You can grow a Concord grape for juice or jelly or a grape variety that will make a good wine.
Nut crops are also worth considering. There are filberts, English walnut, pecans, heartnuts and hickories. This is one crop that you want to start early, as it might take 10 years to reach production.
You can see that we cover a lot of ground in the class, and future homeowners need to consider if they would enjoy getting involved in these horticultural activities or want to consider farming it out. We didn’t even consider the tools and structures needed for these activities. Being a homeowner is a challenging task but can also be a source of satisfaction, a place to unwind after a hard day at the office and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor — be it fresh veggies, small fruits, trees fruits, a glass of homemade wine, jams/jellies or a beautiful lawn for kids to run on or play volleyball. This is what we try to teach the students who will be the future homeowners of tomorrow.
Bill Lamont is a professor and extension vegetable specialist in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.