By BECKY MALEWITZ
As spring approaches, Garden City's recent dose of warm weather is enticing gardeners — both amateur and expert — to start thinking about spring planting.
Debbie Wharton owner of Wharton's in Garden City, says weather like Thursday's 75-degree temperatures have people itching to get out of their houses and into the dirt.
"People are starting to think about it now, but that's only because of the weather. Up until (the warm weather), people were thinking they didn't want to do anything," Wharton said. "We really need to be out. I mean, that's why everyone's got cabin fever today because the weather's beautiful."
With the planting season just beginning, Wharton's already is starting to get calls from gardeners, and Debbie knows that things are going to just keep getting busier in coming weeks.
Just a few miles down the road, Mike Ward, owner of Ward's Garden Center in Garden City, answers a phone call. On the other end is a customer asking if it's the right time to start planting sweet potatoes.
"People are ready to go," said Ward, who later added that now is a good time to start planting regular potatoes but it is still several months too early to be thinking about the sweet variety.
According to the Kansas Garden Guide, published by K-State Extension Services, in Kansas home gardeners produce $15 million to $20 million worth of vegetables every year.
"We have lots of young people that have two and a half kids and they are starting to raise their own food. They are starting to can, and they are an absolute delight to watch. They are having the most wonderful time. The best thing you teach your children is to garden, and they've proven time after time that we are healthier if we are out in the garden," said Wharton.
Each fruit, vegetable and flower has a season, and to be a successful gardener, timing is everything when it comes to planting.
With the average last frost day in Finney County landing in mid-to- late April, figuring that time out can be tricky.
"You cannot grow green beans right now; you cannot grow peppers right now; you cannot grow cucumbers right now. You can grow lettuce and cabbage and cauliflower and broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, potatoes and onions," Wharton said, adding that those looking to add flowers to their gardens can start planting pansies. "You can grow them, too. They smell divine."
Over the years, gardening has evolved. Anyone can exercise their green thumb, even if they don't have their own land.
"A lot of people are just doing what is called patio gardening, and they just take some pots, set it out there and their garden is maybe three or four items — tomato plants, cucumbers, stuff like that," Ward said.
Another option for those without their own acreage is to work a plot in a community garden.
To be a successful gardener, one just needs to put in time, effort and a little research.
"Gardening is not hard. You don't need to have a horticulture degree. Gardening is about learning about what you plant and when you plant it. It is really simple," Wharton said.
Experienced gardeners will tell you that fresh vegetables and fragrant flowers are not the only benefit of all that work.
"It's kind of fun to watch stuff grow," Ward said. "It's a release; a way to relax."