The end-of-year sales and holiday greetings have barely ceased and already the gardening catalogs have begun to arrive in your mailbox and inbox.
Some catalogs are still pretty specific, vegetables or flowers, but not both. More and more catalogs today are now offering a bit of everything like the impulse aisle at the checkout.
Since new flower and vegetable varieties are offered every year, sometimes it is hard to decide what will be best for your yard. You can order new and improved hybrids, and try some heirloom varieties (which can have some of the more unusual looks and have a great taste to go along with the look). Be sure to get your order in early so those vegetable seeds show up in time to get them started and hardened off in time for the vegetable or flower garden.
If large or small fruits are your thing, catalogs can help there too. Garden centers cannot carry every variety, so get the ones you want through the catalogs or online. These days, there are more and more fruit varieties available as “spur types” or dwarf or semi-dwarf sizes, better to fit the smaller back yards we have today.
For the small fruits, there is a lot more than just strawberries out there. Blueberries, currants, raspberries, gooseberries and aronia are great alternatives. Blueberries can be challenging with the need for an acidic pH soil; the others are a lot more forgiving.
On the vegetable front, breeders are giving us color! Want Swiss chard in a rainbow of colors? It is there. Peppers come in green, of course, and then there is red, yellow, orange, purple and more. Anyone doing the cooking loves to brighten up what would otherwise be just a green salad.
Vegetable plant breeders also are giving us more than color. What is inside of that seed is improved disease resistance, better yields, and more compact growth habit. All these characteristics are needed in the smaller home gardens.
If you have the space, consider one or both perennial vegetables, asparagus and rhubarb. They will need their space, asparagus more than the rhubarb.
Finally, those catalogs are going to have the latest and best gardening tools you did not know existed. There also will be offerings of seed starting supplies including soilless seed starting mixes, seedling flats and transplanting containers. Start planning for spring!
• Richard Hentschel is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Get more garden and yard updates with This Week in the Garden videos at facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos and the Green Side Up podcast at go.illinois.edu/greensideup.