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Spring has sprung for the green thumbed

Andrew Pridgen
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Greenhouse Garden Center owner Dave Ruf speaks during a seminar about spring gardening at the Carson City store on Saturday.
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Northern Nevada, how does your garden grow?

With plenty of sun and water – and no more snow.

At least, that’s the hope of almost two dozen attendees to Greenhouse Garden Center’s weekly workshop Saturday.

Residents picked the brain of the center’s owner, Dave Ruf, midday underneath a cloudless late-March sky.

While several in attendance said the recent turn in weather from winter to “full-on spring” has tempted them to put away the snowshoes, strap on the gardening clogs and sharpen those pruners, Ruf said spring has sprung – with an asterisk.

“Well, about April 15 is kind of our landmark day,” he said. “People may say we’re having an early spring, or are getting some great weather early on, but this is about normal.

“We’ll probably have another snow here, and then hold our breath until Memorial Day. Last year we had a freeze in June – so you just never know.”

Carson resident Mary Ellen Klette remembers last season’s late frost as an indicator of how unpredictable gardening in the Silver State can be.

“I had a million blossoms last year,” she said. “I was thinking ‘hey – this is the year we get fruit,’ and then June came and there went that idea.”

Klette said it’s not necessarily the promise of a bumper crop that keeps her gardening.

“I think part of it is the challenge,” she said. “We get (fruit) every-other year, and sometimes, not even that much.

“When you do though – it’s a big payoff.”

Ruf, who now runs the gardening center that was started by his father, said there are many myths to gardening in Nevada – many pitfalls too.

“Where to begin?” he said. “The thing people should know first is we ‘winter’ our plants. We bring them all up here the fall before, so they have a chance to acclimate to a Nevada season.

“Some (chain) gardening centers, you’ll see their plants are from California – they’re already blooming. Guess what happens with the first frost?”

But Ruf’s seminar wasn’t just about his plants versus the competition – he shared little kernels of information – everything from the merits of a peach or nectarine bush as opposed to trees (“birds don’t get ’em, neither do the neighbors”) to an aphid’s life-cycle (“well, you start with one, and then by the third week, there are literally hundreds … of course, the first one’s dead by then, so she don’t care.”) – that had the crowd of would-be green thumbers snickering as they scrawled notes.

“Was it helpful? Oh my,” Klette said. “I learned so much. Starting with having to go home and apologize to my husband. We have so many of our trees in an arbor. I wanted to take it out – I guess that’d be the wrong thing to do.”

A couple other tips from Ruf:

• Water directly. Watering near the plant or tree does about as much good as “aiming a gas nozzle at your car,” he said.

• Too little is better than too much. Avoid over-watering. “I get people to remember this by asking them if they’d rather spend a week alone in the desert or the ocean. At least in the desert I can sleep and move around. But there’s no way I’m treading water for a week.”

• Ladybugs are an ally, but only if “used” correctly. “We sell ladybugs here and they love to eat aphids,” Ruf said. “But you have to put them out at night and spray them with water so they get hungry. Otherwise, you can just watch ’em fly away.”

Greenhouse Garden Center will host similar workshops throughout the spring. Visit http://www.greenhousegardencenter.com for more information and tips. The center also will host an egg/scavenger hunt today.

• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at apridgen@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.