In the dead of winter, gardeners have learned what it takes to begin a bountiful harvest.
“Thinking about the promise of flowering plants, grasses and trees in spring makes the gloomy cold of January a little more bearable,” said Lauren Williams, manager of adult and community services at Columbia Public Library.
That’s why the Discovery Garden Club and the Daniel Boone Regional Library presented a Winter Garden Forum on Sunday to talk about growing lavender in Missouri and caring for fruit trees at home, with speakers Kelly McGowan and Matthew Dolan.
McGowan, a horticulture field specialist with MU Extension, has studied the uses of various lavender cultivars in Springfield for the past two years.
McGowan thinks lavender is an untapped and profitable crop that can be grown in Missouri.
“Lavender is one of those crops (where) you don’t need a ton of space to grow,” McGowan said. “For those who want to grow it commercially, you know, it’s very attractive. You don’t have to plant 30 acres of it, you can just start very small.”
The first step in growing lavender is to find the type that best suits the grower. For example, English lavender is best for cooking, while McGowan found provincial smells the best.
Lavender can be used in value-added products like soaps, essential oils, and flours. The most important element for growing lavender is the type of soil used. Lavender is native to hot, arid desert climates where the soil is well drained. McGowan said lavender can thrive in Missouri as long as the plants are grown in raised beds, large pots or with some other type of drainage mechanism so the soil isn’t waterlogged.
“It can survive our winters, believe it or not,” McGowan said. The biggest concern is extreme temperature fluctuations.
One tip McGowan had for harvesting lavender: no fancy equipment is required.
“My favorite way to do this is just your old office scissors or your kitchen scissors,” she said. “I get all the flowers in my hand, just make a few cuts and I’m done with this plant. So it’s pretty easy to harvest.”
Dolan, the manager of GardenPro at the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, said Columbia residents can grow a variety of fruit trees, with different benefits.
Some trees, like apple, pear and peach trees, take a bit more care and should be treated “like you have a pet,” Dolan said. Others, like native plum, persimmon and papaya need less care.
“There are native plums, (which) we are now planting here at the agricultural park,” Dolan said. “They grow wild, in and around some of the woods here, and they’re just delicious. If you can pick them when they’re ripe, they’re just amazingly tasty.”
Dolan recommended planting the tree from mid-March to April, but potted trees can also be planted from September to early November. Before planting, be sure to choose the best location and avoid power lines. Planning before the tree arrives is essential.
“When you get your trees, you want to try to plant as early as possible,” Dolan said. “So the longer they stay, especially the longer they stay wrapped up and waiting to get into the ground, the more stress they experience.”
Discovery Garden Club offers regular informative meetings, field trips and garden tours around Columbia, according to its website. Meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. on the second Monday of the month.
The next meeting of the club will be on February 14, called “Physical Mechanics of Gardening“. The guest speaker is physiotherapist Tabitha Dickey.