With spring 11 days away, Domenick Voce, the owner of Atlantic Nursery in Mays Landing, knows his customers will soon stop by his place looking to improve their backyard gardens.

Voce said the most valuable first step is to come up with a plan before any work is done. In creating plans, homeowners need to think about the architecture of their homes, their personal styles and their wants and needs.

"Make sure you have made your garden space large enough to accommodate the plantings you would like to install. Making your garden space too small and not allowing room for growth will make your garden overcrowded quickly. Bring the dimensions of your garden along with pictures when you visit the nursery. The staff will be better equipped to help you," Voce said. "Buying insufficient amounts of one variety of a plant and instead buying one of everything you like can make your garden look hodgepodge with very little consistency."

Colleen Dunne, landscape designer at At-lantic Nursery with 25 years of experience, said when redoing anything in a garden, homeowners should take in consideration the sun, wind, drainage and soil condition of their property.

"People may want a patio, but if you have a western exposure, you will receive the full afternoon heat of the sun, which may not be a good idea. You may want a meadow garden, but if you have poor drainage, there will be some needs you will have to deal with," said Dunne, who added Atlantic Nursery offers the "we plan, you plant" service. "In southern New Jersey, people tend to use a lot of native plants that attract wildlife. You can start with seeds indoors, move the plants outdoors after

May 15 and have flowers in the summertime."

Mona Bawgus, a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County, said there is a master gardener helpline in effect

9 a.m. to noon on weekdays at 609-625-0056.

Bawgus, who writes the Green Thumbs column for The Press, said one thing homeowners want to avoid in making changes to their backyard gardens is adding harmful invasive plants, such as English ivy, the wisteria vine and purple loosestrife. People who live on barrier islands might want to skip planting arbor vitae shrubs because shrubs don't like saltwater, Bawgus said. Round beds of plants and flowers are more aesthetically pleasing than straight beds, and gardeners don't want to make their beds too narrow because then mowing will be difficult, Bawgus said.

"Summersweet is good for the area," said Bawgus, who mentioned the plant that is often found in wetland areas and is attractive to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

Tessa Goldsmith, past president of The Little Gardens Club, said a garden should be designed to meet homeowners' needs while also keeping in mind their ability to maintain it. Otherwise, it will become a chore, the Mays Landing woman said.

Goldsmith, said more people have been adding water features to their gardens whether they are foundations, waterfalls or ponds.

"It depends on how adventurous you want to be," said Goldsmith, who added ideas for next year's gardens can come from taking The Little Gardens Club tour on July 13. "A garden never stays still. I know people who completely change their garden every few years."

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