Get growing!

The Miami Valley Gardening Conference at Sinclair Community College

 By Val Beerbower
 Photo: Attendees at the 2012 Miami Valley Gardening Conference explore the expo area; Photo courtesy Five Rivers MetroParks
The temperatures are still low and branches are still bare, but it is the final few weeks of winter that kick off the gardening season. Seed catalogs have been arriving in gardeners’ mailboxes and there are, no doubt, starter trays in windowsills while snow still covers the ground. This year, instead of investing hours of backbreaking labor and hundreds or thousands of dollars on upkeep for a prize-winning garden, why not garden smarter with a day-long gardening boot camp?

Show-stopping gardens that grace the covers of magazines are within the grasp of the average gardener. The secret is not having green thumbs, but practicing smart gardening techniques. Soil composition, climate and altitude are all factors that determine what plants thrive and what plants struggle here in the Dayton area. Stop fighting the elements and discover how even novice gardeners can have cover-worthy landscapes at the Miami Valley Gardening Conference, March 2, at Sinclair Community College. The marathon growing seminar begins at 7:30 a.m. and wraps up around 5 p.m. The conference has a $60 registration fee, but participants can save $10 by registering online at

Headlining the event this year is Andrew Keys, writer, designer, lifelong gardener, Garden Confidential podcaster and author of the book “Why Grow That When You Can Grow This? 255 Extraordinary Alternatives to Everyday Problem Plants.” Keys’ advice will help gardeners get the look they want by making better plant choices. “Some ‘prima donna’ plants are very fussy and aren’t best suited for our Ohio climate,” said Five Rivers MetroParks Education Supervisor Betty Hoevel, coordinator of the annual MVGC. “But swapping in natives or other more ‘laid back’ plants will get you the look you want without the extra labor and maintenance.”

Apartment dwellers and other urban residents will learn ways to maximize small spaces, and those who have expansive lawns will find tricks to cut down on cost and maintenance for maximum curb appeal. The best part – all these techniques are aimed at reducing the environmental impact. “People spend so much time and money on expensive gardening products, and it hurts your wallet and the Earth,” Hoevel said. “Miami Valley Gardening Conference attendees will learn tricks of the trade that will give you great gardens and landscapes in half the time with half the expense and half the effort, all while being kind to nature. It truly is a greener way to garden.”

The event opens with Keys’ keynote address that will showcase smart plant swaps for great gardens. Conference attendees may choose from different break-out sessions throughout the day-long event:

Session One: Gardening Lessons from Nature

Soil and water management by Kristen Lauer, Montgomery Soil and Water Conservation District

Pollinators by Beth Burke, Five Rivers MetroParks

Plant selection by Don Geiger, Marianist Environmental Education Center 

Session Two: Recovering from Drought

Trees and shrubs by Rich Pearson, Five Rivers MetroParks 

Perennials and roses by John Scott, Knollwood Garden Center

Rejuvenating the soil by Wes Duren, Marvin’s Organic Gardens

Session Three: Power Flower Gardening

Power perennials by Megan Croswell, Five Rivers MetroParks

Power annuals – the best and easiest to grow, by Pam Bennett, Ohio State University

Planning and growing a three-season cutting garden, by Teresa Jones, MeadowView Growers

Dr. Lee Reich returns, thanks to popular demand, to give the afternoon address on “weedless gardening.” “This technique protects the soil, contributes to plant health, reduces water needs, cuts down on a gardener’s labor, encourages earthworms and, of course, mitigates weed problems by keeping the seeds dormant,” Hoevel said.

Skills learned at the Miami Valley Gardening Conference can be applied to vegetable gardening, as well as landscaping. “We have community gardening leaders attend and learn more about green gardening methods,” Hoevel said. “Vegetables and fruits are still plants and there are methods you can apply to ensure you have a fruitful garden all season long. Herbs also make for attractive – and edible – landscaping.”

Environmentally friendly gardening practices aren’t just time and money savers, it’s great for native wildlife. “Plants and animals live in a symbiotic relationship,” Hoevel explained. “Animals get food and shelter from the plants and, in return, plants get pollinated or their seeds are dispersed. Native animals have evolved to rely on native plants, so using natives in your gardens or landscape is beneficial to those creatures.”

The other threat to incorporating exotic plants is that they may be invasive. Invasive plants out-compete native species for resources, which can force out native plants and leave the wildlife that relies on those plants without food or homes. “Five Rivers MetroParks is aggressively removing invasive species from parks and conservation areas,” Hoevel said. “We have lots of volunteer opportunities here and ways to get involved.” For an overview of conservation practices, including invasive species control and upcoming volunteer opportunities, visit the Conservation Expo from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Feb. 23, at Cox Arboretum MetroPark.

For more information and to register for the Miami Valley Gardening Conference, visit or call 937.277.6545. 

Reach DCP freelance writer Valerie Beerbower at

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