As winter’s grip becomes weaker, the first signs of Spring are the audible ones– American Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds starting to announce their presence after their long winter silence.

March is the transition from Winter to Spring and with warmer days ahead plants and flowers, just like our Van Wilgen’s customers, are starting to venture outside. Last week one of my neighbors had been unwell, so I asked Brianna to make up a planter for them. Cold-tolerant plants such as Pansies, Violas, Ranunculus, Tulips, Hyacinths and Daffodils offer resilience against any occasional cold nights or frosty mornings and are guaranteed to bring some colorful cheer back into our lives.

As the old English proverb says, March comes in like a Lion and goes out like a Lamb!

The ground is starting to thaw, temperatures have started to rise just a bit, and that means it’s time to get outside and dust off your lawn and gardening tools.

It’s nice enough out now that we’re encouraging everyone to get outside and start your spring clean up. March might seem early, but I promise it isn’t. Getting a head start on clean up is a fantastic way to set yourself up for success in the season to come.

Here are my five top tips for planning ahead for the spring and summer season.

  1. Start with a clean slate. Get out in the yard and start cutting back plants, cutting out weeds and clearing all the sticks and debris left on the ground by the winter weather and recent wind. All the other prep work in the world will be less effective if you haven’t done the general spring cleaning your yard needs.
  2. Find out if you’re sweet or sour. One of the best things you can do for your lawn is have the pH tested right away. This can be done easily at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. The sooner you find out if your soil is sweet or sour, the better, because it will determine your next steps to get a jump on your lawn’s health. Sweet soil has a basic pH while sour soil is acidic. You want to have sweet soil for a great lawn. A sour lawn will shut down and absorb no nutrients, so if you find your pH balance isn’t right, apply fast acting lime all over your lawn as soon as possible. Lime is an all-natural calcium and magnesium source so there are no concerns if you have kids or pets at home.
  3. Gain control. Moss can be a tricky intruder in your lawn, so if you want to tackle it, start now. This is the perfect time to apply a moss control product, like Moss Max, as moss is actively growing when it’s cold. Take this step now vs. trying to battle moss in the heat of the summer.
  4. Take on ticks. It was a warm winter, so ticks didn’t retreat into full dormancy, meaning you may already have active ticks in your yard. The sooner you work to combat them, the less problems you’ll have throughout the rest of the year. I recommend a hose-end liquid spray you can apply to the perimeter of your property where the manicured and un-manicured portions of your lawn meet. This treatment will reduce the number of ticks coming into your yard. If you’re looking for great control choices, synthetic or organic, we offer, Bonide Flea Beater Flea & Tick Control and Eco-Smart Mosquito & Tick Control.
  5. Freshen up. There is nothing like a pop of color to brighten your home after the long, winter months. Once you’ve put in the hard work to get ready for a beautiful spring, grab a pot of cold weather hardy pansies and put them on your front porch as a primer of things to come. Pansies are a great way to reward yourself with something pretty to look at that can handle the temperatures dropping down to as low as 28 degrees.

Trust me, the work will be worth it! Putting in a little time now will save a lot of headache later.

Come see us at Van Wilgen’s. We would love to help!

Spring is the busiest time in your garden, and it can be easy to miss some important tasks that you’ll kick yourself for later. But good news! This spring checklist is customized for you—gardening in the New England climate—and it’s what we follow to keep our own gardens in tip-top shape to enjoy for months to come.
Stop by Van Wilgen’s for plants and supplies and we’re happy to answer your spring gardening questions.

This time of year we are all itching to get in the garden. All it takes is a few warm days, some sunshine and we are all ready to dig in the dirt. At the garden center we get asked all the time, what can I plant now? There are many choices for early spring perennials, and with proper planting, you too can have beautiful blooms this time of year. Just be sure to amend your soil with Van Wilgens Premium Planting Mix and add Jump Start to push root growth so your perennials have a healthy start. Top with mulch so your blooms stay nice and cozy and your good to go! Here a few of my early spring favorites.

  1. Hellebore- Great shade-tolerant deer-resistant perennial that comes in a rainbow of colors
  2. Candytuft (Iberis)- profuse white blooms and neat mounding habit make for a perfect early season edging plant
  3. Columbine (Aquilegia)- Eastern US Native with distinctive show-stopping flowers
  4. Creeping phlox- Gorgeous mounding groundcover with pastel flowers giving way to mossy green foliage
  5. Forget me not (Myosotis)- Long-lasting, true blue flowers make for an unforgettable plant
  6. Rockfoil (Saxifraga)- a super cold hardy plant with early blooms that’s at home in any alpine planter or garden
  7. Yellow Alyssum (Aurinia)- traditional cottage garden border plant that’s also at home in alpine gardens or as a border groundcover
  8. Windflower (Anemone)- The early spring entry in this broad plant family provides huge blooms in an array of colors to brighten up any spring landscape

Will O’Hara

Perennial Manager


“Is it really spring?” This is the question most of us have been asking ourselves and others. “Yes, it is spring, folks!” I know the cool temperatures and the cloudy skies have been putting a gray cloak over spring this year but don’t despair. Let’s look on the bright side, shall we?! What are the advantages to the cooler, wet weather? Are there any? Of course, there are. Here goes, I am going to try and make you all feel a little bit better.


Advantage #1: With clouds, comes the rain. We have had lots of rain. This is a good thing friends. We have been struggling with moderate droughts for 2 seasons now. The rain is bringing us super green lawns, deep root growth on all of our plants, and saving us some time when it comes to watering our outdoor pots.

Advantage #2: We may not have as big of a gypsy moth problem this year. For the last 2 years, gypsy moths have been devastating our big oaks and many more because our springs have been so dry. This year, the rain will hopefully kick up the NPV virus and naturally eliminate some of these voracious eaters.

Advantage #3: The prolonged, cool weather has extended our grass seed & sod laying time. Grass thrives at this temperature. The rain has helped tremendously with the establishment. Keep sowing that seed. You still have time.

Advantage #4: Planting trees, shrubs, roses, and perennials are ideal in this weather. The cool temperatures and rainy days will really help plants establish themselves before the hot weather sets in. Keep planting!

Advantage #5: The cooler temperatures make it so much easier to work in. You can actually plant and mulch and weed without breaking a sweat and getting dehydrated. Take advantage of these cool days.

Advantage #6: Critters, such as chipmunks and squirrels are a little slower to wreak havoc in our gardens. I know they are waking up but they are still a little slow. Now is the time to start putting repellents out before they get too crazy. Start training them now to stay away in the future.

Advantage #7: Insects are just coming awake. There have only been a few aphids and lily leaf beetle sightings. Be proactive and arm yourself with the appropriate insect controls. You could even spray your garden down with Horticultural Oil and eliminate a lot of insect problems before they even start.

Advantage #8: You have plenty of prep time. Prep your veggie garden with lime, compost, and even a little green sand. Wake up the soil and get it ready for those tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.

Advantage #9: Everything is a little slower to bloom this year but when they do, they will delight our eyes. Now that is a treat worth waiting for.

Advantage #10: Without the cold and rainy days, it would be more difficult to appreciate the warm and sunny days.

Patience really is a good thing. We spend so much time racing around and we want everything right away. “Good things come to those who wait.” Maybe that is the lesson Mother Nature is trying to teach us this cool, cloudy, rainy spring.

Come see us at Van Wilgen’s, where so much is already in bloom. We would love to help!

Have you wondered why heirloom tomatoes taste so much better than those conventional ones from the store?

Conventional tomatoes have been bred for long shelf life, disease resistance, high yield, and, even for their looks! So whether you say to-may-to or to-mah-to, we’re here to help you choose the perfect heirloom tomato variety for you.

What is an Heirloom Tomato?

Heirloom tomatoes come from seeds that have been handed down from farmer to farmer for generations for their special characteristics and varieties must be 50 years old at least. Because of this, heirloom tomatoes have minimal disease resistance.

Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated–meaning that the seeds you collect will produce plants almost identical plants year after year. That’s key to their survival.

Many heirlooms have been passed down from generation to generation. Seeds, once considered valuable property, traveled country to country in pockets or through letters. Varieties come from Central America, Russia, Italy, Japan, France, Germany, and Kentucky. Here are a few of our favorites.

Best Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow

Pink Brandywine– This is hands-down the yummiest and most popular heirloom. Dating back to 1885, these tomatoes ripen late in the season, but delight with huge tomatoes with even bigger flavor. Plus, Pink Brandywine tomatoes grow well in containers.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 85-100 days
  • Taste and Texture: Intense, full flavor with a rich, velvety texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4-9’
  • Spacing: 24-36” apart
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Black Cherry – This black, heirloom cherry tomato is somewhat disease-resistant and easy to grow – even in containers. The truly striking color makes these cherry tomatoes an instant conversation (or kabob!) starter.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 65-75 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sweet meets smoky flavor with a meaty texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 5-8’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Cherokee Purple – Cherokee purple tomatoes may look eccentric, but boy, do they taste good! Believed to be passed down from Cherokee Indians, this variety produces significantly more tomatoes than other heirlooms.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 75-90 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sweet, juicy, and savory with a thin skin
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4-9’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

San Marzano- The long, blocky fruits mature with a small, discreet seed cavity that can be scooped out, leaving all meat. This means much less boiling to get a first-class paste. The shape is also good for canning and excellent for drying.

Why Should I Grow Heirlooms?

We believe the flavor of heirlooms is so superior that no garden would be complete without them. Try a variety this year, and we’re sure you will agree. You will be tasting a little bit of history all summer long.

When you’re organic gardening, be sure to feed tomatoes lots of Tomato-tone during the growing season.

For a printable guide to tomatoes click HERE

Greetings everyone,
Well, it finally seems as though old man winter has slowly unfurled his long, icy fingers to usher in another beautiful Spring here at Van Wilgen’s! With temperatures rising and the sun shining, we are all anxious to get out into our yards and get our hands a little dirty in the garden. What a fantastic time of year, watching everything spring to life after a long slumber! Most of you know that our main location at 55 Valley Rd. In North Branford, is the premier destination for all of your gardening needs but we also have three other Van Wilgen locations for your convenience. With locations in Guilford, Milford, and Old Saybrook it is easier than ever to scratch that gardening itch! With an extensive selection of annuals, tropicals, vegetables, perennials, and small shrubs we are sure to have what you need for that weekend project. All of us here at the Van Wilgen Garden Mart locations welcome you back to enjoy another fantastic season with us! We look forward to seeing you all again this season, and as always, it would be our pleasure to help you with any of your gardening needs. It is easier than ever to find location addresses, phone numbers, and hours of operation for all of the Van Wilgen locations on our updated website, We are all excited to share another wonderful season with you. Come by any Van Wilgen location to see what’s new and exciting as well as the tried and true. It would be our pleasure to assist you. From all of us here at Van Wilgen’s, welcome back and we can’t wait to get our hands a little dirty with you!

Rich Baker, Milford Garden Mart Manager

It’s our favorite time of year again, spring is here! This marks the start of prime time gardening season as the weather begins to warm up.

Now’s the perfect time to put on some gardening gloves and repot indoor plants or start fresh with new seeds outdoors. Either way, March & April is the time to get a head start on rejuvenating your outdoor garden to ensure your harvest is ready by mid-spring or early summer.


Healthy and delicious, the best time to plant beets is right now. They’ll harvest quickly, leaving us with an early summer treat. Plus, beets are known to lower blood pressure, fight inflammation and they’re rich in nutrients and fiber.


One of our favorite greens, broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse. It contains Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Fiber, and Folate. This cool-weather crop can germinate in soil with temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to keep the soil wet, though, because this plant is thirsty.


Whether leafy green or perfectly purple, this annual vegetable is perfect for colder temperatures. Pests love Cabbage, so be sure to keep an eye on it. Try using natural repellant methods instead of harmful chemicals to keep your cabbage healthy and safe.


Why plant orange carrots when you can choose from the entire rainbow? Choose from purple, black, red, white, or yellow. Not only are they good for eyesight, but carrots are also one of the best plants for reducing the risk of Cardiovascular Disease.


This true cool-weather plant is actually stunted by hot temperatures. Perfect for early spring gardens, lettuce requires light watering since its leaves will develop quickly. And, don’t forget to use organic mulch to conserve water. Once true leaves grow, it is time to harvest the crop before it becomes bitter and tough.


Perfect for salads and sides, spinach loves the spring weather. This green is extremely sensitive to excessive heat. Spinach is fast-growing, forming flowers and developing seeds in no time at all.


Onions have disease-fighting power and high nutritional value, making them one of the healthiest vegetables to eat. Onions can endure all of the hardships that come with early spring weather. Note that this crop will not be as fruitful if temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.


Sweet peas, snow peas, and snap peas are perfect for planting in March. They’re easy to grow and so delicious.



Do not take on more than you can handle. Most of us have very busy schedules. Those little things like work and kids tend to get in the way of having a “perfect lawn”. Who’d a thunk?! You may not have the time or energy to get a “perfect” lawn but with little baby steps, you can have a “better” lawn. Just don’t set yourself up for failure.

One other little thing that gets in the way of having a “perfect” lawn is water. Most of us do not have a sprinkler system and we may be limited to how much water we can use because of a well. This is why I want you to take on small areas of seeding at a time. Prioritize. Seed the section of the lawn that is most important to you. Maybe it is in the front where everyone drives by or maybe it’s in the back where you enjoy dinner on your deck. Take one section of the lawn that you can nurture…one section where you can properly prepare the ground…one section where you can manage to water it daily. If you start small, seeding one section at a time, before you know it, your whole lawn will be close to “perfect.”

Since you have now chosen the section of your lawn that is most important to make “better”, let’s seed it! Get out there and rake the heck out of that little patch of lawn. If you have a steel rake or landscape rake, do not be afraid to use it. Get up all the sticks, leaves, and moss that may be invading your space. Do not worry if you tear up some grass along the way. The cleaner the slate is, the better. If you have any way of aerating that section of lawn, go for it. Use your aerating spike shoes, your garden weasel, or a good old-fashioned hoe to loosen up the soil. Put down a thin layer of topsoil. A half-inch will do. Spread the grass seed in a single layer, tight together but not piled on top of each other. Press the new seed into the topsoil with a tamper, the backside of a shovel, or your feet. Your section should be small enough, that hand sowing the seed will work just fine.

Almost done. Fertilize your new patch of seed in one of 2 ways. Sprinkle Grass Seed Accelerator over top of the new seed and water it in. It will fertilize and hold moisture for the new seed. Another option is to use Starter Fertilizer, sprinkled right over the top of the grass seed with a layer of chopped-up straw to top it all off.

You are not completely off the hook yet. Remember the most important part to having success with your little patch of lawn is water. Water is the key. This is why I wanted all of you with super busy schedules to start small. Grass seed needs to be kept damp daily. If Mother Nature is not contributing, it is up to you to get out there and water. A half-hour, preferably at the early part of the day, will be just about enough to keep that seed wet. Once the seed germinates and grows to about 1inch tall, change up your watering program. Water every other day for a full hour. Just set a sprinkler out there and turn it on in passing. Once the new seed reaches 2 inches in height, change it up again. Water every 2 days for 2 hours. If you can do this, you may almost reach perfection in your little patch of lawn. Relax and enjoy.

Thanks a Bunch!


*Van Wilgen’s Top Soil

*Van Wilgen’s Premium Grass Seed

*Greenview Grass Seed Accelerator

*Espoma Starter Fertilizer

*Mainely Mulch Straw & Hay

(Fruit Tree Care)

Don’t you want your family and friends to look at your fruit trees this year and exclaim, “What a fruiting beauty?! Don’t you want to share your bountiful harvest of peaches, apples, and plums with those you love? I am assuming your answer is a hardy “Yes!” Okay then, let’s make this happen. Fruit tree care begins now.

There isn’t much happening right now or is there? Yes, there is plenty going on with our fruit trees right now. The root system is waking up and busily absorbing nutrients and water, the canopy is starting to push out green buds that will open into beautiful flowers, and unfortunately, diseases and insects may also be waking up on our fruit trees.

Let’s begin, shall we!? Grab a bottle of Bonide’s All Season Horticultural Oil. If using concentrate, mix at a rate of 3 tablespoons per gallon of water. Spray the entire fruit tree from the tips of branches to the bottom of the trunk. This will help eliminate any overwintering insects or insect eggs. I always recommend horticultural oil to wake up the garden. Spray when temperatures are above 40 degrees but before the buds open.

When you grab your bottle of Horticultural Oil, be sure to pick up a bag of Espoma’s Tree-Tone. Tree-Tone is the perfect, organic, slow-release fertilizer for your fruit trees. Don’t be shy. Most people under-fertilize. Remember, it takes a lot of energy for fruit trees to push out that delicious fruit. Depending on the size of your fruit trees, you can use anywhere from 3lbs/9 cups to 6lbs/18 cups per inch of trunk diameter. I know that sounds like a lot, but trust me! Apply the fertilizer at the drip line of the tree always. That is where all the hungry feeder roots hang out. Feeding and Horticultural Spray can both happen NOW!

Don’t get too comfortable. The next step will happen soon. When you start to notice green tips appearing on your fruit trees, it is time to switch to Bonide’s Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray, or Bonide’s Fruit Tree & Plant Guard. If using the concentrate of the Orchard Spray, use at a rate of 2.5 ounces/5 tablespoons to 5 ounces/10 tablespoons to 1 gallon of water. Spray every 7 to 10 days up to the day of harvesting fruit. If using the Fruit Tree Guard, mix at a rate of 2 ounces/2 tablespoons to 1 gallon of water. This product packs a potent punch and only needs to be applied 3 X’s in the season…at the green tip to pre-bloom, at petal fall, and at fruit set. Easy as 1, 2, 3!

Have you already done your winter pruning? If not, now is the time to clean up those suckers! I literally mean, it is time to clean up those suckers. Suckers are the unwanted branches that grow straight up from the base of the trunk, from shallow roots, and from branches. Anytime you see suckers growing, cut them off at the base. We don’t like suckers.

After all this work, you and your family will be able to reap the bounty of your plentiful harvest or simply enjoy eating a homegrown apple or two.

Come see us at Van Wilgen’s. We would love to help!


*Bonide’s Horticultural Oil

*Bonide’s Citrus, Fruit, & Nut Orchard Spray

*Bonide’s Fruit Tree & Plant Guard

*Espoma’s Tree-Tone