Pandemic increases interest in gardening in Schuylkill County

Christine Lee, Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa.
·3 min read

Mar. 2—Many people have turned to gardening during the coronavirus pandemic, and local greenhouse owners and a master gardener expect that trend to continue.

Philip Keil Jr., general manager of Trail Gardens along Route 901 in North Manheim Township, said house plants, vegetables, even flowers and shrubbery, have been popular. In the past year, he said sales of those items increased, with succulents being particularly popular, especially in the winter months.

With spring around the corner, he expects more sales of plants, as was the case last year when the pandemic hit. At that time, demand went up while the supply went down; however, he doesn't think that will repeat in 2021.

"That won't be as bad this year because everyone will be a little bit more prepared," Keil said.

Keil said gardening is a good activity that is "fun and rewarding" for the entire family.

"With everyone stuck (at home) they are putting more effort and money into their homes and looking for things to do," he said. "Gardening became very popular."

Some customers have asked for gardening tips, although he said many people have taken to the internet to find information.

At Silver Maple Nursery along Red Dale Road in West Brunswick Township, owner Rick Skorupski said he has noticed people buying edible plants throughout the pandemic. The most popular items are heirloom vegetables, such as tomatoes, beans and peppers, as well as herbs, including basil and parsley.

He said herbs have become such a hot item at the nursery that employees are planning to post food and drink recipes that include them on Silver Maple's Facebook page.

"We get asked about what to use herbs for all the time," Skorupski said.

Moreover, he has seen customers buy vegetable seeds or plants for their home gardens and they are often adding annual plants, including flowers, around their gardens. Wildlife, not just those doing the planting, can benefit.

"It's a nice balance," Skorupski said.

Money received as part of the coronavirus relief aid packages passed by Congress have given people more of an incentive to work in their gardens, too, he said.

'Peace of mind'

Tom Reed, a master gardener with Penn State Extension's Schuylkill County office, has also seen the trend. In particular, the number of calls to the office's garden hotline has gone up, including those taking up the hobby for the first time. The hotline is 570-622-4225.

A webinar Penn State Extension ran last spring, "Victory Garden Reinvented," was well attended, Reed said.

The surge in gardening at home has included planting flowers and, especially, vegetables.

"Gardening gives people peace of mind knowing their food is coming from their garden," he said.

He said community gardens are also becoming more popular, pointing to the Schuylkill Haven Community Garden, and more people are going to farm stands, which are common in the county.

He expects the increased interest in gardening to continue this spring.

"I've been getting questions all winter about gardening, vegetables and soil testing," he said. "People really get into it."

Reed, who has been gardening since he retired from the Navy in 1998, said it is a healthy activity in that it requires physical work, but it also requires time.

"You have to scout the garden to make sure pests aren't coming in," he said, noting there are diseases that can destroy some plants. "It really does take a lot of work."

Contact the writer: clee@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6028; @Cleespot on Twitter