The great outdoors are just that, great. With spring on the way, it’s almost time to reclaim our outdoor spaces. While many of us may have been enjoying outdoor activities all winter, there’s no denying that the warm weather months will bring us even more opportunity to revel in our natural surroundings. Especially now, we’re going to want to take advantage of the extra living areas available to us in our own backyards and our area parks and waterways.

The upgrade: Container gardens. Oh, and better dirt

The down-low: Good dirt is one of the secrets to living your best outdoor life. Or so says Joel Flemke from Joel’s Greenhouse. He says with good soil and regular fertilizing, people will be more likely to enjoy their outdoor spaces. Better grass. Healthier gardens. More (and more beautiful flowers). He recommends a soil mix from Sungro.

For 2021, Flemke thinks container gardening might be one of the ways to make outdoor living even more fun. Here’s one container gardening tip from the Master Gardeners at the University of Minnesota: “Container gardens can be filled with single species, like a large colorful flower or a cherry tomato to munch on right on your deck. They are also great for combinations, and it’s good to have a thriller (one eye-catching plant—think geraniums or roses), a spiller (that spill over, like Petunias or creeping Thyme, and a filler (try herbs such as Parsley). With veggies and herbs it’s great to match up flavors and purposes, like everything you need for fresh salsa all in one big pot.”

The expert: Joel Flemke calls himself the “owner, chief cook, and bottle washer” at Joel’s Greenhouse. He started his first business selling tomatoes and other vegetables when he was in high school and then studied horticulture at the University of Minnesota, Waseca. Since then, he’s been using his green thumb to keep his greenhouse customers happy.

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The upgrade: Make it a space for everyone

The down-low: With so many families staying close to home, there is a renewed emphasis “on enjoying our own home outdoor spaces,” says Scott Moon, a manager at Sargent’s on 2nd. “A patio area for gathering is being outfitted with more comforts,” he says. Outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, and comfortable seating are part of what Moon suggests can turn patios into gathering spaces for families. Moon also recommends introducing more native plants and offering children their own areas in which to tend flowers or edible gardens works well. Even some dedicated planters just for children can work well. He promises it will “teach them great skills they will continue to use in future years.”

The expert: Scott Moon is a manager at Sargent’s on 2nd. Sargent’s Landscape Nursery is a family business—with its fifth generation already planning to work in the nursery.

The upgrade: Take your kitchen outside

The down-low: “Outdoor kitchens will be a great way to spice up your backyard this year,” says Danny Smith, the owner of Creative Curb Appeal. Our yards, he says, are places to entertain, relax, and spend time with friends and family. “Summer is too short in Minnesota,” he adds. “Try and enjoy it as much as you can.”

Smith stresses that you make a budget and stick to it. A simple gathering place is what’s most important. And everyone likes to gather in the kitchen. You just need to take that kitchen outside.

To make outdoor spaces rewarding, be sure to budget for materials and labor. “People will need these types of outdoor spaces to be able to get away and relax,” says Smith.

The expert: Danny Smith, the owner of Creative Curb Appeal, which offers services like patio installation and decorative concrete edging in addition to landscaping.

The upgrade: Get the right gear to get outside

The down-low: 2021 will see more people than ever enjoying local trails, rivers, and parks, says Kristin Welch who co-owns Tyrol Ski & Sports with her husband Robb. The right gear, she says, will make that experience enjoyable, whether you’re hiking Whitewater or portaging in the Boundary Waters.

“Because of the mental and physical benefits that outdoor recreation provides,” says Welch, “getting outdoors in nature and moving your body is good for the heart and soul.”

And comfort counts.

“People may not realize that a wool base layer can be used in the winter and summer,” she says. “The natural fiber of wool is breathable, wicks moisture away from your skin and it’s antimicrobial—so you can use it multiple days in a row without it getting stinky.” She also recommends a packable and breathable raincoat so you can enjoy the outdoors no matter what the weather brings.

The expert: Kristin Welch and her husband Robb co-own Tyrol Ski & Sports, a family-owned business since 1965.