Now is the time to start planning for this year’s garden

  • Plants sprout from the earth at the Peterborough Community Center Garden in April 2020. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/29/2021 4:25:17 PM

The recent tease of bright sunny days and above-average temperatures have given Granite Staters a reason to start dreaming of spring.

The threat of more snow and colder days isn’t completely out of the question, but with April just a couple days away, the worst winter weather is likely in the rearview mirror. And with that, gardeners are busy getting ready for the upcoming planting season.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed more people to start gardens or increase their plantings as they sought refuge in the fresh air, while staying at home and away from others. While there is hope now that the worst of the pandemic is behind us as the vaccination rollout continues, chances are that experience has made folks realize the tranquility of getting a little dirt under the fingernails.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the last expected frost date for 2021 is May 15, but the date of the last light freeze in spring is different every year. The general rule of thumb is that by Memorial Day weekend, gardeners no longer have to worry about another frost and planting of most vegetables and later blooming flowers can begin.

But just because you have about two months until most of your plants will go in the ground, there’s no reason to sit around and twiddle your thumbs. There’s plenty to do.

There are some vegetables that are not effected by the frost, like lettuce, spinach and kale. Some actually need cool environments to germinate, said Peterborough Garden Club member Trim Hahn. Katherine Heck, Garden Club of Dublin horticulture co-chair, puts her onions, potatoes and sugar snap peas in as soon as the ground thaws, noting “they’re pretty hardy.” But it’s important, Heck said, for there to be good drainage.

“Otherwise it will just rot if it’s too wet and cold,” she said. She likes to put a layer of newspaper over her crops early on to provide a level of protection.

By mid-April, Heck is ready to add carrots, radishes and turnips to her garden

If you like to start your vegetables from seeds, now is the time to start planting indoors in preparation for the end of May, Hahn said. Things like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash and pumpkins can be put in some dirt right now.

“If you put the seed in the ground at the end of May, it’s going to take a few weeks to get going,” Hahn said. “This way you’re buying more time, extending the season. Our growing season just isn’t long enough.”

Heck said a good rule of thumb is to get your seeds going six to eight weeks before the last expected frost, adding that she uses indoor planting for things like corn, beans and cucumbers, as well as sunflowers and zinnias. This year, she started on St. Patrick’s Day so when outdoor planting season comes around “you have a nice seedling to put in the ground,” Heck said.

She uses just about everything for growing containers, from the traditional seed trays, egg crates, K-cups, muffin tins or milk jugs.

“I’ve used anything from takeout containers to yogurt cups,” Heck said. She’s even used halved eggs shells and grown mushrooms in a laundry basket.

She said to use a good potting mix and add water, but also be cognizant of where you place the seeds.

“You want to put it in a warm sunny spot, but not on a heat source or next to a heat source,” she said, because they will become leggy. “I have stuff growing all over the place.”

Heck said there’s something special about starting a flower or vegetable from a seed.

“It is a lot of fun,” she said. “And you have the joy of growing it. Gardening is a really rewarding activity.”

You can also start some of those tropical summer flower bulbs in pots. Hahn plants her dahlias in April and the key is to keep it somewhere on the cooler side – 60 degrees during the day and 50’s at night – and out of direct sun.

“They’ll start growing once you give them soil and water,” Hahn said. “You can’t put them out till the end of May, but you’re giving them a head start because it will be like buying a plant that’s all ready to go.”

Heck will also start bulbs like tulips, daffodils and lilies inside and then put them out in April.

“There’s a lot of fun things you can do inside and then transplant outside,” she said.

Another thing Heck likes to do this time of year is what is called forcing. She will clip a branch from her azaleas, forsythia and magnolias and put them in a vase inside. She places them in lukewarm water in the basement for two days, then gives the branch a fresh cut in new water and soon there will be a nice bloom for the dining room table.

“Anything you can start inside and enjoy longer is worth giving a try,” she said.

But this time of year isn’t just about getting seeds in soil. Hahn said it’s also the ideal to start picking out color schemes for annuals in anticipation of when they will be available in local garden centers by mid-May.

It’s also important to give plants a healthy soil, so before you start planting it can be a good idea to get your soil tested to see what it needs.

Hahn said it is the perfect time to do a little cleanup so when it is time to start planting, all the labor intensive work is already done. She said, if the soil is workable and dry enough, add some compost or much, cut back perennials to get rid of last year’s debris, and do your edging to get those nice clean lines between the lawn and garden.

“It makes all the difference in the world,” Hahn said.

You can cut back dead branches, otherwise known as winter kill, and vines, and divide perennials. You can even turn your attention to the lawn and add some lime and seed.

Hahn has been gardening for most of her life and a lot of what she’s learned has been by trial and error.

“Gardening is learning by doing,” she said.


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