If you’ve got a green thumb, chances are you’ve spent the long and hard winter daydreaming about the potential of your garden. During gusty winds and blizzard-y nights, you’ve wishfully thought about picking heirloom tomatoes off the vine, tearing basil leaves directly into your salad and canning bright berries into jam. Perhaps you’re hoping for at least one stubborn tomato and a few handfuls of chives if your track record isn’t as great. We still have a few more weeks of winter to go, but it’s not too early to start strategizing and preparing. We’ve wrangled in a few expert gardeners to help you make the most of your spring season.
Have A Plan
Depending on your local climate, you’ll start planting at different times of the year. Generally you want to get a start six to eight weeks before the last frost. Up in the north part of the US, that’s well into March but consult the Farmer’s Almanac to get your ideal start date.
Think of what you want your outcome to be and make a loose plan around that. There are a few questions you’ll need to ask yourself as you strategize.
- How much space can you allocate to the project? Be mindful of how much room your plants will need. A crowded garden isn’t necessarily a productive garden.
- How much time do you have to spend? If you’re gone all summer long, your plants will suffer during heat waves.
- Will you actually be eating all the vegetables? Sure, a vegetable garden sounds fun in theory but if you’re not keen on summer squash, focus on fruits, herbs and flowers. Limit your veggies to one or two or you’ll be eating carrot and zucchini bread for months.
Something is always going to die in your garden. Accept that going in and be ready to make adjustments. If the summer proves to be too hot for your lettuce, plant a new crop that very day. You’ll get the most out of your garden if you’re replacing your plants all season. If you’re using one patch of soil as opposed to individual pots, be mindful to rearrange your plants from year to year. For example, tomatoes use up a lot of calcium in the soil so in their place, plant a vegetable that needs different nutrients such as carrots which require more potassium.
Gardening is really a trial and error process. You won’t know what works unless you experiment. “My favorite customers are the earnest ones,” says Laura Watt, of Cubit’s Organics, an organic seed company located in Toronto, Canada. “Plant what you really like, watch what happens and make notes for the following year.”
Seed packets usually have notes on the back regarding soil and sun requirements. Take note of how deep you must dig to plant the seed, how far apart sides should be spaced, how often to water and how much sun to allot. There are also plenty of apps for your phone or tablet to help you maneuver through the gardening process. Organic Gardening Planting Planner suggest start dates based on your GPS-located last frost. Keep track of watering cycles and more on a virtual plot with Gardening Tracker ($1.99).
Create an environment that will motivate your garden to grow. Plant annuals such as Borage, Forget-me-nots, Sunflowers and Zinnia to attract bees and butterflies. The Royal Horticultural Society also suggest growing herbs such as marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage and thyme intermixed into your vegetables, fruits and flowers to ensure efficient pollination of your plants.
Depending on where you live, consider starting the season with a soil test. Taking a soil sample to determine nutrient content, composition and acidity or pH level will make a difference on your potential growth. Pick up a soil test for about $10 at your local hardware store or online.
You can also bump up the nutrients in your gardening soil by adding compost before each planting season. If you live in cooler climates, you’ll want to incorporate compost into your garden before the one major growing season—from late spring to early fall. If you live where a warm climate offers year-round gardening, you need to add compost twice per year to accommodate two distinct growing seasons—one cool and one warm.
If you’re really unsure about the content of your soil, grow in containers where you have full control. Most vegetables will grow just fine in containers, says Laura, who grows carrots in a window box of her Toronto apartment.
Finally, store your seeds in a dry, cool, dark place. You want to do the opposite of what it takes for them to grow, says Laura, who ships her organic Cubit’s seeds in dark paper envelopes. “You usually get extra seeds for the same season or for next year. Keep them dry until you have an open spot in your garden.”
What are you planning to grow this spring? Share your tips for making the most of your garden. For heirloom and organic seeds to get started, visit Cubit’s website.