When it’s bitter cold outside and there’s a foot of snow on the ground, it’s difficult for most of us to think much about our backyard vegetable gardens. But to the true garden enthusiast, sitting next to the fireplace with the new seed catalog that just arrived in the mail is a great way to spend a blustery winter evening, and the thoughts of what and when to plant are a source of pure enjoyment.
Even the novice gardener may be aware of the fact, however, that in many parts of the country, the garden soil can be worked as early as late February and certainly by mid-March. If they get that “green-thumb fever,” they may be curious to know what types of plants can be started early, even if they have to wait until after the last frost before setting out most of the regular crops.
Here’s the good news…
The good news for those who just can’t wait to have something to tend is that there are some cool weather plants that actually do quite well in late winter and early spring. In fact, some of these need to be both planted and harvested before warm weather comes around. Obviously, setting plants out and burying seeds will always be subject to the complete thawing of your topsoil. Where the ground in the garden can be worked in early March, however, here are a few ideas that might work to satisfy those eager gardeners who can’t wait to get started:
1. Onion Sets. Most types of onions do quite well when they are planted directly in the garden as onion sets in mid-March. At the garden shop, the small, partially grown bulbs are usually packaged as bundles. For most backyard vegetable gardens, one or two bundles of each onion color will be plenty.
2. Radishes. Radishes can be a great fix for the gardener who is so anxious to get the season started. Planted as seeds in a shallow furrow, radishes love the cool weather, and are good selections for March gardening. Both the round red varieties (like the Cherry Belle) and the long white root types (like the Icicle) radishes can be purchased in seed packets at the store.
The gardener will want to watch these closely, however, because these guys will germinate, grow, and be ready to harvest in a short time, often as quickly as three weeks. But that’s another great advantage. Plant as many as you like without worrying about garden space. Radishes are harvested so soon after they’re planted, they will be out of the way before it’s time to work with the warm weather plants.
3. Lettuce. Leaf lettuce is a wonderful cool weather garden crop that can be seed-planted in March. The garden shop will probably have several varieties to select from, but Black-seeded Simpson is probably the most popular. Lettuce won’t be ready as quickly as the radishes were, and may take around 45 days before the gardener can begin to rob the plants for a fresh salad. You may want to consider staggering the planting of the leaf lettuce rows by several days, so the entire crop doesn’t mature on the same weekend.
4. Spinach. Another garden crop that can be planted from seeds, spinach grows well in the cool weather. A fresh salad with a mixture of spinach leaves and some of that leaf lettuce from the next row can be a real treat when those early garden crops are ready to harvest. The garden store will likely have several varieties to choose from, but Olympia and Bloomsdale are two of the more popular types, and will be ready to eat in about 48 days.
5. Carrots. Gardeners may want to wait until the latter part of March for planting carrots, but direct seeding about three to four weeks before the last frost will provide a wonderful homegrown treat in about 80 days after planting.
6. Peas. The list of crops that can be planted directly into the garden in late winter or early spring should always include peas. Peas are tolerant of the occasional frost and extended periods of cooler weather that are typical for the season. Assuming that the seeds will reach maturity after about 60 days of growth, the gardener may wish to set out several sections of peas, a week or so apart, in order to have more than one harvest when the time comes.
7. Others. While the short menu of plants mentioned here are varieties that can be placed directly into the garden in March, a great many others can be started indoors under a grow light, and then set out when the danger of frost is nearly gone. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, beets, and even some early-maturing tomatoes can be transplanted to the backyard garden bed when the weather is more favorable.
This is so true…
Regardless of where one lives, gardening can be a year-round project. Even in the colder months, planning and preparation for the busier season can keep the enthusiast occupied. For many, however, seeing something green pop out of the ground in those early months is the only absolute cure for garden fever. That is why a mini greenhouse investment in your front or backyard will definitely give you all possibilities without compromising losing any of your crops.
One of the best parts of gardening is being able to share what you know and grow with other gardeners or people you meet. Tips and tricks you have used in your own garden just might be the information another gardener needs to get their trouble plant flourishing, and a plant you noticed in a neighbors garden might be ready to divide and shared.
These are all good reasons to organize a plant swap among your friends or in your own neighborhood. At a plant swap you can share information on the plants that you have had success with or those plants that do not do well in the area with newbie gardeners. A swap takes place among gardeners who have divided up plants in their garden that have become to big for the space they are growing in or need to be transplanted.
The first thing you are going to need in order to have a successful plant swap are other gardeners to swap with. Talk to your gardening pals in the neighborhood, you know, the folks that you stop and talk to on walks through the neighborhood to admire their garden. Next, talk to the gardeners in your neighborhood that you haven’t yet met but noticed that they have some plants that need dividing. Finally, stop at your local public places to see about posting flyers for a plant swap, depending on the size of the swap you want to have.
When to Swap
Deciding when to host a plant swap is not hard, the growth of your plants and when they are ready to divide pretty much dictate the schedule. The best time of year to host plant swaps are going to be in the spring and again in the fall. Spring bloomers should be divided and swapped in the fall and summer bloomers divided and swapped in the spring.
What to Swap
Popular plants to swap include those that can always be used in the garden to create borders, fill shade and add color. Perennial favorites like Hostas, Purple Coneflowers, Asters, and Lilies are always wanted by gardeners. Other plants to include in the swap are any new varieties you have introduced to your own garden that have performed well.
Besides plants that you divide in your garden you can swap any leftover seedlings you grew for your own garden and seeds that you have collected. Make sure you include any information about planting and care that you have for all of the plants that you swap.
How to Swap
There are several ways to go about swapping your plants. You can swap using a lottery system or let members exchange among themselves. I prefer a lottery system because that way every member gets an equal chance at bringing home some of their favorites. Make sure that all gardeners involved are comfortable with whatever swap method is used before you begin.
Things to Remember
Remind all gardeners involved that the plants they bring to swap should be healthy and disease free, no one wants to introduce an unhealthy plant into their otherwise disease free garden. Include details about your plant to potential gardeners, like if you have used chemical fertilizers or if all gardening was done organically. And finally, have fun and take the time to glean as many tips and tricks from other gardeners to use in your own garden.
Growing a greener garden is part science, part art, and part chance. There isn’t much you can do about the element of chance – the weather might be ideal one year and disastrous the next. Then there are those people who just seem to have a knack for producing the prettiest blooms and heartiest plants. But even if you weren’t blessed with a proverbial green thumb, you can have a healthier garden if you understand some of the science behind growing things.
With all the interest in green, environmentally friendly methods, composting is a great way to utilize kitchen and lawn waste to produce the perfect soil additive without chemical fertilizers. Producing your own compost just makes sense because the ingredients are free and you’ll be making the most of materials that would otherwise go down your garbage disposal or worse, become part of the mountain of trash at a landfill.
There are several different styles of compost structures, from free-standing piles that can be manually turned over, to pre-fabricated rotating bins. The size of your compost pile will depend on the size of your yard and on the amount of waste material your lawn and kitchen produce. Compost piles should not exceed around six feet in height because if the pile is too high, decomposition will not occur at the deeper layers. Also, if a compost heap is too tall or massive, it will be difficult to turn over.
Turning over your compost is a method of mixing the layers which will be at different stages of decomposition. This is accomplished with a simple pitchfork or shovel. Pitchforks are the best tool for composting since they are not as heavy or cumbersome as shovels. Garden rakes are typically not durable enough for the job, since decomposing compost becomes quite weighty.
In order for decomposition to occur, your compost pile must include both green and brown material. Green matter refers to any fresh waste material such as green leaves, grass clippings, fresh wood chips, and vegetable, fruit or other organic scraps. Brown matter includes dead branches, dried wood chips, dried pine cones and needles, and even shredded paper scraps. A word of caution: do not add meat, fat or oil to your compost pile since this will attract vermin as well as create quite a stench!
If your compost pile includes this combination of materials and is at least a foot or more in depth, with time, the magic of decomposition will turn what would otherwise be trash into a rich soil additive. You can tell that decomposition is occurring by reaching your hand deep into the pile. If the center of the heap feels much hotter than the surface, that means the magic of decomposition has begun. In fact, the center of your compost heap should be nearly too hot to touch.
You might notice a variety of insects in and around your compost pile. Actually, at the hot center of the heap, instead of earthworms and beetles, tiny microorganisms will be doing the real work of breaking down material.
When your compost begins to resemble rich coffee grounds, it is ready to be used as a soil additive. Good compost can help turn overly alkaline soil into healthy balanced soil by adding a mildly acidic element. You can test the pH level of your soil with a simple tester device, with a slightly acidic to neutral pH of around 6 or 7 ideal. The crumbly texture of compost can turn clumpy, clay soils into workable garden dirt. Using compost also helps conserve water usage in the garden because mulch compost placed around plants holds water and inhibits evaporation. Even without rainfall, mulch will draw and hold moisture from the morning dew, releasing it throughout the day to thirsty plants.
If you have a garden, your plants are sure to reward your composting efforts with brighter blooms and tastier treats.
If you have a small garden space, a full-sized greenhouse may be out of the question. However, if you do much gardening, a well-made mini greenhouse is a purchase you will never regret. Ideal for use on patios, decks, balconies, courtyards and small yards, mini green houses offer the same benefits and many of the same features as their full-sized cousins, yet take up very little space, typically around six square feet!
Main Use of a mini greenhouse
A greenhouse can be used to start seedlings before the recommended frost date for your area. When the weather warms up, your healthy, robust plants can then be transplanted into the garden. This allows you to start harvesting your crops much earlier than gardeners who wait to direct-seed. There’s a much wider selection of seeds available than plants, so you can grow things that your friends won’t have, which makes sharing your produce with them a lot more fun!
A good selection of herbs, and nearly all varieties of lettuce can be grown successfully in a mini greenhouse all year long, as can greens such as Swiss chard, kale, and spinach. Think how great it would be to serve your guests a salad of just-picked greens in the middle of winter!
You can use your greenhouse to protect tender perennial plants from frost, ice and snow. Transplant them into containers and they’ll live happily in your mini greenhouse until spring, and then they can be moved back outdoors.
Consider giving your houseplants a welcome change of scenery by putting them outside in your miniature greenhouse for the summer months. The greenhouse can also provide a humid micro-climate for tropical plants.
Mini greenhouses will make the most of the heat available from the sun, while protecting your plants from wind, rain, destructive insects and other garden pests like rabbits and deer.
Some minis are designed to mount to a wall, garage or shed rather than be a free-standing unit in the garden. This ensures that they won’t get knocked over by rambunctious pets or kids, or blown over by a strong wind. There are also kits which allow you to build a small greenhouse in no time, with complete instructions provided by the manufacturer. They range from one- to three-shelf designs, and are relatively inexpensive.
What size do you really need?
Even if you have the space for a full-sized greenhouse, it may still make sense to go with a mini greenhouse instead. If your main use will be to germinate seeds, grow a few plants and provide winter protection for less hardy specimens, a smaller greenhouse will suit you just fine. But if you plan to grow a lot of flowers or vegetables all year long, then a full-size, insulated greenhouse would probably be worth the investment. However, don’t forget that full-size greenhouses have different heating, lighting and cooling requirements than miniature ones, which makes them much more costly to maintain and use.
Greenhouse-gardening offers many practical advantages and money-saving benefits for gardeners, and if all you have the space or money for is a miniature one, this is still much better than not having a greenhouse at all! A mini greenhouse may well prove to be your best gardening expenditure, and will certainly bring you years of enjoyment.
As you may already know, a gazebo is a multipurpose freestanding structure that can be used in gardens, out on a lawn or as a covered gathering area in some other location, such as a park. When gardening in or around a gazebo, there are several factors to take into consideration. This includes how much light is available and where the light occurs, as this will affect which plants will thrive in the garden.
As a general rule, full shade plants should be in an area that receives more than 6 hours of shade. Meanwhile, partial sun/partial shade plants require an area that gets less than six hours of sunlight a day; while a full sun plant requires a minimum of six hours a day of full sunlight. Of course, there are also exceptions such as certain plants may only require full, but indirect sunlight.
Climbing plants require the use of a structure, either man-made or natural, to thrive. Climbing plants generally cannot support themselves and thus will rely on a secondary structure, such as a gazebo, for support. Various ivy vines, morning glories and climbing hibiscus plants are all options. However, be sure to choose a climbing plant that suits your specific region and its weather, as well as the specific type of soil, light and watering that will be available to the plant in your yard.
An annual plant is defined as any plant that can complete an entire life cycle-from seed to full grown, reproducing plant-in a single growing season. Annuals can thrive in full sun, full shade or part sun/part shade. Examples of popular annual plants include wax begonias, impatiens, dwarf salvias and coleus; all of which thrive in shade. Annual plants that thrive in full sun include cosmos, geraniums, zinnia and rose moss.
Perennial plants are plants that live through several growing seasons. Most perennials will experience some type of die back during the winter, but will regrow during the following season from the existing original root system.
Like with annuals, some perennials will prefer full sun while others prefer full shade or a part sun/part shade combination. Examples of full sun perennials that can be grown in a gazebo garden include the garden peony, the daylily, the bearded iris and the blanket flower. Meanwhile, full shade perennials include bleeding heart plants, lilies of the valley, wild violets and wild ginger.
Surprisingly, many will find that depending upon the climate, some perennials will act like an annual, just as some annuals can act like perennials. For example, the Black-Eyed Susan will perform like an annual plant in Louisiana while up in Ohio, that same plant would grow like a perennial (notes from the Aggie Horticulture department at Texas A M University).
Lastly, if you own any pets, especially pets that are allowed outdoors, be sure to choose plants that are pet-safe. Check out the ASPCA’s Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant database, though keep in mind that not all plants are listed and be sure to research your specific plants to ensure your pet’s safety.
References: Texas A M University: Annual, Perennial, Biennial? | University of Missouri: Annuals for Sun | University of Minnesota: Gardening in the Shade by Deborah L. Brown
Hi, my name is Angela and I’m a proclaimed garden enthusiast. I do talks in our small community on all the things I learned and get to learn about gardening and beautifying my garden for years. It has been my passion ever since I discovered my ‘power’ to bring life to plants and even to those that are dying. I inherited this ‘green thumb’ from my granny who became the main reason why I fell in love with this craft.