Here in Wisconsin, the spring season can be a bit of a tease. Just when you think it must finally be here for good, you wake up one April morning to find your lawn covered in a fresh blanket of snow. After a long winter, though, most of us can’t wait to get out into the yard, dig our hands into the soil, and start watching seeds grow into luscious crops. Whether you’re a first time gardener, a new homeowner, or a longtime hobbyist, you may find yourself wondering: Isn’t it time to get started?! The good news is: Yes! Our team of gardeners and horticulturists teamed up to share a few rules of “green thumbs” and gardening tips!
AVOIDING KILLING FROSTS
The biggest concern with planting many vegetables and annuals is the occurrence of killing frosts. A general rule of thumb in our area puts safe planting dates around Memorial Day for most years, give or take a week or so. This is an average date; meaning, the likelihood of a killing frost happening after that is rare but, as we all know, can certainly still happen. If you’re looking for a more specific answer, there are web resources to help. You can even find sites that will give you planting recommendations based on your zip code!
SEEDS TO PLANT FIRST
Luckily, there are many frost-tolerant vegetables that can be planted earlier than what we just discussed. These include onion, lettuce, arugula, parsley, spinach, radishes, carrots, parsnips, cabbage, kale, collards, brussel sprouts and broccoli. They actually enjoy the cooler temperatures of early spring and will begin germination when the ground is over 40 degrees. Seeds will fare better than transplants; if you start any of these vegetables in the house before planting, you’ll still want to wait a couple of weeks later than the seeds before putting them in the ground.
SEEDS TO PLANT NEXT
The majority of typical vegetables should be planted after the risk of killing frosts. These include corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, okra, melons, cucumbers and beans. They will be most successful when the ground has warmed enough to retain its temperature during any weather swings. Expect these seeds to shoot up within about a week’s time. If you’ve started any of these vegetables indoors, wait about another week before planting the transplants to ensure the soil and night temperatures are adequately warm.
You’ll still want to keep an eye on the weather, and cover plants with a blanket on nights that hold a risk of frost. Typically, the most damage can occur on cold, clear and windless nights.
STARTING SEEDS INDOORS
Some of the best seeds to start indoors are early transplants, like cauliflower, brussel sprouts or cabbage. Because they take a longer time to mature, they’re a great choice to get a jumpstart on early in the season. Other easy plants to start from seeds are: tomatoes (sown indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last frost), watermelon (4-6 weeks before the last frost), peppers (8-12 weeks), herbs (6-8 weeks), and lettuce (8 weeks).
There are, however, a few plants that shouldn’t be started indoors. Root vegetables (like carrots, radishes, potatoes, and beets) don’t transplant well because damage to the roots will lead to a poor harvest. Squash, cucumbers and beans typically grow rapidly, making them difficult to transplant and easy to damage in trying to do so.
Here at the garden center, we can’t wait to start watching those first vegetables pop up out of the ground, too! Stop on in to pick up your seeds and speak with one of our horticulturists to learn more about successful gardening in our area. We wish you the best of luck in your growing season, and hope to see you soon!