Spring Garden Reminders: The garden is starting to wake up

The garden is starting to wake up and there will be a few mild days ahead. What can you do this early? 

Survey the garden and landscape. An important part of planning is having information about your garden.  Note what light is available – full sun for 6 or more hours each day during the growing season, part sun/shade, and full shade. For some plants, it is important to know if the site is wet or dry. Make note of what bulbs and perennials need to be divided. 

The garden

Get your seeds! Last year there was a seed slam as gardening interest exploded during lockdown. Whether you order seeds or go to the garden center, look over your plans and get your seeds now. Look for plants listed for Zone 6b, the Franklin County USDA Hardiness Zone. Hardiness zones are areas with the same temperature – the coldest zone is 1 and the warmest is 10. 

Sow any seeds you plan to start indoors. This will give you about 6 weeks before the last threat of a late frost (average is May 12 in Franklin County) and planting outside. Penn State’s Seed Starting Demystified article has good information.

Get a soil test. Since garden soil is the container for your plants, have it analyzed through Penn State. They are available for $9 at the Extension Office, 181 Franklin Farm Lane, Chambersburg (8:30-4:30 M-F). Find out if the soil needs amended and, if so, what it needs.  

Buying plants. Often the plants we want, especially annuals, are already out at the nurseries even though it is too early to plant them; however, later the selection will be small. If you buy them ahead of time you will need to babysit them until May.

More gardening tips

Tune-up your tools. Shovels, spades, trowels, hoes, pruning shears, loppers, and hedge clippers should be sharpened. Clean garden tools now and after each use. Check for loose handles or screws. Make sure there is easy access storage for the garden season. 

Do garden clean-up. Perennials and grasses left standing can be cleared. Remove fallen leaves over spring bulbs so that sun can reach the emerging foliage. Remove mulch from roses, azaleas, and other tender shrubs. Be prepared to recover if a cold-snap hits. 

Prune dead and damaged branches from trees and shrubs. Prune only what you can reach. Leave big tree pruning to professionals. Delay pruning spring-flowering trees and shrubs until after they have bloomed. For example, do not prune forsythia until after it has bloomed. 

Plant cool season crops. Once clean-up is done, and before working in the garden, make sure the soil is not wet. Working soil when it is wet destroys soil structure and causes compaction. When the garden is dry enough (feels crumbly like chocolate cake), it is planting time. Cool season vegetables such as peas, onions, shallots, leeks, salad greens, cabbage and broccoli be planted. Some are available as transplants and other seed-sown. 

The garden is starting
Plants are sensitive to temperature below ground, too. (Photos by Carol Kagan)

Check your soil temperature. Plants are sensitive to temperature below ground, too. Use a soil or meat thermometer and take the temperature at 2-3” deep around 11 a.m. Try to get readings over a period of four to five days. Transplant local warm season crops at 60° to 65° F. These include tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cantaloupes, watermelons, pumpkins and squash. A daily soil temperature reading is available for Franklin County from Cornell University. More on soil temperature at Garden and Life Notes.

About the author

The garden

Carol Kagan is a master gardener and author who has been active in herbal organizations for over 35 years. She has designed and maintained herb gardens and provided docent services at historic properties. The second edition of her book, Herb Sampler, is a great guide for beginners who love herbs but aren’t quite sure how to get started, or have been unsuccessful in establishing a herb garden,

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