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Tips and Tricks For Spring Garden Planting

Here's how to get your vegetable garden off to a great, early start.

Spring PlantingSpring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’ – Robin Williams

Even if much of the country is still locked in winter, many places are warming up to garden planting season. Here’s a roundup of tips and strategies to help insure those first seeds that go in your garden survive the variable conditions of spring.

Plan. You’ll want to carefully choose where you’ll sow the first seeds of peas, greens, and other garden crops. It makes sense you’ll want them in the best conditions. You’ll also want to look to the future, to when and where you’ll plant long season, heat-loving seeds and transplants of things like tomatoes and squash. Remember, too, that late June and July heat may cause your first crops, especially greens to go to seed. There’s a balancing act involved.

Protection from frost! Wall O Water Season Extenders allow you to start tomatoes, peppers, squash and other plants 6-8 weeks earlier, without fear of freezing. Garden vegetables will be healthier and produce up to twice the fruit 30-40 days earlier. Protects down to 16°F.

Lots of people can visualize how things will fit into their garden. I’m not one of them. I like to sketch things out on graph paper and then use the sketch when I’m laying out where things will go into the ground, even if I make changes as I go along. And don’t forget to take advantage of early-warming spots like those on the south-facing wall of your garage or home.

Use a soil thermometer to gauge when soil temperatures are ready. Each type of seed has a perfect germination temperature and there’s no use in putting out something like summer squash if the ground is still at 40 degrees and more suitable for chard. Air temperature can help you estimate when things are ready but a soil thermometer will give you the real dirt. Here’s a chart (PDF) that lists the range for minimum, maximum, and optimum soil temperatures for starting most seeds. Sometimes paying ahead to something as simple as soil temperature can save time and heartbreak.

Use black plastic. Covering your plot with back plastic before planting will help raise the soil temperature more quickly than uncovered soil. It will also help suffocate weed seedling that come up ahead of planting. Make sure your soil isn’t overly wet when you install the plastic. And use your soil thermometer to monitor the results. In larger gardens, black plastic between rows will both raise temperatures and control weeds.

Make sure your soil has been adequately prepared. This might mean pulling back mulch to help soil dry or working in amendments on a cold but dry day ahead of planting. Anything you do now will pay benefits down the road.

Raised beds. Starting your early season crops in raised beds offers your vegetables a great head start. Not only does the soil in the box come up to planting temperature more quickly, it can also be covered by hoop-supported plastic making soil heat even more quickly. Once your plants come up, be sure to provide adequate ventilation on sunny days. Even on chilly days, the air inside well covered raised beds can reach temperatures that might dry out or toast your seedlings.

Made of premium grade spun-bond polyester, Harvest-Guard® Floating Row Cover has “pores” large enough to let in sunlight, water and air, but small enough to keep out insect pests. A single layer protects as low as 29°F; double layer protects as low as 26°F. Available in multiple sizes.

Cold frames. All the advantage of a covered raised bed, with the night-time insulation of the earth if they’re set below ground level. Great for starting seeds in pots and also, for starting long season, heat-loving crops right in the ground.

Use hoop gardening techniques and row covers to raise soil temps and protect young seedlings from cold. Protects against root maggots too!

Use mulch, loosely and lightly around emerging seedlings. This will help conserve the heat over night that the soil takes in during the day.

Patience. We’ve said it before. Sometimes you just have to wait for conditions to improve before you plant your seeds. Until then, keep checking soil moisture and temperature conditions. We here in Montana, anxious to grow, know that this can be one of the hardest tasks the garden requires.

There are other spring gardening techniques, like sowing vegetables in prepared straw bales that have started composting, that may be local to your region and growing conditions. Let us know what you do to ensure those seeds first planted in the spring live long and prosper.

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