If you have decided to have a garden this year, right now is the time to start planning your plants and location. Right now? Yes, right now. Even though there is snow on the ground (if you live around here anyway) now is the time to order seeds or rootstock, and even plant some seed varieties.
First things First
One of the first things you should find out, or know when you start a garden is your plant hardiness zone. The USDA has set the hardiness standard as a way for you to determine which plants will survive in your area. Do not assume all the plants you find in the big box stores are suitable for your area, because often times they’re not. We live on the edge of Zone 5b and 4 so I try to find zone 4 plants to have a higher chance of success.
The next piece of information you will want to find is the length of your growing season. This means knowing the average last frost date in the spring and the average first frost date in the fall. Around here we have around the 90-something day growing season, sometimes more, sometimes less. Why is this important? Take watermelons for example. If you look through a seed catalog you will see that some varieties require 120 day growing seasons, which means it will, on average, be 120 days before you have mature, ripe watermelon to pick. You certainly do not want to wait all summer to have watermelon only to have frost kill the plant just as the fruit is ripening! This does not mean you cannot grow these varieties, but you will have to start the seeds indoors to give them a head start before putting them outside.
So now that you know your plant zone and growing season, decide if you are going to wait until spring to go to your local garden nursery and buy all your plants, or if you want to try your hand at starting your own plants from seed. If you plan to buy all your plants, and live in zone 5 or 4, right now is the time to get your tools and equipment ready and plan your site. If you plan to start your own plants you should be buying your seeds right now (as in this week) and be ready to get your hands in some dirt very soon.
Get Your Seeds Out Now!
Now that you have your seeds picked out you will need to determine how and when to plant them. Most seed companies print how and when to plant on the back of each seed packet. Some seeds will require you to start them indoors so they have a better chance of germinating. Others require you to wait until the warm weather and ‘direct sow’ into their permanent spot in the garden.
So why do you need to have your seeds now? I’ll give you and example – you want to start your own bell pepper plants this year. The seed packet says they need to be started 8-10 weeks BEFORE the last frost date. This means if your average last frost date is in May, you should start those seeds this week or next. What?! But there is snow on the ground! Even with snow on the ground, the garden season is getting started indoors!
Cool Season Crops
In the next month or so cool season crops like peas, broccoli and lettuce can be planted outdoors. These plants grow best when the weather is still cool, even cold, and will die back when the heat of the summer hits.
Start Planning and Planting
Now that you know your garden adventure doesn’t have to wait a few more months to get started, get out there and start planning and planting!