Get ready for Gardening

NEW ULM — As summer nears, now is as good a time as any to get that summer vegetable garden planted while there’s still time left in the planting season.

Because Minnesota has a shorter gardening season than states to the south, it’s usually best to start a majority of the plants in May after the final winter freeze that sometimes occurs in April.

Dean Wintheiser and Roxy Jelinek are longtime Brown County Master Gardeners who have some advice to all gardeners who want to get their summer plants going. Both have worked a lot with both vegetable and flower gardens.

Wintheiser said that you can sow early “cool-season” crops such as lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts and onions immediately after preparing your garden plot.

“You can plant cold weather crops such as lettuce, radishes, kohlrabi, broccoli, peas and carrots before the threat of frost is over and you can work in the soil,” Wintheiser said via email. “Crops such as tomatoes and peppers are warm season crops and it best to plant them after the threat of frost is gone. Tomatoes and peppers really don’t grow until the soil has warmed up. We usually wait until memorial day weekend to plant any warm season plants. Many seeds (cucumber, squash, etc) will not germinate in cold soils and require warmer temperatures to start growing.”

Minnesota’s short gardening season presents a unique situation sometimes when to plant.

“Most vegetables are annuals and can be grown in Minnesota as well as most of the USA,” Wintheiser said. “Planting times are different as garden plants don’t like cold or too hot of temperatures. In the southern states the vegetable garden is planted in late fall or winter and is harvested before the hot summer months. In Minnesota we plant in spring/summer so our plants can enjoy the warmth.”

Rotate your plants

It’s usually a good idea to rotate your plants in the garden every year. This helps prevents pests and diseases from the soil. Plants such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers are ones that should be moved to different spots in the garden each year. Another reason for crop rotation is to allow for replenishment and efficient use of nutrients.

It’s also important to maintain the garden after everything is picked. Gardeners also should look into tilling the garden at the end of the year after the final crops are pulled.

“It’s best to clean out the garden in fall removing plant debris and either spade or till the soil,” Wintheiser said. “This allows the winter freeze to break up the clumps of soil for spring planting. Tilling the soil again prior to planting is also recommended by the University of Minnesota.”

Wintheiser also said that soils should not be prepared for planting when too wet or too dry. If soil sticks to your shoes or shovel, it is too wet. One way to test is to press a small amount of soil in your hand. When the moisture is right, the soil crumbles and breaks into small clumps. If it is too wet, it stays molded in a ball.

He also recommended that you have your soil tested for the amount of fertilizer or manure to apply before planting. A routine soil test gives information on any lime requirement, phosphorous and potassium needs and estimated nitrogen requirements. He advised that for information on soil testing, contact the University Soil Testing Laboratory.

Wintheiser also said that it’s important to rake the planting area immediately after tilling. A firm, fine seedbed is best, particularly for small-seeded crops, but packing the soil too much could promote crusting of the soil surface and damage emerging seedlings. Tilling the soil in late fall facilitates earlier spring planting.

Starting plants inside

Now is a good time to get “cool-season” plants like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts and onions planted for a good start on Minnesota’s short growing season, according to Brown County Master Gardeners. Warm weather plants like tomatoes and peppers can be started inside and planted closer to the end of May when the soil and weather warms up.

Some people want to get an early jump on their crops. Some of these crops should start inside and then later be moved outside when it’s warm enough and the threat of freeze is over.

Warm season crops need a long growing season and usually will not mature if seeded directly in the garden, Wintheiser said. Cool season crops must mature before hot weather.

It is necessary to either to start these crops early inside or to buy plants at a garden center or greenhouse. Start seeds in plastic trays or peat pots that are 3-4 inches deep.

Start warm-season crops later than cool-season crops. Peppers and eggplant germinate slowly and should be started before tomatoes. Cover the seeds lightly with sand and gently water the transplant trays using a fine screened waterer to prevent washing the seeds out of the soil.

Next, you should cover the tray or peat pots with clear plastic and keep in a warm room until germination. As soon as the seedlings appear, remove the plastic cover and keep the seedlings in full sunlight or directly under fluorescent lights.

Check online for more information about transplanting seedlings.

(Stock photos from gardening web sites.)