If you’re anything like us, you’ve been impatiently waiting to get out in the garden and start the growing season — especially since winter seems to have been stubborn about relinquishing its hold this year. But even though the weather is warming, don’t rush off to the garden center and buy every plant you see. Those tomatoes may look tempting, but they’re not ready for prime time yet!
For the best results, you’ll want to ensure your vegetable and flower beds are properly prepared first, and then choose plants that thrive in cooler weather. We’ve got you covered with a few handy tips to kick off the growing season.
- First things first: Clean up the gardens by removing any left-over leaves, dead stems and plant debris and tossing them in the compost pile.
- Now it’s time to see if you can start digging in the dirt. Grab a handful and form it into a ball — if it crumbles easily when you squeeze it, it’s go-time. If it’s gooey or sticks together without crumbling, you need to wait until it dries out a little more.
- If you haven’t already worked the soil in fall — and it’s the correct consistency — it’s time to lightly till or turn it over by hand. Add a layer of compost first so that it mixes in— this will provide food for the plants later. You can add another light layer of compost on the top when the planting is done.
- If you’ve completed the previous steps, you’re ready for planting. For May and June, choose cool-weather crops like lettuce, cabbage, kale and beets. They’ll grow best now, before the weather gets hot — and depending on the variety of lettuce you choose, you could have salad fixings within 45 days! It’s also a good time to start potatoes, as they need the head-start to make the most of the growing season.
- It’s also time to plant rhubarb, asparagus, horseradish and June-bearing strawberries. You’ll need to wait a few seasons to harvest rhubarb and asparagus (check with your garden center for details), but horseradish will be ready in late fall, and the strawberries should be ready within four to six weeks. Remember — only the stems of rhubarb are edible. The leaves are toxic, so they should go directly into your compost once you start harvesting. Some people eat horseradish leaves; others save them for the compost.
- For some quick color in the flower garden, annuals including pansies, petunias, snapdragon, dianthus and alyssum are a good bet.
- For perennials, the Penn State Extension suggests natives such as Columbine, Butterfly weed, Turtlehead and Joe-pye weed. It’s also a good time to consider starting a butterfly garden and help save the Monarchs!