Eileen Nelson, a CALS and UW-Extension horticulture specialist, is in charge of a number of general horticulture education and outreach efforts. She’s an instructor in the Farm and Industry Short Course, provides web support to the UW-Madison Department of Horticulture, and oversees the annual Garden Center Symposium’s educational program, amongst many other duties.
In this Q & A, Nelson shares information and helpful resources for people who are eager to start planning their 2014 gardens.
What should I be doing right now to plan for my garden?
Gardening is a four season hobby. While we aren’t actively out in our gardens, now is the time to dream and to plan for the growing season. If you had a garden last year, think back to what worked and what didn’t work. Visit your nearest garden center to see what seeds they have stocked for the coming season, look over the items you think you might need, make lists and start planning. Now is also a good time to peruse some of UW Extension’s publications on gardening, including “The Vegetable Garden,” that are available from the Learning Store at UW Extension.
Love those seed catalogs! How do I pick varieties for my yard?
Your first step to selection is understanding your growing conditions. Most vegetable seed selections at local garden centers are suited to our general location, but some have specific light, soil pH and fertility, and water requirements. When the ground thaws, however, it’s smart to do a soil test. Knowing what your soil is like and what you need to do to prepare it is a first step to success. A soil test will tell you how much fertilizer you might need to add, if any. So add this to your to-do list, and contact your county Extension office if you need help or have questions.
And once I’ve got my soil figured out?
Additional information on choosing vegetable varieties can be found in the publication Vegetable Cultivars and Planting Guide for Wisconsin Gardens.
My spades and hoes are sharp. I’m ready. How soon will I be able to plant?
You have to be patient. In those first snow-free days of “pre-spring,” our common sense seems to go right out the window and the inclination is to start planting. And many box stores have plants ready for sale in late March and early April, further causing us to jump the gun. But experienced gardeners know that there is still some time to go. Mother Nature can be fickle! If you look at USDA plant hardiness zone maps and information on last average killing frost days in Wisconsin, you will see that for much of Wisconsin we can have a killing frost any time in May. The urge may be to put plants in the garden, but for many that do not tolerate cool to cold temperatures, the old adage of not planting anything before Memorial Day (May 31) still holds true.
OK, I get it. For now I’ll just garden on paper. Who can help me with that?
Good idea. Planning before you plant will ensure success and there’s no reason not to get started. Local garden centers are one of your best resources for information, education—and a measure of common sense! They want you to succeed and will not let you put a plant or seed in before its time. And of course, you can find additional resources for learning about gardening at UW Extension Horticulture or by contacting your county Extension agent.