Home Improvement: Spring is here, time to garden

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While it’s not quite time to break out the garden hoes and shovels, it’s the perfect time to start getting ready for gardening season. Spring may have only just arrived but you’ve got a lot of planning to do so get to it.


It’s still too early, and cold, to start digging up the soil in your garden but there are plenty of other tasks that outdoor gardeners can do now. Digging around in the dirt right now while it’s still too cold and too wet will damage your soil structure, said Jean Gerow, facilities manager for the Ithaca Children’s Garden, but making sure you’ll have the resources you need is a great task to get done now.


“Plan your mulch or compost delivery,” Gerow said. “Make sure you’re on the schedule if you order in anything like that.”


Daniel Lee, from Ithaca Agway, said now is the time to clean up the yard and start laying down grass seed and mulch.


“If they get their mulches down right now before the weed seeds germinate, they can save a whole lot of work,” Lee said. “It’s all prevention.”


Deciding now what you want to grow, and making sure you have the space for it all, is a great early spring task. Tomato plants will take about a 3-foot by 3-foot plot, while carrots only take about 3-inches by 3-inches. Mapping out where your plants and vegetables will go will save you time and a headache later.


Keep in mind what you plan on using your garden for. Do you want to just have a few tomatoes and carrots every once in a while, to throw in a salad? Do you plan on feeding your whole family from your garden? Will you be canning your crop? Once you know that, you can do the research to figure out how much production you can get out of each plant to plan accordingly.


“You’ll also want to start thinking about what varieties, and make sure they grow in our region,” Gerow said. “There’s resources out there who will tell you – the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) in particular – they’ll tell you what local gardeners have had great success with.”


The CCE is a great local resource for new and established gardeners in the area. The website is a wealth of information about gardening in general and tips for gardening in this region. Gerow herself became deeply involved in gardening when she took a Master Gardener class at CCT several years ago. Before that, she volunteered at several local organizations that sparked her interest in the things that grow, including the Cornell Wild Flower Garden.
When you know what you want, and how much you want, it’s time to order seeds. Buying from local vendors will be your best bet, Gerow said. But keep in mind that if you have friends who are gardeners you can also plan some seed swaps. Why buy a pack of 30 seeds when all you need is 10? Because then you can swap 20 of those seeds for something else with a fellow gardener.
While waiting for the ground to thaw and the last frost (typically around May 15) to pass, start preparing your tools.


“It’s also a really good time to go out to your garden shed and clean and sharpen your tools,” Gerow said. “There’s a lot of oiling and sharpening that can be done. You can maintain your handles, sand them down and re-oil them or re-paint them if you want. Get the rust off of your shovels, get the tips sharpened on your shovels, that will help out a lot.”


For gardeners who plan to start their seeds indoors, now is the time to go through your materials to clean and sanitize them. You never know what little critters might have been making a home in your clay pots so be sure to dip them in a solution of water and a little bit of bleach. You can get a head start on some plants when you start them inside but make sure you know how long it takes them to germinate so you can put them in the ground at the right time. Around June 1 is typically when the soil is warm enough to start planting things.


“You don’t want to plant things outside that require warm soil until you’ve got warm soil,” Gerow said. Too early and they just won’t last.


If you’re transitioning plants from indoor to outdoor, keep in mind the time it will take for them to adjust safely.


“They’ve been nice and protected, even temperature, lower lights inside,” Lee said. “Outside is quite a shock to them.” You need to acclimate the plants by moving them out in small increments each day, and each day leaving them outside longer and longer.”


It may not yet be time to plant but its’ certainly time to get started. Happy growing!

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