Its finally time to get up close and personal with your dirt. Yep, if you haven’t already started your seedlings indoors, it’s still not too late to it. Believe it or not, it’s not too early to start some veggies outdoors. Some greens actually need the cooler temps to germinate.
You beginner gardeners may not know in what planting zone you live. Knowing your zone is useful for when knowing when to plant your annuals and warm weather veggies. We live in Oak Lawn, a south suburb of Chicago, which means I am in Zone 5b. You can locate your Zone through the American Horticulture USDA Zone Map at http://www.ahs.org/gardening-resources/gardening-maps/hardiness-map. This website includes not only the USDA’s updated zone map, but also a heat map, which will help you choose the plants that will require less TLC from you to thrive. Planting the right plant at the right time in the right spot makes life oh so much easier for you and the plant.
If you are limited by time and/or funds, and can only start a few seeds indoors right now, choose those that take the longest to germinate, such as those that need more heat like Eggplants, and the oh so many varieties of peppers. If you’re looking to try something new, I recommend poblano peppers – not very hot, rich in flavor and very versatile in recipes – and they look so cool potted. Same with the Japanese eggplant variety. It does well in heat and, with its purple flowers, also rocks the pot.
Here is a list of cold/frost hardy veggies that can actually be sowed outdoors right now. This is info gathered not only from experience, but from the Old Farmer’s Almanac, and the U of I Extension in Cook County, Illinois. If you’re not in Illinois, you can access your early planting times through your extension. Each state has an extension connected to the flagship university for that state. It’s a free resource and it’s so cool to connect to fellow garden geeks in your state. You can also access your state’s planting dates from the Farmer’s Almanac at http://www.almanac.com/
- Radish – March 15
- Spinach – March 15
- Kale – March 25
- Rubarb – March 25
- onion sets – March 25
- Brussel Sprouts – March 25
- Cauliflower – March 25
Be sure to add mushroom compost to your soil before planting your seeds and then cover the bed with mulch to protect the seeds and soil. You can be creative with your mulch. For example, I have used the perennial grass that gets cut back in March to cover the newly planted seeds. Some people save their grass clippings to cover their beds, but wow is that a strong smell when it starts to dry out/decompose.
Seeds that are quick to germinate and like warmer weather, such as beans, peas, watermelon, potatoes and cucumbers, can wait to be started outside. In general, root veggies do not like to be transplanted. So if you choose to start beets, radishes, turnips and the like inside, be aware that it will take a gentle hand to transplant the tender seedlings in your garden bed. It can be done, they’ll just need lots of hands on care like keeping them upright in the strong spring rains, or watering more then once a day until their roots have taken if you’re lacking in rain.
The seeds that like cooler temps can be sowed in your outdoor pots or directly in your garden beds. I have planted my spinach and salad greens in pots and covered them with Glad Wrap Press and Seal (after I’ve watered them of course). I’ll leave them covered in their cozy new home until they are they big enough to poke through their covering, which should be about three weeks tops.
Chard and Kale are scary easy to grow. You could spit one of those seeds anywhere in your garden and they’d thrive. Chard are wild beet greens. They’re very colorful and crazy good for you. One serving of chard (1c raw or 1/2 c cooked) is your vitamin K for the whole week. Chard will be a reliable player through fall frost. Kale on the other hand really prefers cooler temps so you’ll be finishing your spring crop by late June or early July depending on your zone. You can plant new seeds in early August for a fall crop. Kale comes in different varieties, which means different shapes and heights, and shades of green, but same basic taste. Many people aren’t so fond of either Kale or Chard because they are after all bitter greens. I will provide simple recipes on the Charmed Kitchen page which I hope will entice you to grow these super easy, crazy good for you greens.
Spinach also prefers cooler weather so you’ll be swapping your spinach sometime in July for another veggie or herb, perhaps a second crop of basil, or a new row of radishes, beets or salad greens. You can plant a second crop of spinach in late August for a fall crop. The alternative is to plant the New Zealand variety spinach which likes hotter weather.
I’ll be posting which veggie seeds you can sow outside in April next week. As a general rule, here in Illinois no annual flowers, such as geraniums, snap dragons, and petunias, should be sowed outside until May. But – you can plant and pot Pansies right now. They love cooler weather, which is why you see them now and then again in September. You can also plant bushes now too. They are actually plentiful and affordable this time of year because most people don’t realize you can install bushes and trees this early in the season. The big box stores like Home Depot get their bushes and trees in early for just this reason. Planting this early also lets you take advantage of the free water from Mother Nature’s spring showers. Just remember to fertilize the new additions to your garden, especially if they are flowering bushes or trees.
As for maintenance of your garden beds, don’t be too eager to pull back the leaves, twigs, pine needles, etc. Wait until you’re certain that you are past frost. We are certainly enjoying more sunlight and warmer days, but here in Oak Lawn we are expected to have over night temps in the low 30’s this week. So I will wait another week for some serious clean up. By all means, pull the debris off your daffodils and crocus, and cut your perennial grasses down. The always gloriously perky daffodils will distract the eyes from the rest of the still sleeping garden.
Each brings you a smile – but the spring explosion of color that is just around the corner will make anyone a garden convert. If you haven’t planted spring bulbs, no worries, just put it on your to do list for September and take a walk through your neighborhood to soak up the joy from the spring blooms.
Happy planting everyone. If you have questions, be sure to post them, and if you have adventurous gardening stores, please do share!