Out in the Garden

As the days get warmer and the sun sets later and later, I hope you all have the opportunity to spend more and more time outside.  Sunshine and fresh air are good for the soul!

If you happen to have a garden or have decided that this is the year to start one there are lots of things to keep you busy at this time of year!

Perennial Beds

A mantis egg mass, straw colored foam like mass the size of a golf ball, on the branch of a forsythia bush covered with yellow flower buds
Mantis ootheca on forsythia

Hopefully you waited until spring to clean up your garden to allow beneficial insects and other arthropods such as bees and butterflies to overwinter.  Now that spring has sprung you should leave debris as long as you can to give these creatures a chance to emerge from their winter hiding places.  You should start carefully removing debris from around blossoming plants.  If you must cut back hollow stems, bundle them so any pollinators overwintering inside have a chance to emerge.   As you are cleaning up be on the look out for praying mantis egg cases know as ootheca.   This is one time when you should leave things till tomorrow!

Freshly mulched garden bed in front of a house
Freshly mulched garden beds

Mulching is another spring time activity.  There are many different types of organic mulch that will not only suppress weeds, but also add organic material to the soil as they break down.  You don’t have to mulch everything, in fact many ground nesting bees such as bumble bees need a bit of bare earth to make their nests.  And if you are mulching your trees make sure to keep the mulch at least 3 inches away from the base of the tree so that it is not touching the bark.

And it is never to early to start weeding!  Lots of winter annual weeds such as common chickweed and prickly lettuce have already sprouted!

Vegetable and Herb Gardening

Starting Seeds Indoors

It is not to late to seed one more round of cool season crop such as cabbage, kale,  and lettuce, but it is also time to start seeding warm season crops such as eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.

To start seeds you will need:

      • seeds
Several flats of seedlings
Flats of seedlings

There are lots of places online where you can purchase seeds. If you still have seeds left over from last year and don’t know if they are still good, don’t throw them out, try this simple home germination test.

      • sterile potting mix

It is important to use sterile potting mix to avoid disease issues like damping off.  Do not reuse potting mix and do not use garden compost.

      • container
20 or 30 chard seelings sprouting in a small plastic container filled with soil
Rainbow chard seedlings in a supermarket salad container

You don’t need to buy a fancy container to start seeds.  Just make sure the container has been sterilized and has drainage holes.

      • water

You want to keep the soil moist, but be careful not to over water or you may have a problem with damping off.

      • light source
A bookcase converted into a light frame for seedlings -grow lights above seed trays placed on the shelves
Bookcase converted into a grow frame

Some seeds need  light to germinate, but all seeds need light after they germinate. Once your seeds sprout  a light source will help prevent them from becoming leggy.  You can purchase grow lights or just use a soft white fluorescent bulb.  Here are directions on how to build a Low-Cost Grow-Light Frame.

      • heat
Mini greenhouse made from areused plastic container covering a small tray with 8 small cups of soilEight small cups of soil
Mini greenhouse

Most seeds will germinate between the temperatures of 55°F and 75°F,  but the optimal temperature for each type of seed varies.  You can create a mini-green house to trap heat and moisture.  You can also buy heating mats to warm the soil.  Click here to see  Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination.

Out in the Garden

A small child in a jean shirt, teal skirt and bright yellow rain boots put seeds in the ground
Planting peas

Gardening is an activity for the whole family!  Children love helping plant seeds!  Right now you can be direct seeding cool season crops in your garden such as beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips.  If you want to have a continual harvest, consider succession planting or  seeding several smaller plantings of the same crop at timed intervals, rather than all at once.

Chive plant in a raised garden bed

While most people are busy seeding, some perennial plants are already coming up or even ready to harvest!  Chives are a great example of a perennial that allows you add something fresh and green to your meals in the early spring.  If you planted chives in your garden last year, they are probably already making their way to your table.  This perennial of the onion family begins growing in early March and is able to be snipped with scissors and eaten soon after and throughout the growing season right up until the fall frost.

Crinkly green and dark purple leaves with bright pink stems sticking out ogf the soil

Another perennial making an appearance is rhubarb!  Rhubarb is a great addition to any vegetable garden and as it is deer resistant and highly attractive it can also be used as part of your edible landscape.  Although the leaves of rhubarb are considered poisonous, the stems of this spring crop that can be used to make the classic strawberry rhubarb pie as well as many other delicious snacks.

Click here for vegetable gardening resources! 

And as always, if you are having any issues in your garden, need help identifying the cause of a problem or figuring out a management strategy give us a call.  Our Garden Helpline phones are staffed April – November, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 9:30 am – 12:30 pm.  But you can always leave us a message or send us an e-mail.

Call (845) 343-0664 or e-mail your questions to mghelpline@cornell.edu.

Whatever kind of garden you have, spend some time enjoying its beauty!

A hanging ball of greens and fuzzy pussy wilow branches
December’s Kissing Ball transformed into a ‘Kitty Ball’ by the addition of Pussy Willow branches

Thanks to all of the Master Gardener Volunteers who provided their thoughts and photos for this post!