Blog

A Note From Rick | Preparing for Spring

How-to
Bridge Gardens
March 7, 2018

By Rick Bogusch

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The first day of spring is just around the corner, and better weather means we can start getting outside to finish all those clean-up chores that didn’t get done last fall. I’ve been cleaning up leaves and twigs, being careful not to rake the lawns too much, as they are still dormant, cold and wet.

Raking could create bare spots and give space and light for crab grass and other weeds to germinate. Better to wait until lawns have grown a bit and until then, pick up branches and twigs by hand or use a blower to remove them along with leaves. Remember, if you use a mulching mower, all that debris, the leaves and twigs, will be ground up by the mower blades and distributed as free fertilizer for your lawn.

If you have leftover mulch or compost from last year, now is a good time to spread it on your garden beds planted with bulbs before they grow too tall. It’s also a good time to finish pruning trees and shrubs. When I’m out in the garden in early spring, I always cut a few branches of forsythia or winter hazel and bring them indoors. The warmer temperatures in my home cause them to bloom early, bringing me some much needed spring color. I usually crush the ends of the stems with a hammer before plunging into boiling water.

Now is the time to order vegetable and flower seeds, if you haven’t already done so, and start them indoors. There are many reasons to start seeds indoors. It’s certainly cheaper than buying plants at the local garden center, and you have a wider range of varieties to choose from. Don’t start them all at once — the general rule is to start seeds 6-8 weeks before the date you plan to get them into the garden.

I usually start vegetables like broccoli and cabbage mid-March because I can plant them in the garden by the end of April. I usually wait until mid-April at the earliest to start tomatoes, peppers and eggplants because it often isn’t warm enough to set them out until end of May or even the first week of June. We have such a long growing season here, there’s no need to hurry with those warm season crops.

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Start seeds in a sterile mix (I use Pro-mix) and use clean containers, sterilized with bleach if they’ve been used before. Fill containers with dampened mix, plant the seeds, cover, label and place under lights or at a sunny window. I also like to place containers on a heat mat to stimulate germination. Once seeds have germinated, I move them under lights to prevent plants from getting too leggy. Keep the lights on 16 hours a day and off for 8.

I like to water seed trays from the bottom to avoid disturbing young seedlings and minimize the chance of fungal rot damaging or killing them.  Keep soil moist but not soggy. Thin seedlings to one or two plants per cell, either by pulling them out — tweezers help — or cutting extra seedlings at the soil line with small scissors. If roots start emerging from the bottom of the seed tray, you may want to transplant seedlings to larger containers. Fertilize them once the second set of true leaves appear. I use half-strength fish fertilizer or a full strength fish/kelp mixture.

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Before planting seedlings in the garden, it is important to harden them off to get them accustomed to sunlight, wind and cool outdoor temperatures. If it’s a warm day outside — high 40’s to 60’s — I often put seed trays outside for the day and bring them in at night. Put them out on a cloudy day at first or in a shady spot. If you put them in full sunlight right away, they will sunburn and possibly die. Gradually expose them to full sunlight, increasing the light they receive each day. (This also applies to any house plants you want to put outside for the summer.)

Once seedlings are hardened off, you can plant them in the garden after incorporating compost and/or fertilizer into the soil. Make sure to water them deeply right away. I usually fertilize seedlings with a liquid fertilizer at this time or in the next day or so.

Not all vegetables should be started indoors. Many, like beets, carrots, radishes and spinach should be directly sown in the garden, but for long season crops like tomatoes and peppers, there is nothing more satisfying than taking plants from seed to bumper crop in just a few months.

I hope you’ll visit throughout the year to enjoy the gardens in every season.  

Above all, take time to get outdoors, enjoy some sunlight, and get inspired for the upcoming growing season. Visit Bridge Gardens - now open year round with free admission - to experience all that we have created!  If the garden gates are open you are welcome to explore.