This is the time of year most of us are looking forward to consistently warm days, budding trees, beautiful flowers, and fresh-from-the-backyard veggies. While spring season officially begins in March, we New Englanders know it could be weeks before winter is long behind us. Even before the last piles of snow melt and the ground thaws, the timing is right now to start preparing your garden to enjoy a bountiful summer harvest.
Southern New Hampshire is in hardiness zone 5B, as designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which helps guide gardeners to determine which plants can thrive in a certain climate and location. Ask your local nursery or greenhouse for help when choosing annuals for your garden beds or containers. Asters, black-eyed Susans, delphinium, and hydrangeas do well in our region. You can also order summer-flowering bulbs and seeds now so that they’ll be ready for spring planting.
If starting a vegetable garden is on your spring to-do list, there are several you can plant now, indoors, and then transplant later outside. Lettuce, carrots, asparagus, kale, and spinach are among the best veggies to plant now through April. Using a planting calendar helps you avoid the late frosts. It’s a great way to jumpstart the gardening season and help you get the most out of your plants.
Don’t use garden soil to start seeds indoors. It won’t drain well and isn’t sterile, so delicate seedlings can become diseased early on. A seed-starting mix doesn’t contain any actual soil, but provides a good balance of drainage and water-holding capacity along with ideal, sterile conditions for helping seeds to get their start.
You can use any kind of container to start your seed, as long as you poke or cut out drainage holes. Plastic yogurt containers work well or you can purchase biodegradable pots that break down in the soil so they can be planted right in the garden. Check the seed packet for instructions on how deep to plant them. Tiny seeds should be barely covered by soil mix, but large seeds like beans should be planted about an inch deep. Plant extra seeds in case not all of them germinate.
The first thing your planted seeds need is a warm location. Experts recommend placing your containers on top of the refrigerator or near a radiator to start. As soon as seedling emerge a few days later, move them to a place in the house with a lot of light. A very sunny, south-facing window will help, but LED or fluorescent lamps can make your plants strong and guarantee they get light even on cloudy days while winter hangs on.
While water is critical for plant growth, overwatering is the most common cause of seedling failure. Aim to keep the seedling mix damp but not saturated. Use a half-strength fertilizer once the seedling has one or two sets of leaves.
In late April or May, when Mother Nature appears to have cooperated enough for the gardening season in northern New England, it’s time to plant your seedlings in the ground. Prepare the area by weeding, then tilling or hoeing the soil to loosen it. Dig a hole large enough for the seedling and set it in the hole level with the soil’s surface. Add compost or fertilizer to give it a good feeding. Put the displaced soil all around the plant and water it thoroughly.
Be patient in nurturing to your seedlings and you’ll have a bounty to enjoy in just a few months!