(Originally published in the June, 2012 edition of the Bayview Bylines, edited by Mandy Skala)

A few months ago I shared with you my approach to planning your garden. I hope you found this useful and that you’re ready to get out there and put plants and seeds in the ground. Some of you have probably already started this process, but those of you who have a cooler microclimate (or a busier schedule) might be – like me! – just getting started.

Cool weather crops like peas, lettuce and spinach can be planted as soon as the soil in your garden can be worked. These crops don’t mind a little frost, and they’ll give you a sense of accomplishment while you’re waiting for conditions to warm up enough for the rest of your planting.

There are vegetables and flowers that you should only plant as plants in our area. These include heat loving crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and tomatillos as well as most annual flowers. You could plant all of these as seed directly in the garden, but, at the end of our relatively short growing season, all you’d have to show for your hard work would be (maybe) a nice looking plant with (if you’re lucky) a lot of green fruit. The annual flowers might even make it to bloom stage, but probably only just in time to be killed by the first frost. That’s why I start many of my own plants indoors (another topic for another time) and patronize local greenhouses and farmers markets.

I’m famous at one local greenhouse for buying and putting my basil plants in the ground too early. I think the owner starts more basil than she normally would just for me! All I have to do is walk through the door, looking shame-faced, and say, “I did it again.” She just smiles and rings up two more four-packs of basil for me.

When moving your transplants into the garden, try to pick a cool, overcast day. You don’t want your poor little plant’s first day in the garden to be one of heat stress and sunburn! If you can’t pick an ideal day, try to plant after supper in the evening or provide some artificial shade with a piece of cardboard. Pick a sturdy piece of cardboard taller than your transplant and bend it into an “L” shape. Then push it into the ground (outside the transplant’s root ball!) on the south and west side of the plant. Leave the cardboard in place for several days while your plant gets used to its new “digs” (Yes, I know punning is the lowest form of humor, but I just couldn’t help myself!).

Of course, many crops go into the garden as seeds. Root crops like carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips are usually direct seeded. Beans, squash, cucumbers, melons and corn can be started indoors, but they don’t usually like to be transplanted. If you want to start these latter crops indoors, you’ll have more success if you start them in peat pots. Peat pots allow you to start seeds indoors and then, without disturbing their roots, plant the whole shebang – pot and all – when the soil is warm enough and all danger of frost is past. They even make peat pots out of dried cow manure – called Cow Pots – which provide an extra shot of fertilizer as your plants go in the ground!

Speaking of “when the soil is warm enough,” most seeds don’t like to germinate until the soil temperatures are 60o F or higher. As a result, it is my considered opinion that every gardener needs a soil thermometer.

This handy little tool usually sells for less than $10 and can spell the difference between success and failure in the garden. If your soil temperature stubbornly refuses to approach the 60o mark, try covering the soil with a sheet of black plastic for a few days. That will usually warm things up considerably. Heck, it may even kill a few germinating weed seeds.

Planting seeds is as easy as digging a hole and dropping in a seed. The hole should be no deeper than twice the thickness of the seed so carrots are planted much more shallowly than beans or corn. Also, remember to read the spacing requirements on the seed packet and plant accordingly. You may wish to over seed a bit to make up for less-than-100% germination, but then you’ll need to remember to thin the young plants later. If you don’t think you’re ruthless enough to rip perfectly healthy young plants out of the ground just because they’re too close to another plant, you’re probably better off spacing your seeds exactly and filling in blank spots later with another seeding. This approach will give you a succession planting without emotional trauma!

It doesn’t matter if you plant a half acre or just a few pots on the deck, get out there and put some seeds in the ground. Spring has sprung, and it’s time to get busy!

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