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Country Gardens: Get a jump start on your garden

Tulips will soon be popping up throughout Minnesota… once the snow melts.

Now is the time to start thinking of getting that garden back into shape for planting.

Maintaining a beautiful garden at the height of the growing season can be both challenging and time consuming, so I like to lessen the load by starting as early as possible.

One of the first things I like to do is tidy up the garden a bit, sweep away all of last year’s debris. I do this by pulling up all the old annuals and cutting back my perennials. Now as long as this material isn’t disease ridden or pest infested, it makes a great addition to my compost bin. Early spring is also the time of year you’ll want to give your lawn its first feeding. And if you’re into controlling weeds by using a pre-emergent herbicide, it’s important to get it out as soon as possible. You may also want to try corn gluten meal. This is an organic method of controlling weeds, and it may take more applications but is much better for your soil and plants.

Feeding isn’t just for lawns; there are other plants in my garden that can benefit this time of year. For my perennials, what I like to do is layer in some rich compost and a generous amount of well-rotted manure. And for an added boost, I like to add triple super phosphate. This is pure phosphorus, which is the element that helps plants develop lots of beautiful flowers. Over the years I’ve discovered that many of my established perennials benefit from a light side dressing of about three to four tablespoons per plant.

Now one last thing, if there is anything that I wish to transplant, it’s important that I do it now before the plant wakes up and puts out new growth. You can transplant any time in the spring, but the first part is the best. Here is a word of caution about starting in your gardens too soon: You must make sure the soil is almost dry before tilling. If you do when it is wet then you cause compaction and that is very hard on your soil. It does not allow air flow for the microorganisms and earthworms and much needed air for the soil. If you dig a shovelload of dirt out and it sticks to your shovel, then it is too wet, wait for another couple sunny days and try again. As soon as the soil is ready then plant those cold-weather crops, such as radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, celery, broccoli, kohlrabi and cabbage.

One more spring tip. If you have never tried garden journaling I encourage you to give it a try. All you need is a notebook. Write down important things your garden is doing, such as when the snow is all melted, when you see the first signs of green in your plants and bulbs popping through the mulch and anything else you observe. You can even put in your journal when you see your first robin or other wildlife and birds. I also make a note or draw a garden plan to rotate the crops properly. You should not plant the same vegetables in the same places every year. Certain plants take nutrients out of the soil and you need to rotate to get the most out of your soil and to keep it healthy. You also cannot rotate between families, such as cabbage, broccoli and Brussel sprouts. It would be better to plant instead a root vegetable, like carrots, beets, onions or potatoes. Then change it again with another form of vegetable. You should also do this with flowers. With a garden journal this will be easier, and you can compare it from year to year. Include any pictures or start a garden photo album so you can enjoy all those vegetables and flowers next winter. Send garden questions to Christie at

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