FARGO — Even old, experienced gardeners must admit they still have plenty to learn as new plant varieties are developed and research improves they way we do things.
Experience is a great teacher, and as we tend our lawns, gardens, flowers and landscapes, we accumulate a storehouse of horticultural knowledge.
When we first begin working in the yard and garden, whatever our age, there’s much to learn. When is it safe to plant? Why are some perennials divided in spring, and others in fall? What’s with all these weeds?
Entire books are written about gardening basics. Here are just a few thoughts for newer gardeners.
- Patience is a gardener’s best friend. Newly seeded lawns take time to establish, the longest-lived trees grow slowly, most perennials require three years to reach decent size and even rhubarb should wait until the third year after planting before harvesting.
- Our growing season extends from the final spring frost, which averages mid-May, until the first frost of autumn, which averages mid-September.
- If you were to pick a 10-day preferred window each spring in which to plant vegetable and flower gardens, pots and planters, it’s May 15-25 for most parts of the region. Soil warms up by then, and likelihood of frost decreases.
- Be cautious of national gardening magazines and websites, as each section of the country has unique growing conditions. Perennial flowers, trees, shrubs and fruits for our portion of the Upper Midwest must be adapted to our winter-hardiness zones 3 and 4.
- Effective weed control depends on investigating whether the weed in question is an annual that grows each year from seed and dies, or a perennial that regrows from a permanent root system.
- Save the cultivar names of trees, shrubs and perennial flowers. In-ground labels get lost and fade, so keep a journal as well. Names are valuable if future information is needed about the plant.
- Perennial flowers take about three years from planting to achieve full impact. In the meantime, fill in gaps with annual flowers.
- A perennial bed or landscape that looks “full” immediately after installation is probably planted too closely, and will become overcrowded. Check the mature width of each plant, and space them to allow for that footprint.
- Weeds in the vegetable garden are easiest to control when they’re just barely breaking soil surface, when a hoe or cultivator can quickly glide through the soil.
- Weed control is the No. 1 challenge when growing perennial flowers. Dandelions, thistles, quackgrass and other perennial weeds love to intermix closely with perennial flowers.
- Small-seeded vegetables like radish, lettuce, carrot, beet and spinach usually emerge thickly. Thin crowded seedlings to at least an inch apart as soon as they’re large enough to pull or snip, so the remaining can develop.
- Doing a few minutes of work each day around the yard and garden can keep us ahead of tasks.
- To remember the correct season to divide perennial flowers, choose the season opposite their bloom time. Divide spring-flowering perennials in the fall, and fall-blooming perennials in spring.
- Locally owned garden centers have always been the backbone of any region’s gardening success. Shopping at national chains does not provide the same experience.
- Nearly all perennial flowers have their certain season of bloom, either early, midsummer or late summer. Few, if any, have season-long bloom, so combine many types to provide an exciting, ever-changing summer-long display.
- Our Upper Midwest region has a rich tradition of productive vegetable gardens, beautiful flowers, delicious fruit and nice yards and landscapes. Instead of considering our region challenging, difficult or harsh, embrace our remarkable gardening heritage, learn the methods that work reliably here, and begin collecting knowledge that will give a lifetime of successful gardening.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.