PEQUOT LAKES -- Get your garden spade ready. Planting season is approaching.
Whether you have never planted a single flower or have planted flower gardens for years, information about plants and how to take care of them is so broad that even the experts don't always have the answers.
Jody Hedtke, Crow Wing County Master Gardener, said master gardeners at times have to look up answers to questions they receive because each master gardener usually is an expert in a specific area. She said no matter how long people have been planting, be it flowers or shrubs, they still call her with basic gardening questions.
A basic, often-asked question is when should a person begin planting a flower garden. Hedtke recommends that people wait until after Memorial Day weekend. She said there are a few exceptions with annuals, such as snap dragons, violas and pansies, which can be planted sooner.
Annuals are flowers that stay in full bloom from spring to fall for only one season.
Hedtke suggests that beginners have a flower garden with a mixture of annuals and perennials. Perennials are flowers that come up each year. She said the mixture will give the garden color all season long and the perennials will accent the garden during their bloom.
Soil is an important factor to get the most life out of a flower. Hedtke said there should be eight inches of cultivated soil for annuals and 12 inches for perennials. Humus may be added to the soil to help the flowers' growth. Humus is a mixture of leaf mold, compost, peat and moss.
Prepare your vegetable garden now for planting seeds in mid-May. As the ground thaws, the soil is ready to be worked. Add any needed fertilizer.
Seeds and transplants can be planted, such as beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, kohlrabi, onion sets, potatoes, radishes and turnips.
Dig a shallow trench using a hoe handle. Sprinkle seeds in the bottom of the trench, allowing plenty of room for growth. Cover with soil and water lightly. Be sure to moisten the soil throughout the top two to three inches for seedlings and as deep as the roots zone for transplants. Handle transplants carefully to avoid damaging the root systems.
Plant pepper and tomato seeds indoors in a warm spot, like on top of the refrigerator, now. Keep the soil damp. When the seedlings come up, give them the maximum amount of light available and continue to keep moist. When there are two sets of leaves they are ready to be transplanted.
Now is a good time to plant asparagus.
If you haven't already done so, now is the time to get a jump on nature by potting tender bulbs like cannas, dahlias, begonias and caladiums.
Prepare clean pots with potting soil that has been dampened. Plant the bulbs in pots or other containers as if you are planting them in your garden directly. Place in a warm spot.
When the plant begins to show, be sure to keep it watered and in the brightest light available. After June 1 the bulbs can be left outdoors after they have adjusted to the climate.
Hedtke said knowing the soil's pH or soil reaction is helpful.
"The pH of a soil makes a difference on how well a plant does," she said. "A person can send a few samples of their soil to the University of Minnesota Extension Service to have it tested."
Hedtke said with Crow Wing County's sandy and clay soils, residents have a lot of choices regarding what to grow in their gardens. A few flowers that grow well in the county are sweet woodruffs, wax begonias and bleeding hearts.
Another question people frequently ask is how much water should they give flowers. Hedtke said people should do a finger test. The first inch or two should be moist. She advises people not just to look at the surface to see if the plant is wet.
"On the really hot days you could water a plant at least once or perhaps twice a day," Hedtke said. "Annuals need to be watered more often than perennials due to their more shallow root system."
There are three different types of fertilizers people could use to help their flowers grow: liquid, a time-release fertilizer and a low-grade fertilizer that keeps the deer away.
Hedtke recommends holding off on fertilizers for a couple weeks, until flowers have been planted and have had a chance to settle. If a person planted seeds, she recommends waiting until the second set of leaves appear. Otherwise, Hedtke said a person may use fertilizer anytime.
When transplanting flowers, allow the plant to adjust slowly to the climate before planting it outdoors. Hedtke said to cut back on watering and fertilization before it is transplanted. Place the plant in a partially shaded location during the day and put it in a garage or house at night for one week. The second week, place the plant in an area that has more sunlight during the day and protect it from frost at night. Increase the plant's exposure to sunlight each week until the sun matches the conditions of the plant's new home.
Hedtke said there are so many things to think about when planting a flower garden. Beginners should talk to as many people as possible for planting advice, she said. She said the Internet is a good resource, as is the Extension Service's Web site at http://www.extension.umn.edu.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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