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Advice for new gardeners

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According to recent surveys, 18 to 34-year-old millennials are the largest group of new gardeners. Of the six million people who took up yard and garden activities for the first-time last year, five million were in this age group, growing vegetables, planting flowers and beautifying spaces.

For a new gardener, there’s a whole plant world to discover and much to learn. How does one start accumulating knowledge? By listening, learning and experiencing.

Following are lessons that an old gardener might pass along to a new gardener.

  • Be cautious of national gardening information. What works down South, West and East rarely works in the upper Midwest. We’re special, so search for regional material.
  • Gardening is a fun process. Plants take time to grow — sometimes decades — and we learn the wisdom of patience.
  • Our growing season extends from the final spring frost averaging mid-May until the first frost of fall, about mid-September.
  • Old gardeners have learned not to be fooled by early warm spells. April warmth can be followed by May snow.
  • The time-honored preferred window for planting vegetable gardens, annual flowers and outdoor containers is May 15 to May 25. Frosts are still possible, but less probable.
  • If you’re not ready to plant items you’ve bought at a garden center, don’t keep them in the garage: they’ll soon suffer. Instead keep them outdoors in a protected spot, moving in only on frosty nights.
  • Cool season vegetables like radish, spinach, lettuce, peas, carrots, onions and potatoes can be planted in April, if desired, because they enjoy cool temperatures.
  • Warm season vegetables like tomato, pepper, squash, cucumber and melons languish in cool soil. Wait to plant until mid-to-late-May, when soil has warmed.
  • Vegetable gardens are best located in full, all-day sun. If partial shade is the only option, plant leafy crops like lettuce, spinach, kale and herbs
  • Many vegetables can be grown in containers on decks and patios. Tags will usually indicate container varieties.
  • Plant tags are great information sources.
  • Save the variety name of trees, shrubs and perennials. In-ground labels get lost, so keep a journal as well. Names are valuable for future information lookup.
  • Perennial flowers generally take three years to achieve full blooming potential. In the meantime, fill voids with annual flowers.
  • A perennial bed or landscape that looks “full” immediately after installation is usually planted too closely and will need rejuvenation quicker.
  • Believing that planting perennials will eliminate future labor is like saying the job is finished once a baby is born.
  • A flowering patio container that appears full and finished when newly purchased or freshly planted will usually be overcrowded by midsummer. Young plants need space to develop.
  • Locally owned garden centers are the unsung heroes of the gardening world. They provide plants better suited for our region than much material supplied by national chains.
  • Small-seeded vegetables like radish, lettuce, spinach, beet and carrot usually come up thick. Thin crowded seedlings to about one-inch apart as soon as they’re big enough to snip or pull.
  • Doing a few minutes of work each day keeps you ahead of the weeds.
  • Instead of considering our climate harsh or severe, embrace our mid-continent location. We have a long, rich history of successful gardening.
  • Keep a bench close by so you can stop, relax, enjoy, observe and yes, smell the roses.