Tips to help budding green thumbs this spring
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
When the days get longer and the temperatures start to climb, many find their minds wandering to the joy of spring gardening.
Ruth Coughlin knows a thing or two about gardening. Coughlin was the President of the Sioux Lookout Horticultural Society before that organization folded and remains an avid gardener. As Coughlin explained, being ready for spring doesn’t necessarily mean waiting for the snow to melt, noting that some folks choose to prep their gardens in the fall before the snow flies, so that come the spring melt, at least some of the work is already done. As Coughlin explains, “I put my leaves in the garden in the fall. Just sort of rake them up, mulch them and put them on top. I just sort of dig those in on spring. You can also just leave the leaves on the garden. A lot of people get it ready in the fall, and then with spring being short, you can get stuff planted quickly. It also gives the compost and manure or whatever you put in there a little bit of time to work before you are ready to plant.”
“A lot of people have gone to raised beds now which are lot easier to deal with than the old-fashioned garden that you’ve got to till,” Coughlin adds. “If you don’t have a raised garden, you’ll have to rent or borrow a tiller or dig it by hand. You have to try to get any weeds you see out, as a tiller will just cut weeds into pieces which may then grow. With raised beds, because people don’t walk on them, the soil doesn’t compact as much, so you can just sort of fluff up the top and get it ready to go.”
From there you can take steps to enrich the soil. Even here, people have options.
“You can at that point add compost. I don’t recommend manure from Cedar Bay or whatever unless it’s well rotted, because you’re just putting weed seeds in the garden with the compost. But as long as it’s really well rotted it’s ok. The compost you buy by the bag has been heated to kill any weeds or seeds. Bone meal is a good fertilizer, but for someone like me who has a dog…they like it, they’ll eat it. I avoid bone meal or blood meal where pets can get at it. “
Having something handy to protect seedlings early in the growing season can be useful as well.
Coughlin notes, “Some people will put plastic over the garden for a bit because the sun heats up the soil, which might help the soil be ready sooner. Cold frames help too, old windows or something you can lay down on top of a raised bed to protect it from frost. Last year was particularly bad as March was warm but then May got really cold and we had a really hard frost around the end of May, a lot of things that were already growing were killed by that frost.”
Coughlin herself likes to get seeds started indoors before the snow is gone to give her plants a chance to get a bit of a head start. Once planting weather arrives, these seedlings are then moved to the garden. While a rule of thumb often repeated is that gardeners should wait until the May long weekend before planting, Coughlin likes to wait a bit longer as our region can run a bit behind when it comes to acceptable temperatures for plant survival.
And as Coughlin points out, you don’t necessarily need a full garden to enjoy gardening, explaining, “Another new trend which I like a lot is that people are planting in pots. People don’t seem to be aware that you can grow tomatoes in pots, potatoes in pots, almost anything. Leave it on the step or by the back door with herbs in it. Even big things like zucchini can be gown in a pot.”
So, the garden is prepped, and ready for planting. What next?
If planting from seed, Coughlin says the first step is to read the packaging. “Most seed packages will have a date on them. The date tells you how long until they flower, or until they are going to start producing fruit. It’s a good idea to look for that information and try to follow it. When I look at seed packages, I look for ones that don’t take too long. If it will produce in 65-80 days that’s good. If it takes 200 days forget it, unless you’ve got a greenhouse or something. I always look for ones that need a short growing season. Having said that I know some people that grow watermelons and things. You can now buy stuff like that that will have a shorter growing time.”
In choosing what to plant, Coughlin prefers perennials, as, “Perennials come up every year, and so you don’t have to really do much once you’ve planted them, they are there forever. I know that once the snow melts at my place, there’s going to be stuff that’s already up, under that snow. It’s already starting to grow. “
Asked if she had any favorites that she liked to grow each year, Coughlin responded, “My problem is I like everything! I need someone else’s yard to start gardening in, mine’s full now! For flowers, I like perennials a lot. Even though they are more expensive to begin with, they come up every year and they spread.”
In terms of what to plant, Coughlin says it really depends on what you want from your garden. With many people taking a more environmentally conscious approach to planting, there are some great choices for attracting bees, butterflies and birds to your garden. As Coughlin explains, “Lately we’ve been into saving the bees and that sort of thing, so plants like Black-Eyed Susan and Echinacea and milkweed, those kinds of things are good. You need plants (that produce) nectar. Not every flower produces that much nectar. Some of the ones I just mentioned, plus Beebalm, those are really good for pollinators because they contain quite a bit of nectar and are also good for hummingbirds. I first planted milkweed last year, and I had monarch butterflies. I’ve never had monarchs in my yard before then. If you plant the right plants, they will come.”
Coughlin also emphasized the importance of avoiding harmful chemicals, stating, “The other thing is don’t spray insecticides and pesticides. All that sort of stuff is just going to kill them. I don’t want any pesticides around; the birds eat the bugs and that wouldn’t be good.”
Coughlin suggests going with a more natural approach to gardening, including the use of compost. “Compost is really good if you can put all your vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and such. Make a compost pile. That’s really good for the plants.”
For those interested in connecting with gardening enthusiasts locally, Coughlin suggests joining the Sioux Lookout Gardening Enthusiasts group on Facebook, which can be found at https://bit.ly/3DpXuLU.