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Start your garden early this spring

For most gardeners, the warm weather and warm soil of spring never comes early enough. But that doesn’t mean you have to be satisfied with waiting until April or May to start gardening. You simply need to find ways to protect your plants until the “real” spring arrives. 

Choosing the right plant varieties can make a significant difference, because some varieties are specially suited to early- or late-season production. There are some varieties of broccoli, for instance, that thrive in cold spring soils, but go to seed quickly once warm weather arrives. There are other varieties that will tolerate heat, and still others that thrive in the low light conditions. 

Not all parts of your yard and garden are created equal. Depending on a variety of factors, such as sun and wind, some parts of your yard will be much warmer than others. When you are choosing a location for your early spring garden, look for an area that is protected from wind and gets plenty of sunshine. Avoid areas that are at the bottom of a slope because cold air sinks. The ideal location is at the top of a gentle slope that faces south-southeast and is protected from cold, drying wind. If there’s a prevailing wind direction, putting up a fence on that side of the garden can make a big difference. 

By starting annuals and perennials from seed indoors, you will you have big, healthy transplants ready for the garden when the weather warms up. Planting seeds indoors also lets you experience some of the pleasures of spring in the dead of winter. 

Cold soil can be even harder on young plants than cold air. If you protect your garden over the winter with a thick layer of mulch, be sure to pull the mulch off the planting beds in early spring to expose the soil to the sun. Covering cold spring soil with black plastic can also boost soil temperature by several degrees. The plastic can be left on all season or be removed prior to planting. Raised beds are also a good way to help warm the soil more quickly. 

Provide your plants with a sheltered growing environment that minimizes stress. When transplanting your seedlings, try to keep them covered with a horticultural fabric (garden fabric), cloches or cold frames for the first couple of weeks. Seedlings grown under the shelter of garden fabric or cloches will often put on twice as much growth as uncovered plants. 

Garden fabric is made of spun polyester or polypropylene and is sun-, air-, and water-permeable, which means excess heat can escape and rainwater can pass through. In cold weather, this fabric will protect to several degrees below freezing Fahrenheit. Individual plants can also be protected with bell cloches or some other sort of early season individual plant protector. Another option is a cold frame which creates a protected growing environment beneath a sturdy wood or metal frame. 

Of course, a greenhouse is the ultimate season-extending tool, enabling you to grow vegetables and flowers year round. 



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Date Last Updated January, 2006