Time to Get Your Garden On

Lately we've been daydreaming about spring to cheer ourselves up during this loooong winter, and to us, spring means the start of gardening! In fact, home buyers often look for homes for sale with plenty of space to garden -- and so recently we turned to our good friend Stefanie Grieve, a master gardener and green-thumbed whiz kid. We asked her to share her advice on how to get over the winter blues and get started on your best backyard garden yet.

Let the Gardening Begin!

guest post by Stefanie Grieve

Start your home garden with tips from a Master Gardener in Madison WI

It’s hard to think about spring during this Polar Vortex winter, but it will come, I promise. And spring means let the gardening begin!

Are you daydreaming about the daffodils singing their song of spring, or that first juicy taste of a tomato from your back yard? Well, if this describes you at all, you might want to read on for some tips to get started off on the right foot with your gardens this year.

First: Get started now. Beat the winter blues and save money by planting seeds indoors. Here’s what you’ll need (all things that you can find at a local nursery or hardware store):

  • A seed starting kit or a container with lid
  • A seedling heat mat
  • A growing lamp
  • Soil (not the regular potting soil – it is too heavy and dense. You will need to make sure you get soil that is specifically for seed-starting, something comprised of sphagnum peat moss and small amounts of vermiculite and/or perlite)
  • A shelf or table to put your seedlings on

Start your home garden with tips from a Master Gardener in Madison WI

Here are some tips for a successful experience:

  • Plant your seeds at the right time.
  • Pick easy plants to grow! Some of this is trial and error, but I’ve had a lot of success with geraniums and impatiens if you are looking for some easy container flowers. I just can’t say enough for these guys if you are looking to brighten up your flower boxes and gardens this spring!
  • Don’t overwater! Soggy soil leads to fungus. It is very easy to overwater, especially if you are running your heat mat and have your lid on all the time. Give them some breaks to air out from time to time by removing your lids and turning off that mat once they start growing well.
  • Give them space – when they start to crowd each other out, you’ll need to thin or re-pot into a bigger pot.
  • Gradually transition them to the outside – this is very important. I like to do this over a few weeks. When the weather does start to get nice (at least 60s in the day) start putting your plants outside for just a couple of hours a day for several days. You might even consider putting them in the shade at first too so they aren’t exposed to the sun right away. Then, gradually increase the time and exposure to sun. Remember, these plants have lived snuggly in a heated house for the past couple of months. They need time to adjust to the harsh, outside world. They’ll be ready for their outside home after the danger of frost has passed and they’ve been well acclimated.

Start your home garden with tips from a Master Gardener in Madison WI

Second: Know your zone and follow it.  This will help you to determine the earliest planting date for those precious seedlings you’ve been growing or any other plants you plan to plant. The earlier you plant the earlier your garden blooms!

Third: Assess your conditions and work with them.

Sun versus shade?

Do you have part-sun, full-sun, or shade in your garden, and what do these terms really mean? I’d recommend this great article to find out your garden conditions and then plant accordingly. No, a sunflower will not grow in your shady garden. It’s just not going to happen, save yourself the trouble. You may have some success growing plants in part-sun that really prefer full-sun, they just won’t produce as much fruit or flowers as you’d probably like.

But, it’s just dirt.

Good soil is probably the most important factor in gardening success.  For $15 you can take a sample of your soil and send it in to get it analyzed by the UW Soil Lab. Your results will include suggested actions you can take to make your soil more fertile, which translates into happy plants (and happy gardeners)!

To fertilize or not to fertilize?

Start your home garden with tips from a Master Gardener in Madison WI

Fertilize. I’d recommend learning more about the benefits of using fertilizers in your gardens. If you are really serious about successful gardening, you need to know about the three magic letters: N, P, and K (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium) and how these nutrients help your plants grow and thrive. Here is a great article to help you get started.

I’m sure we’ll be seeing those first robins in our yards soon and the crocuses popping up through the snow, just hang in there! And here’s to a wonderful 2014 gardening season!


Stefanie Grieve is a flower lover dreaming of warmer weather in Madison, Wisconsin. She has Master Gardener training and years of trial and error under her gardening belt.