Spring Gardening - It's About Location, Location, Location

When the first warm winds of spring blow, I pick up my trowel. There is nothing more rewarding than planting spring vegetables outdoors and watching them grow. Spring gardening success starts and ends with location. While there are a few other factors determining the spring garden's fate, not enough can be said about the importance of location. You can be working on selecting that special spot now, while snow still blankets the landscape.

Mark the Locations Where Snow Melts First: Areas where the snow first melts typically have good spring sun exposure. In the summer, these locations can become too hot and too dry for gardening without significant watering. Nature's water is normally in abundance in spring, and soil temperature is the biggest determining factor in the germination of your seeds and the success of your early crops.

Pick a Dry Location: In the spring, you don't like wet or muddy feet, and neither do your plants. The locations you pick should not puddle or ice over as the snow melts. Once the snow is totally gone from the landscape, you will see that the areas you have selected are those that are well-drained and dry. On a fine spring day when the soil is dry, you can till your new garden location.

Buy a Soil Thermometer: Purchasing an inexpensive soil thermometer can save you countless fruitless hours of spring gardening. I picked up my basic dial thermometer at Home Depot for under $20, and there are many models available for under $10. Sophisticated instruments that measure temperature, moisture, sun intensity and other factors can be purchased for hundreds of dollars, but I find that all I need to know is whether the soil is warm enough. I plant when the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees. If I wait until the soil is 70 degrees, my seeds germinate just a little faster, but I've lost several weeks of spring gardening joy. If you like to get out there early, 60 degrees is fine, just be ready to protect plants from cold nights or vicious spring storms. I use Tom Clothier's Garden Walk and Talk Website and his information on germination and soil temperatures to help my own gardening along.

Plant These Spring Favorites: You will have the most success with your spring garden if you plant lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, onions or peas. Plant the vegetables you enjoy eating the most. If you hate Swiss chard (as I do) then don't plant it. Motivation to tend a garden is based on your interest in the productive output. My favorite is peas, but I find that peas are the most difficult spring vegetable to raise. I grow lettuce and spinach in large quantities to fuel my feelings of success if my on again, off again pea harvest is in an off year.
Protect from Hungry Critters: Animals enjoy the warmth of spring as much as we do, and they are usually quite active and hungry at this time of year. Unlike later in the year, when many plants are available for animals to feed on, your spring garden may contain the only attractive plants in your critter neighborhood. This means you need to fence, and fence well, against small and large critters. We are loaded with rabbits and deer as well as smaller creatures such as field mice and moles. A four foot high fence with 1/2 inch or smaller mesh and with the fence bottom buried 6 inches into the ground is most successful at keeping the animals from feasting on your lettuce before you even get to taste it.

Despite this year's harsh winter and heavy snow loads, spring is right around the corner. If you spend this wintry time searching for that perfect spring garden location and follow my simple gardening tips, you will be rewarded many times over with a plentiful harvest late in the spring.