Getting Ready for Spring


Tim Baland, Extension Master Gardener, Anoka County

When it is winter and cold outside, my thoughts turn to the garden, planting, and spring. What can a gardener do when it is so cold outside? Part of the joy of gardening is spending a lot of time outdoors. At this time of year, we are sorely tempted by seed catalogs that seem to arrive almost daily with promises of bigger and more bountiful fruits, vegetables, and plants. To help you through this time, there are a few things you can do to get you to the growing season.

Get outdoors. Late winter or early spring is an excellent time to prune your trees and shrubs that do not flower or fruit on old growth. Pick a warm day and go out with pruning shears in hand. As a general rule, now is an excellent time to prune, but there are very important exceptions and plants that you should not prune at this time. For more information about pruning, visit:

Sketch your garden and plan where to put each plant. With a written plan you can time your planting schedule, especially if you are planting in succession. For example, you plant a warm-season crop like cucumber after a quick-growing crop like radishes, replace a warm-season vegetable with one that does better in cooler weather (more radishes, anyone?) Stagger plantings of carrots or other vegetables every two weeks so you have a fresh supply all season long.

I usually use a ruler, pencil, and graph paper to draw the number of plants that are going to go in a certain area and research how big those plants will be at maturity. I sometimes have three separate sketches: one for spring, one for summer and another for fall.

But you don’t need to use a ruler and graph paper; a rough sketch on the back of an envelope will work. Having a written plan will make your life much easier come spring. If you know what you are going to plant, you will avoid the temptation to buy seeds and plants that you do not need.

With a written plan you will know that you have room for only one zucchini plant and avoid buying multiple seed packets or plants. Given our short growing season, I look for plants that have shorter maturity dates, usually 90 days or less. Every year I am tempted to buy plants at the garden center that are not suited to our zone or growing season. How much fun would it be to have a peanut plant? But where would such a plant go, how big would it get, and when does it reach maturity? If you are tempted, research how to grow the plant before buying it.

Creating a written plan can be hard work, but will save you time, money, and wasted effort in the long run. With a written plan, you can avoid the temptation, expense and regret of buying plants that you do not need. After all, you probably do not want to grow peanuts in your garden.

Visit our website: for information on events, activities and how to Ask a Master Gardener questions.