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Planting the seeds ...(but don’t plant seeds)

Fred Holmquist (left) and Marlys, a master gardener who asked that her last name1 / 2
For those itching to garden but who can’t wait until the weather and soil warm u2 / 2

With the recent 70-degree temperatures and sunny skies, it may have seemed like the perfect time to get a start on preparing flower beds and gardens. 

Not so fast, say master gardeners. 

While plants are showing buds, the most important things those with green thumbs can do is resist the urge to till up a garden or plant new seeds. Instead, the focus should be on cleaning up and protecting plots. 

“Be mindful that the last frost date is at least a month away,” said JoAnn Weaver, a Breezy Point master gardener. “Most of the snow is gone so you can be picking up sticks, tidying up, but certainly not planting anything. It’s just too early.”

Weaver suggested looking at shrubs for deer damage, pruning fall-blooming shrubs, having a soil test done and keeping mulch fluffed up or add more if needed. Starting seeds inside also is an option, she said. 

“There are things starting,” Weaver said, noting that in her own yard peonies, irises and daylilies are starting to bloom. “Right now you want to protect what’s coming up.”

Jackie Burkey, a Brainerd master gardener, said people can be checking under mulch piles and winter coverings to see what’s growing. Gardeners still have to be ready for very cold weather, she said, and cover up sensitive plants. 

It’s too early, the ground is too wet to till a garden, Weaver and Burkey said. Burkey said you should wait until you can crumble the dirt in your hands. 

And while you can start growing plants inside, Burkey warned to be careful not to put them outside too soon. If you do, she said they’ll stop growing. 

Like Weaver, Burkey suggested waiting until the frost is gone. She said her grandfather always waited until after Memorial Day to plant. 

“When we get nice, warm, beautiful days like this everyone is thinking, ‘Let’s go,’ but we’ve got plenty of frosting ice ahead of us,” Burkey said. “If it gets below 32 degrees, you’ll regret having left them outside. It will be money wasted.”

Along with budding outside, Weaver said her seeds have started in her house. Once the temperatures are warm enough she will transplant the seeds outside. It takes about 10 days for plantings to acclimate to the outside temperatures and she said planting is best either early in the morning or on a misty day. 

For seeds started inside, Weaver noted that the packages state how many days it takes for the seeds to mature. She said that time starts when the plantings are placed outside. The warmest areas to plant, she said, are up against the house, a wall or other sheltered areas.

For lawns, Burkey said people can start removing gravel and street salt, but she cautioned against walking on soil and yards until they’ve dried out more. Walking on them now, she explained, could cause compaction of air spaces for roots. 

In gardens, planning can start for colder-weather seeds such as green peas, spinach and lettuce, Burkey said. The minimum soil temperature for seed germination is 35 degrees for lettuce, onion, parsnips and spinach; 40 degrees for beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, peas, radishes, turnips, pumpkins, squash and watermelon; 50 degrees for asparagus, sweet corn and tomatoes; and 60 degrees for beans, cucumber, eggplant, muskmelon, peppers,                                                                                            pumpkins, squash and watermelon.

Another good idea, Burkey said, is to use the time to plan out gardens and flower plots if you haven’t already. Things to look at are seed catalogs and whether a garden needs to be expanded or reduced. 

“Planning, that’s January and February entertainment,” Burkey said. “Sit in a nice comfortable chair and dream big. It’s the perfect time to do that.”

For more information, call the Master Gardener Helpline at (218) 824-1000, Ext. 4040, visit websites at crowwing/mg or gardeninfo/.

MATT ERICKSON may be reached at or 855-5857.