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Master Gardener: Urge to get garden going strengthens


March 26, 2021

This past week, while browsing my wife’s hometown newspaper, The Northern Star in Clinton, Minnesota, I came across a column by Lois Torgerson. In it she had this paragraph, which was just too good not to share. “A fellow was asked how his gardening skills had improved since the quarantine. He quickly answered: I planted myself on the couch and I’ve grown considerably.”

I, for one, am sick of the couch and with the warmup outside, the itch to plant needs to be scratched now.

With spring upon us and the advent of warmer weather, gardeners get the itch to start planting. A January article indicated that a certain Master Gardener (not mentioning my name ) was running an experiment with seed that had been saved from some of last year’s flowers. The flowers had been dried, the seed removed and refrigerated over winter.

Was this seed viable and would it germinate? The results were encouraging, with a 70-percent germination rate. This was validation of the effort last fall to save this seed. A consequence of these results not entirely unforeseen was an increase in the urge to scratch that gardening itch.

As we enter into spring many gardeners want to get a head start on their growing season. We dream of the harvest or the beautiful blooms of summer. If you have visited online gardening sites, you know that gardeners in Minneapolis already have their seedlings growing under lights or in a south-facing window.

Our average frost date is later than theirs and even varies from the north to south in our counties. As a result we have had to wait longer to scratch our itch. We in Carlton and southern St. Louis counties are just getting started with planting indoors. Scratching the itch to plant too soon can leave our plants long and spindly, which means they will have a more difficult time once they are planted outdoors. Or because they are long and spindly, we tend to plant outdoors too early only to see many of them damaged or killed by a late frost.

Timing is important. This next week in our area, many gardeners will continue to scratch that gardening itch by pulling out heating mats, portable greenhouses, starting pots and seed starting mediums like perlite, vermiculite, peat moss, or peat pellets. We will be starting our tomatoes and a few other vegetables and some flowers indoors. If everything goes well, this will get us ready to harden off our plants in mid-May, with outdoor planting around the end of May.

By then the greenhouses will provide an extra temptation to get out and get busy. This means we have to get up off the quarantine couch which for certain many, including this gardener, are ready to do. It is time to start scratching.

If you are one of the estimated four million new gardeners nationwide to pick up this endeavor since the start of Covid-19, or if you are a veteran gardener looking to improve your gardening knowledge, maybe the Master Gardener program offered by the University of Minnesota is for you.

There is an old joke in farm country that goes like this: Why don’t you tell your farming secrets in a cornfield? Answer: Too many ears around. As a Master Gardener it is difficult to keep gardening secrets. Not because of too many ears, but because of a need and willingness to share.

Master Gardeners are around to help bring to light answers to what some believe to be gardening secrets. I think I can speak for most of them when I say we love sharing information with other gardeners. Please ask us. We may not always know the answer to your question but we will find it.

If you are interested in improving your gardening skills or learning more about the Master Gardener program through the University of Minnesota, contact the Carlton County extension office at 218-384-3511.


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