Spring is here and we are certainly looking for “home grown activities.” What better way to spend time than planning a garden for you and your family?

For the novice or the veteran gardener, it pays to plan early in the season before you dig! Here are a few general tips for planning your garden:

1. Location, location, location: It is important to visualize where your garden will be best suited. For vegetable gardens, an area that provides at the very least six hours of sun and has well drained soil are two important factors.

2. Grow what you love to eat: Before hitting the seed catalogs and greenhouses, think about the veggies you and your family enjoy. Choose the varieties that are easily grown in our area. This information is obtained by reading the catalogue descriptions, seed packets, or plant labels.

3. Start small and be realistic: A little goes a long way, especially if you have limited space. Backyard gardens that are well maintained can provide more than you would expect. Space requirements vary by plant variety so be sure to read the spacing instructions provided on the seed packets. Containers, raised beds and community gardens are great alternatives if you have limited yard space at your home.

4. Dirt is dirt is dirt? Wrong: A soil test will help you determine what nutrients need to be added or balanced in your soil and your soil pH. For more information on how to test your soil, contact the Lackawanna County Penn State Extension office, or by searching for Penn State Extension soil testing online. Good quality compost, fertilizer, and soil amendments can be obtained at most garden centers.

5. Do a little homework: There are thousands of resources available which provide details on garden planning and design. Penn State Extension master gardeners are available to answer questions and connect homeowners to research based gardening resources. In Lackawanna County, you can call the Extension office at 570-963-6842 or email questions to lackawannamg@psu.edu.

Once you map out exactly where you will put your garden and what you will plant. Your next thought is, when do I get this garden started?

Here are a few suggestions on getting started:

• Purchase your seeds or use your saved ones from previous years. For future reference, a great time to buy online is mid-January to mid-February. Seed companies usually run BOGO, 20-30% discounts and/or free shipping. This year is different, though, and many are sold out or not taking orders as they attempt to catch up on shipping.

• Start plants that lend themselves to transplanting rather than those that can be directly sown in your garden. Tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, cucumbers and squash are a few of the plants that can be easily transplanted. You can sow cool weather crops such as peas, lettuce and spinach directly into your outdoor space.

• In northeast Pennsylvania, early April is a great time to begin growing your plants indoors. This will allow your seedlings to be ready for transplanting in your garden after the danger of frost has passed. Seed packets will provide clear timing on specific plant germination and maturity.

• Seed starting kits, available online or in retail garden centers, are an easy and convenient way to get started. Peat pellets are included and, with a little water added, you are ready to go. If you want to use household item like used containers, an empty cardboard egg carton and paper cups with drainage holes work well. I recommend using a seed starting medium for germination and then when the seedlings get their second set of leaves you will want to move them into number 3 peat pots or slightly larger containers with a good potting mix to provide nutrients.

• Once you have the peat pellets and/or seed starting medium in the individual cells, add 2 to 4 seeds per cell. Your germination rate will vary depending on age, storage and type of seeds. Cover your newly planted seed trays with a plastic covering and place in a warm area. When seedlings are showing, remove the plastic covering and move the plants to a south-facing window or, if possible, place under grow lights. If you are using grow lights, put the light source 2 to 4 inches above the seedlings. As seedlings emerge, you can thin out the weaker/ slower growing plants.

• Finally, when seedlings grow their second set of leaves, transplant seedlings to a slightly larger pot filed with potting soil. One plant per pot is recommended. Make sure you keep the plants moist, but well drained. They need to be checked on daily or multiple times per day. If you are using grow lights, adjust the lights to maintain 2 to 4 inches between the lights and the plants. Seedlings need 14 to 16 hours of light a day.

The most important thing is to enjoy your gardening experience. Relax, hit the outdoors, get your hands in the dirt and stay healthy!!

Penn State Extension is dedicated to delivering science-based information to people, businesses and communities. They partner with and are funded by federal, state and county governments. For more information on what they?re doing in Lackawanna County, visit extension.psu.edu/lackawanna-county.

Recommended for you