Waiting For The Snow to Melt

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- Mary Green

UMN Extension Master Gardener since 2000

A gardener’s struggle with patience is a common ailment here in Minnesota in early spring. My ‘chomping at the bit’ to sink my hands into dirt is made even more difficult after a phone conversation with my brother in Seattle, WA. They were doing yard work and planting trees the weekend we got eight more inches of snow. Reality here says we can expect frost up to Mother’s Day so that leaves weeks until May 12 and ‘safe’ gardening in my 4b zone. So, what do gardeners do while they wait?

5 Steps to do BEFORE you garden:

1. Create a Garden Binder/diary: Use a 3-ring pocket binder with plastic sheet protectors and photo album pages to create sections to hold - 

Inspiration articles/pictures from magazines and online sites; before and after pictures of your space; garden plans and maps; to do lists; garden notes; calendars of tasks; plant lists and saved plant identification tags (wash and dry and place in a plastic zip bag) and gardening resources or contact information.

2. Read your Space: Take some time to look around your space, 360 degrees. Look at the view framed by each window, look at the view from the street. Observe and ponder all the elements: Where are the building/s? Where are the lot lines or hardscape boundaries (driveway, sidewalk, edging)? How does the sun move? What areas are always in the sun? In the shade? What looks messy and broken? Where is the source for watering? How does rain and run-off move? What are problems I must deal with? What might I need help for? 

Other tips: For those who don’t have their own space to garden, check on your government or city website for open community gardening options. Or see Gardening Matters for local gardening help and information. Renters may need permission before gardening and home owners should first check their community zoning rules and requirements before gardening.

3. Map it out: create your space map by finding a blueprint or plat map of the property (through your county, city or local watershed offices or building owner) or by drawing it out on a piece of 8 1/2 x 11” graph paper. I like to transfer the basic lot shape, house location, driveway, sidewalk as close to scale as I can. Then I use a black marker to mark these bold outlines. I make a couple of black and white copies of my basic plan to use for brainstorming or as a clean slate for planning. Next I mark water spigots and gutters/rain flow, bubbles for garden locations, circles for trees and sun or shade information. I use this black and white ‘bird’s eye view’ basic map as a tool for brain-storming; as a record of garden areas and as a chart for planting; and for logging applications of fertilizer and chemicals. In addition to this map, I have made maps of each garden space for designing and recording plant and specific garden information. Putting a map in a plastic sheet protector enables the use of dry erase markers to be used for planning!

4. List and budget for 2013: Creating an outdoor space takes a little artistic inspiration, never-ending learning, common sense, some muscle. A good garden or landscape takes time. And it can be expensive! That is why there is a method to good Landscape Design and a plan and budget is essential! Pick one or two projects on your list to begin with and attend a class (many are offered at your Community Education through your public school) or read up on what you are dreaming about doing. If you are tackling a ‘hardscape’ project like making a brick path or adding a retaining wall, do the research and get at least 3 estimates for your project. Remember, your knowledge makes you a better consumer!

5. Assemble your tools and thumb through idea books: The right tools make the job easy. Here are my ‘must haves’: gloves, a hand pruner, a weeding tool, a good shovel, a watering can, a 5 gallon bucket, a lopper for small or medium branches, a garden scissors, a garden rake, a hoe and a hand trowel. Garden tool design has not changed much over the years. I have purchased some of my favorites at garage sales. If you know how to clean, sharpen and oil tools, you won’t have to spend big!  Check out how to clean tools with Master Gardener William Moss here.  

“Buy local” is the rule of thumb. Since President Abraham Lincoln designated “land grant institutions” to provide local research for agriculture, no matter where we live we have access to great gardening information through our designated State Universities. In Minnesota, visit the University of Minnesota Extension website

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Mary Green grew up in rural Minnesota. With farming as a family heritage and open woods as her childhood jungle gym, being outside in nature is in her heart. After moving to a home built on an old back pasture and farm dump (and neglected 1970’s agricultural waterway), Mary needed more knowledge to restore the nearly 3 acre property. She enrolled in the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener program and has served as a volunteer in that program since 2000. Mary Green, a retired Educator, consults about restorative landscape design and writes devotionals for webwomenconnect.org. She and her husband David (who constructs all their hardscapes) have 4 grown sons.