Get it in the ground: tips for spring gardening

By Kate Hickman

With summer right around the corner, warm weather is on everyone’s mind. A constructive way to soothe that cabin fever and soak up some vitamin D is by getting your garden started! Planting a garden is a great way to save money, spend time outside, and gain a little food independence. Not to mention, produce tastes so much better when you grow it yourself! 

Now, not everyone has access to a backyard or a garden plot, but that doesn’t mean you can’t participate in this timeless tradition. Many plants are happy to grow in pots or containers indoors or on balconies, so long as they get light from the sun or a UV lamp! There are several types of gardens, and each has their own set of benefits. For brevity’s sake, we’ll just cover some basics for produce gardens and pollinator gardens.

Produce gardens

Produce gardens have different types of fruits and vegetables that range from “hardy” to “very tender,” which is simply a measure of how much temperature and water stress those plants can handle. According to a guide published by Utah State University, hardy vegetables are often planted from early March to mid-April. These include “Brassicas” such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and kale, along with a few root vegetables like onions, radishes and turnips. 

Semi-hardy vegetables can be planted from mid-March to early May and include beets, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, potatoes and chard. 

Some of the more sensitive produce, referred to as “tender,” shouldn’t be planted until the final frost has passed. Tender produce is primarily planted in May and includes leafy greens like spinach and lettuce as well as celery, cucumber, corn, beans and summer squash. 

Fruits and vegetables in the final group, “very-tender,” are planted from the end of May through June and include “Nightshades” like peppers, eggplant and tomatoes, as well as cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkin and winter squash. A quick note on winter vs summer squash: summer squash are, generally speaking, the sorts with soft, edible rinds, whereas winter squash have a thick rind that is normally discarded. Summer squash include produce like green zucchini and yellow squash, and winter squash includes butternut squash, acorn squash, hubbards and more! 

Pollinator gardens

Pollinator gardens, a more discrete but very important type of garden, consist of wildflowers and other blooming plants that attract bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and other important pollinators. These gardens act as a sort of “cafeteria” for pollinating insects, who readily return the favor by pollinating plants that provide us with everything from fruit and vegetables to fragrant flowers! Pollinators are an integral part of the food web and are diminishing in urban areas from a lack of food sources—to them, a few flowers on a window sill can go a long way!

The U.S. Forest Service provides many useful resources to grow a successful garden that supports native pollinators, several of which can be found here. They recommend planting colorful and fragrant flowering plants since those are a few of the qualities that will attract pollinators and people alike! A few useful plants that are both beautiful and native to Utah include Sunflowers, Lavender, Oregon Grape, Golden Currant, Serviceberry, Coneflower (also known as Echinnaceae), Goldenrod, Milkweed and Yarrow. Blue, purple and yellow flowers are particularly effective since bees see ultraviolet colors. 

Many of these plants are perennials—meaning that they can live for many years—and range from flowers to small shrubs to trees! Since they are both native and perennial, they often require less water than traditional flower beds and less work over multiple seasons. They do well when planted in groups, and are more successful at attracting pollinators when arranged this way. Remember not to spray your pollinator garden with pesticides, insecticides or fungicides since these chemicals contain compounds that can harm the bees as well!

While gardening can seem like a daunting project, particularly for the first-timers, there are many ways to keep the workload manageable and light. Here are a few final tips to get you started: If you don’t have time to start from seed, or you’ve missed the planting window, local nurseries have seedlings that are ready to plant; planting perennials or biennials (plants that live for two years) instead of annuals will save you time and effort next year; don’t plant produce from the same family (like Brassica, Nightshade or Cucurbit) too close together or you risk spreading disease; and read the accompanying instructions for each plant so you’re prepared to give it what it needs to succeed. The most important thing to remember is that you can start as simple as you’d like and grow your garden along with your knowledge!

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