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Starting your spring garden

Friday, April 6th, 2012 | Posted by

As the days grow longer and warmer the green growth all over the county reminds us that it’s time to get out in the garden, turn the soil and plant some greens of our own.

Windsor Garden Club President Mary Mariani has shared some tips for preparation, planting and caring for your garden this year.


Whether you’re planting in raised beds or directly into your garden’s soil, before you plant this spring you should consider supplementing with a product meant to renew some of the nutrients in the earth. In addition to composts, a popular choice is steer manure, which should be well incorporated into the soil and then left for several weeks before planting.

“For new gardeners it may be hard to tell how much to mix in at first, but you will learn the ratios over time,” said Mariani, who also recommends asking gardening friends and neighbors advice.

15-gallon pots are a good size for those planting in containers, and Mariani recommends a 50/50 ratio of steer manure to garden soil.

Having the right components in your soil is important, but so is timing: “If your garden soil is currently wet and squishy, don’t start digging in it– wait a couple of weeks to let it dry out,” suggests Mariani.

Another pre-planting consideration is how to prevent underground critters like moles and gophers from ruining your garden from below.

“Whether you’re planting in the ground or in a raised bed, laying gopher wire below your plants is a necessary measure for many Windsor homeowners,” said Mariani. “You probably already know if you some of these critters in your yard.” Gopher wire has half-inch or smaller openings that prevent the rodents from getting at your plants.

Purchase and planting

You can purchase supplies like containers and fertilizers at our local Garrett Ace Hardware or Home Depot, but there are several different places where you can find a variety of locally-started plants and seedlings.

On Sunday, Apr. 22, for example, the Windsor Garden Club will host its third annual plant sale from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. as part of the Earth Day and Wellness Festival celebration on the Town Green.

As usual, the group will sell 4-inch veggies, herb pots, succulent container gardens, ornamental container gardens, assorted 4-inch and 1-gallon specimens and hanging baskets.  This year there will also be custom veggie 6-packs for sale. For example, the Kitchen Gardener 6 pack will have a tomato, a container zucchini, a sweet bell, a lemon cucumber, some basil and some parsley.

The Garden Club uses the proceeds to fund projects such as the Town Green Community Garden, the Civic Center Demonstration Garden and a SRJC Scholarship.

Other plant sales around town include the Healdsburg School plant sale on Apr. 21 and the Santa Rosa Garden Club sale on Apr. 28.

“Jail Industries will also host two plant sales this season. Inmates develop, plant and propagate seeds, then sell the plants in the spring. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s a great place to check out with great prices,” said Mariani. The Jail Industries plant sales will be on Apr. 14 and May 5 from 9 a.m. to noon at 2254 Ordinance Rd off Airport Blvd. in Santa Rosa.

When it comes to actually placing your newly purchased plants in the ground, each gardener has his or her own precise methodology, Mariani included.

“Water the soil you’ll be planting in and the plant in the container the day before so they’re not too dry,” she said. “Make a little hole with your trowel, then drop a fertilizer like Osmocote into the hole and mix it into the soil.”

“Be careful to remove the plant from the packaging without damaging the leaves or the root of the plant. Only if there are at least two sets of leaves on the stem can you can lift the plant by the leaves and base,” said Mariani.

Timing matters, too. Around here, the last of the frosts aren’t typically expected to pass until Apr. 15, so many gardeners starting seeds before then will keep them inside.

“Generally you want to start plant seeds when the ground temperature reaches 55 degrees. Some plants are more resistant to cold than others, so you can plant those earlier. It’s always good to read about the plants you want to grow before planting,” said Mariani.

Caring for your plants

As cold temperatures may continue well into spring, there are measures you can take to keep your new plants from freezing.

“At the Community Garden we will be covering the plants with plastic row covers or plastic milk bottles with the bottoms cut off until May 15. This allows the plants be open to fresh air and sunshine during the day, but also protects them from unpredicted frost and cold,” said Mariani.

Another important aspect of caring for your plants, of course, is watering. Learning just how much water your plants need is an often-overlooked step in the gardening process.

“You don’t need to flood them, but you do need to water regularly,” said Mariani. “That can be a slow water over time as with an irrigation system or gently by hand with the hose. Water at a lower water pressure than you would use to wash the driveway– you don’t want to wash the plant away.”

“If you’ve planted vegetables, be sure to harvest them when they’re ripe as plants will actually produce more that way,” said Mariani. “Don’t let your zucchinis grow to a foot long– they won’t taste as good that big and the plant will produce fewer of them throughout the season.”

If you’re unsure if you’re caring for your plants adequately,  ask someone you know who’s a gardener for some help or advice.

“Each time you’ll do a better and more successful job of growing your plants,” said Mariani.

Learning more

On Saturday, Apr. 14, there is a free workshop from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Windsor Regional Library, 9291 Old Redwood Highway, Bldg. 100. Master Gardener Janet Thorp will cover the basics of edible gardening.

“This would be a fine way to investigate growing or planning to grow fruits and vegetables for the first time. She will be emphasizing how to save time and energy, prepare the soil, water and weed the plants,” said Mariani.

The Sonoma County Master Gardener series presents on topics such as roses & rose pruning, planting spring gardens in Sonoma County, planting & growing a successful tomato garden, removing and replacing lawns, integrated pest management and gardening for butterflies and bees.

For more information, contact workshop chairs Letitia Caruso and Diane Graner at 565-2608, or visit www.somomamastergardeners.org.

Have you been gardening for years or are you thinking about planting for the first time this year? Tell us about your gardening experience by posting a comment below or taking our gardening survey at the bottom of the Windsor Towns page.

  • smartcookie

    Yes I am a gardener with experience, who will be gardening for the first time, in a community plot. I have given over my own suburban yard space to a few happy hens who would love for me to turn over the soil and plant tender seedlings for them. But as I also would like to enjoy the earth’s bounty, I am prepared to make nice with other like minded dirt wranglers and keep to just a few square feet of borrowed space in order to once again boast ” I grew it myself “! So as the earth thaws, I am consumed with green vs brown compost ratios, and whether or not I still have time to start my own seedlings, should I purchase my starts from Imwalles, or swallow my dignity and schlep down to Home Depot to pick up half grown tomato plants. Ah, spring.

  • Steve Klausner

    Remember folks, its a Spring Garden. Great time of the year for peas and greens but wait till after Mother’s Day to plant the Summer Garden…tomatoes, green beans, and of course Summer Squash.

  • Lives near Brush Creek

    Here’s some local stuff I know. There’s a guy on Brush Creek between Highway 12 & Montecito that will have the BEST Black Krim tomato starts on May 1. That’s the one to get, not HD, Friedman’s, Lowe’s, etc. The other day he had lettuces in a pail of some sort for $15 and it’s a bargain, I’m harvesting them every day.

    I’m also planning on buying some red peppers. I asked him so possibly he’ll do them as well.

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James Lanaras is our Windsor correspondent.
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