Editor's note: This is Stan Ring's last column for the Journal-World. He has been writing "Garden Calendar" while regular columnist Bruce Chladny has been on sabbatical. Chladny will resume his column next week.
Plan now for summer gardens. With the ice and snow comes the "winter gardening doldrums," and the best I can hope for out of my garden is an honorary mention for "Best Dried Arrangement." This downtime, however, is an opportunity to plan. The more prepared we are now allows us to maximize our time and effort when spring comes.
The garden in winter holds its own beauty. Snow-covered trees and bushes; evergreen branches silhouetted against the blue sky; dark, dried flower seed heads standing tall out of the snow and hardscape still add contour to the yard. Our view now should please us, and if not, this may need to be part of our changes for next year.
Many a great plan has been made on the back of a napkin. You need not be a master artist. Make simple sketches showing the major features: house, fence lines, street, sidewalks and mature trees. Add in existing gardens as you are planning, but do not get hung up on their current shape or location. Leave what you like; change the rest. Digital cameras are wonderful. The picture easily can be sized, cropped, rotated and printed off any number of simple-to-use programs. Printing on paper or simple tracings facilitates the use of colored pencils to add or remove features.
Spring garden flower and vegetable catalogs are arriving. This may set off a massive case of spring fever. The pictures they show will be one in a thousand, and the descriptions make for heightened interest. Buyers beware: The best catalogs will include the picture, common name, scientific name, sun requirements, hardiness zone and mature size. Vegetable sources also may include yield. These catalogs help us visualize our plan.
The catalogs and magazines are sent nationwide, and many plants do not lend themselves to our high plains growing conditions, even if we meet the other stated requirements. Kansas State University has research-based information on flowers that grow well in Kansas. This is available at www.oznet.ksu.edu. Follow the lawn and garden and horticultural information center links to identify prairie star and pride of Kansas flowers. A vegetable garden guide is available as well.
Unless you are after a very specific cultivar or heirloom variety, it is best to source your purchases locally. You can see what you are buying and get what you paid for. The local centers, too, will carry the plants suited to the area and have firsthand knowledge of their success and potential. Local or catalog, seeds also will be available. Certainly less expensive, they do require supplies, space, lighting, timing and patience. Seeds come with no guarantee.
Do not hurry. The average last frost date in Kansas is April 10. We will not be 95 percent frost-free until May 2. The garden centers will have plants out well before this time, and temptation will be high. Use the warmer wait time to prepare the newly planned areas. Eastern Kansas has a 180-day growing season with only 100 days adapted to warm-season crops. Any vegetable variety with a season length of more than 90 days is questionable.
Andrea Zuercher, Extension Master Gardener volunteer, reminds me that you can plant flowers and vegetables side by side. She found a Salina couple who were first to install an "edible estate," replacing their whole yard, turf grass and all, with a garden that produced vegetables, fruit and berries. Strawberries make a good ground cover, carrots provide a light fern texture, and radishes and lettuce will be up well before the flowers.
Get out your notepads, snap some photos, peruse those catalogs, and make your plans. Now is the time to start.
- Stan Ring is the horticulture program assistant at K-State Research and ExtensionDouglas County. He can be reached at 843-7058 or Sring1@oznet.ksu.edu.