It’s the time of year in Southern Maryland when the sun starts to feel a little warmer and the air is a bit less frigid. It’s nearly gardening season, and if you’re hoping for a bed of colorful blooms, now is the time to get started.
Start your seeds
If you’re starting some of your plants from scratch, now may the time to get those seeds going. We say “may” because each type of seed will need something different. Some need to be sown indoors eight weeks before the last frost date, while others may need more or less time.
How do you find out? Read the back of your seed packets to make sure you get the timing right.
Some seeds need to be sown directly outdoors because the plant won’t tolerate transplanting.
Consult this chart at Iowa State University Extension’s website for a list of popular seeds and their germination requirements. The University of Missouri Extension’s website offers a walk-through of the seed-starting process.
Get the bed ready
No matter what you’re growing — vegetables or flowers — a successful Southern Maryland garden starts with the soil. The first step is to clean out last year’s debris and the junk that the weather brought in.
Pull up weeds, rake up all the debris, and dispose of it. Then, go through the soil and remove rocks or anything else that will impact tender young roots.
Make your plants happy with some well-rotted manure or compost into the soil. Typically, about 2 inches of the material mixed into the top inches of soil is just about right.
Then, give it a good, deep watering.
Plants from the nursery
Many flower gardeners leave the seed-starting to professional growers. If that sounds like you, wait until after the last frost date to head to your favorite Southern Maryland nursery to choose the flowers for your garden.
Not sure when you can expect the last frost in Southern Maryland? Visit Almanac.com to find out.
Shop for your plants on a day when you have few other errands to run or make the nursery the last stop on your list. You don’t want your plants to sit in the car, suffering from heat and a lack of air.
Don’t plan on planting your new flowers right away; they need a gradual introduction into the garden.
This process is known as “hardening off.” Let your new plants from the nursery sit in a shady area for about a week to become accustomed to the new environment.
The hardening off process is a little different for plants you’ve grown from seed. First, find a sheltered outdoor area for them. On the first day, leave them outdoors for about two hours. Increase the amount of time outdoors each day for about a week.
Almanac.com offers a video on the hardening off process.
Get them into the ground
When you plant, leave enough space around each plant to account for its eventual height and width. The amount of space each plant needs should be listed on the back of the seed packet.
The holes you plant in should be the same depth at which the plant is currently growing, but twice the width.
Carefully remove the seedling from its pot by turning the pot upside down over your open hand. Never pull on the plant to get it out of the pot. If it’s stuck, press the sides of the pot to loosen it and/or tap the bottom of the pot.
Place the seedling into the planting hole and fill the hole with soil. When it is full, use your hands to gently press the soil around the base of the plant. Then, water well to help the plant settle and to remove air pockets from around the roots.
One last step
The weather in Southern Maryland may be mild right now, but summer will be here before we know it. You can cut back on how often you’ll need to water and insulate the plants’ roots by applying a layer of mulch over the soil.
Spread a 2-inch layer throughout the flower bed, keeping it at least 6 inches from each plant to avoid rot.
And there you have it! Your new spring flower bed. As long as you keep an eye on the moisture in the soil (don’t under- or over-water), you’ll have a blanket of color all season long.
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