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Over the Garden Fence

Advantages of early vegetable gardening and other spring notes

The past couple of springs, we have not had the kind of weather for good early season vegetable gardening. This spring has been a lot better with enough drying time to actually get out there and get potato seed pieces in the ground, sow those early rows of spinach and lettuce, and put out cabbage transplants.

Early vegetable gardening works because those cold and cool season crops want those chillier air and soil temperatures. There are other reasons also:

  • There is less concern of timing and days to maturity.
  • You can grow plants that are day-length sensitive and would rather bolt and go to seed if planted too late. One of our favorite greens, spinach, will do just that.
  • Early gardening is going to be relatively “weed free” for the most part since most germinating weed seeds need a lot warmer temperatures. The only ones you do need to worry about are those perennial weeds like dandelion or winter annuals like chickweed, which is blooming right now.

This may be the year where even in our area, gardeners will be able plant the mythical spring, summer and fall garden. Remember, that summer garden starts to get planted as the spring garden is finishing and the same goes for the fall garden. Transplants and seed goes in before the summer garden is done since we have fewer growing days in northern Illinois compared to the rest of the state.

A few other spring notes:

  • Spring flowering bulbs have been up for some time and this is a good time look at that patch as they come into bloom. Every bulb in an established planting should have a flower. If that is not the case, then it is probably time to plan on dividing and resetting those spring bulbs in early summer as the foliage naturally dies. Gardeners can reset them right away, if desired, or allow the bulbs to dry down and plant them again late summer early fall. While not a bulb, iris will follow the same pattern of fewer blooms and should be dug up and replanted too. There is a lot of old tuber growth that will be discarded to the compost pile. While the bulbs and iris are out of the ground, this may be a good time to add soil amendments like compost from your compost bins, or other sources of organic matter.
  • And now for something that is really greening up, the lawn. We will need to mow soon enough, if not already. Enjoy all the green right now as it connects and ties our landscape beds together. Spring and fall are the times the lawn really “shines” for most of us (unless the lawn is managed for summer green.) Lawns have a strong flush of growth in the spring and should be mowed more often than once a week to keep the lawn in good health and looking its best.

I have always promoted “walking the yard” frequently to really see what is going on out there and to enjoy the different blooms as spring evolves and this spring is no different, you just have more time to enjoy the landscape.

As a reminder, while University of Illinois Extension has suspended normal office hours and in-person activities at this time, homeowners still can reach out to our Master Gardener volunteers via email to get yard and gardening questions answered. Locally, you can email Master Gardener Help Desks in: DuPage County at, Kane County at and Kendall County at

We also have free online webinar series available this spring including Beginner Gardening, Get Growing and Four Seasons.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.