2021 gardeners are reporting plant development as much as two weeks earlier than expected. Even the “early asparagus” seems earlier this year. That is a promising thought, though in the back of our minds, we can all remember those late frosts, or even a light freeze, after setting out our vegetable transplants.

University of Illinois Extension offices always know when spring is on the way based on kind of questions emailed to our Master Gardener Help Desk. As the weather warms up, the messages increase, and here are two common questions this time of year:

Q: How early is too early to start vegetables indoors for planting outdoors later?

January begins the annual flight of vegetable, flower, and fruit tree catalogs to your mailbox (or your email inbox). Depending on your level of gardening, the catalogs may arrive frequently and in mass.

 

In 2020, many garden retailers found themselves with empty shelves or running very low on seeds and other common garden items. Like any other industry, future orders are based on previous sales with a projected increase to match sales goals. Seed producers base their production on the orders they get from retailers without a lot of cushion. (There is not always a good market for leftover seed.)

Everyone recognizes that 2020 has been quite a unique year. Travel has been limited or off the table, school or work may have been moved to home, and since spring, holidays have been celebrated in different ways. One big stress reliever in all of this may just have been the backyard garden and the home landscape.

When it finally rains after a dry spell, it is such a relief and gives gardeners a few days off before the watering patrol kicks in again. Our plants get the dust and dirt washed off, foliage perks up, and if the flowers were on the dry side, foliage colors return to normal.

The prolonged hot, dry weather pattern has created some vegetable gardening challenges. Garden plants (and all other kinds of plants) respond to the weather conditions by adjusting vegetative (foliage) and reproductive (fruiting) growth.

The hot, dry weather we have been getting – and will continue to get – changes how we are going to water the home landscape. Best management practices, or BMP, includes more than just watering (but water is so key to plant survival) and more than just your vegetable plants.

Tips for containers and planters

Master Gardener Help Desk emails have really been different this past two weeks. Our early spring challenges have left and along came the first of our summer concerns in the landscape and vegetable beds. The list turned into more than a column’s worth, so going to hit the big ones this week:

The Illinois Extension Master Gardener Help Desk email inboxes have been busy since gardening season has arrived. The early season questions have tapered off with a new batch questions, including sowing summer vegetable seeds or getting those tomato and pepper transplants.

What does our current situation and planting vegetable seeds have in common? Every vegetable seed sown this spring has its own preferred distance from one another.

There is clearly an uptick in households interested in planting a vegetable garden right now. Seasoned gardeners may be expanding the size of the existing garden or finally trying new (or new-to-them) vegetables that had not won a spot in the garden before. Others are going to be getting started for the first time.

First time gardeners, this column is for you. There are all sorts of gardening gadgets out there, yet first timers only really need a few basic tools to get the first vegetable garden planted.

Tools to get started:

  • A garden shovel

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.

Emails to the office this time of year are always a mix of “When can I…?” or “Is it too late already to…?” kinds of questions. Here are three common examples:

Q: When should I be putting down crabgrass preventer?

University of Illinois Extension and Master Gardener Help Desk phone lines have seen more action recently, especially when it comes to what can be done outside. Here are a few that may ring a bell for many homeowners:

Q:            I am going to start my own vegetable and flower transplants this year. Can you give me some best practices?