Yes, I know it’s still February and it’s cold and dreary. Here in the Chicago area, we have been in a snowy, cold pattern. It snows anywhere from 2-6 inches, then we have a few really cold days. We might get a nice day in there somewhere, but then the pattern just repeats. It’s nice to think about spring coming, digging in the garden, and planting. Seed catalogs are coming now and can help you plan what you’re going to grow this year.
The seed catalogs can be extremely helpful with your plan. I’m not saying to grow your plants from seed, that can be challenging; especially for beginners. But you can check out plant types and sizes, zones where they thrive, how much space they need, and most importantly how they look! This can be used as a guide when you are plant shopping. It is helpful for both vegetable and flower gardens. You can also check out perennials to add to your landscape.
If you are a gardening beginner, take baby steps. For vegetables, try the easiest first. Tomatoes are everyone’s favorite. You choose tomatoes by days to harvest. You will want three types. An early one like Early Girl will produce smaller fruit in mid-July or so. A mid-summer variety like Celebrity or Big Boy for a main crop will produce at the end of July. For your third, you can choose a couple! Try beefsteak for big, meaty slices or Roma; a great tomato for sauce. Tomatoes need room; plan on four square feet per plant. In between the tomatoes you can plant lettuce or spinach, especially early in the year before it gets too hot. Beans and peas do well early too. Train them to grow up a fence or trellis, they don’t need too much space. Cucumbers can go up the fence too. Make sure your cukes are in a well-drained area. Wet roots can rot and not grow properly. Peppers (hot and sweet) do well with support. I put them in tomato cages. You can plant them close together. I do three plants in an area about 3X3.
Use a piece of graph paper for your plan. Each square represents one square foot. Place your plants according to their sun needs. Tomatoes need 8 hours of direct sun. Remember, many of your vegetable plants will grow to 4 feet or higher. Make sure your cucumbers are not shading the tomatoes. Peppers, cucumbers, peas, lettuce, and spinach are not heat lovers; so grow these in partial shade if you can. They will benefit from early sun; the tomatoes can take the hot afternoon sun. So you need to consider several things when spacing your garden: sun, support, water, and space needed. Of course, by spring your plans may change; but you will be ahead of everyone when it comes time to plant that garden.
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH & DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO