By Amy Witt, Horticulturist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Cumberland County, firstname.lastname@example.org
By Donna Coffin, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Piscataquis County, email@example.com
Gardeners in Maine are anxious to get started planting their gardens. We have been waiting all winter to get out and till the soil, add our soil nutrients and amendments, and plant. But wait, planting some vegetables too early can lead to crop failures. We have warm season and cool season crops. Many of our “early season” crops can be planted in early May. Many of our “late season” crops need to wait until late May or June to be planted or transplanted into our gardens.
Where you live makes a difference in when your garden will be ready to plant. If you are on the coast of Maine, your growing season starts a lot earlier than a garden in central or northern Maine. See Maine Climate Data to view “Maine Freeze – Frost Date” differences around the state of Maine from based on temperature records from 1971 to 2000.
In central Maine (Dover-Foxcroft region), the average frost free date is the end of May. Average means you have a 50-50 chance that the last frost date could be after this. We usually suggest that folks add an additional two weeks to their average frost free date to reduce the chance of frost damaging your crop. That said, I do remember a year that the strawberries had to be protected (by irrigation) from spring frost on June 13th. And you never know when we will be setting a new record for the last frost free date. Keep an ear to the weather forecast and be prepared to cover any susceptible plants if frost threatens.
The type of soil you have can make a big difference in when your garden will be ready to plant. Heavy, wet clay soils are slow to dry out and will be later to till. Sandy, well drained soils dry out quickly and heat up quickly. They will be ready to till sooner and will be warmer sooner for our warm season crops. Heavy clay soils can be amended with organic matter such as compost, peat moss, etc. to improve soil drainage and help the soil warm up quicker in the spring. Another technique is to build either ridges or raised beds so the water will drain more quickly and warm the planting bed faster. How can you tell how warm your soil is? Use a thermometer with a long stem that you can place at least 3 inches down into the soil. If we have a cold rain, it will drop the soil temperature to the air temperature and your soil will have to warm up all over again. I can remember getting 4 inches of snow May 14th. Yes, it melted the next day, but it took the soil a few days to warm up again.
What you plan to plant makes a big difference on when you can plant the crop. Early crops that can tolerate cool soils can be planted as soon as you get your garden prepared in the spring time. Lettuce, onions, peas, radish, spinach, turnips, cabbage, carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and chard will germinate at cooler soil temperatures (40 degrees F), but it will take a lot longer and so you may want to consider using fungicide treated seed or wait until the soil warms up. For example, lettuce can take up to 15 days to germinate at 40 degrees F and only 4 days at 60 degrees F.
Warm season crops like beans, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, pumpkins, squash, and tomatoes do best at soil temperatures of 60 degrees. Transplants such as tomatoes that get chilled (temperatures below 50 degrees) stop growing for a couple weeks, so you will want to consider providing some type of protection if you plan to transplant these plants early.
You can get an early start in your garden by using some garden season extension techniques presented in Bulletin #2752, Extending the Garden Season. This fact sheet is filled with ideas for using plastic mulches, row covers, cold frames, hoop houses, and hot caps, and includes videos on how to make a raised bed. Also, Bulletin #2763, Garden Equipment and Items to Make for the Garden, has more ideas for starting seeds, container gardens, and coverings for your raised bed gardens.
By Corie Washow, AgrAbility Program Coordinator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Androscoggin/Sagadahoc Counties, firstname.lastname@example.org
As gardeners, we put a lot of energy into supporting a plant’s natural systems and parts. We don’t just drop a tomato seed in the dirt at the edge of the sidewalk and expect to come back in a few months to harvest. If despite all our attention to growing medium, nutrients, temperature, timing, staking, etc., our tomatoes don’t grow well, we look at every part of the system and figure out what is within our control to change. Can we increase soil health, provide more/less water, create warmer conditions, manage pests better, or take measures to avoid disease? We respect the complicated system of the tomato plant, and know that to get the best results, we have to pay attention, proactively and reactively, to every step of the process.
Considering all the effort we put in to obtaining a juicy tomato or vibrant rose, it is surprising how little effort we put in to making sure that we, the gardeners, are similarly cared for. Until they are screaming at us, we don’t think much about the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and other body parts that interact in amazingly complicated ways to allow us to lift, carry, bend, push, and pull to accomplish our goal of healthy, productive gardens.
Just as we can change conditions to improve a tomato’s health, there are changes we can make in how we garden that improve the health and functionality of our system. For example, we all know the pain that comes from too many hours battling lamb’s quarters or hairy galinsoga. How many of the variables that contribute to the pain of weeding can we adjust? Here’s a partial list:
Some of these solutions may be outside of your control. I recently heard some great advice from an occupational therapist. She said that, of course, we can’t control everything. But we always have some control over how we are using our bodies. Even shifting one action in 10 can be a 10% improvement. Maybe that translates into having the stamina to do a 10% larger garden, or garden for 10% longer a time, or simply have 10% more energy at the end of the gardening day to enjoy your friends and families. Ten percent is within everyone’s reach.
Tools are one area that can easily make a 10% difference. Start researching ergonomic tools and you will see all sorts of options that look a little strange, but may be a much better fit for your body. You can also adapt tools you already have with minimal cost, or build a tool that addresses your own particular challenge. There are several things you should look for when purchasing/adapting ergonomic garden tools:
Ideally, you’ll want to try a tool before buying to make sure it works for your particular gardening needs and your body. Unfortunately, many local garden supply stores do not stock a wide range of ergonomic tools. Shop around, though, and if you can’t find anything locally, read reviews on the internet or talk to gardening friends who may have experience with particular tools. In southern Maine, visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens to see their display of ergonomic tools and accessible gardening modifications.
Far too often, gardeners tolerate unnecessary pain, damage their bodies, or are forced to give up gardening entirely. Gardening, as we all know, is a labor of love. Don’t let that labor of love just become labor! Offer your body the same care and respect that you do your plants, and you will be able to continue producing healthy food and beautiful flowers for many years to come.
The following are useful websites for getting a sense of the different types of tools available:
For more information on gardening with specific health conditions and disabilities, check out:
Information in this article is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned in this website. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.
By Kate Garland, Horticulturist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Penobscot County, email@example.com
Spring ephemerals are herbaceous plants that emerge, flower, and develop seeds early in the season; going dormant during summer months. This clever group of plants takes advantage of early spring sunshine before the deciduous canopy above blocks out the light. While they have no aesthetic appeal during their dormant period (the foliage either turns yellow or dies completely back to the ground), they play a larger than normal role at a time when Maine gardeners crave the sight of greenery and flowers. Here are a few native spring ephemerals to add to your garden:
Anemonella thalictriodes – Rue Anemone (zone 4)
White to pink flowers appear in clusters over purplish-green leaves that resemble Columbine foliage. Rue Anemone grows approximately 8” tall, preferring part sun to full shade. Plants may not go completely dormant in summer months in sites where there is adequate moisture.
Dicentra eximia – Wild Bleeding Heart (zone 4)
Dicentra cucullaria – Dutchman’s Breeches (zone 3)
D. eximia has delicate pink, heart-shaped flowers, while D. cucullaria has white flowers that look like a tiny pair of upside-down pants. Both species have finely dissected leaves and grow well in shaded sites. D. eximia can tolerate full sun when sufficient moisture is available.
Dodecatheon meadia – Eastern Shooting Star (zone 4)
This plant has nodding medium-pink flowers similar to Cyclamen. Petals are bent backwards, giving the flower the appearance that it’s speeding through the air. Dodecatheon prefers light shade to full sun with moist soils.
Erythrionium americanum – Yellow Trout Lily (zone 3)
This plants mottled purple and gray-green basal leaves are just as appealing as its sweet flower. Yellow nodding flowers have petals that are curled back to reveal several dark orange stamen. Yellow Trout Lily will beautifully colonize a moist, deciduous understory site with very little care.
Mertensia virginica – Virginia Bluebells
Small trumpet-shaped flowers start out pink, eventually maturing to a pale blue. Plants are upright, growing from 1’ to 2’ tall. Virginia Bluebells grows best in part-sun gardens with moist, rich, well-drained soil.
Be sure to purchase nursery-grown native plants from a reputable nursery. Collection of native plants in the field is strongly discouraged. If you cannot find these plants at your favorite garden center, tell them that you would like to see more native plants offered at their business. Nurseries will generally bring in more native plants if their customers ask for them.
University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Maine Home Garden News is designed to equip home gardeners with practical, timely information.
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Maine Home Garden News was created in response to a continued increase in requests for information on gardening and includes timely and seasonal tips, as well as research-based articles on all aspects of gardening. Articles are written by UMaine Extension specialists, educators, and horticulture professionals, as well as Master Gardener Volunteers from around Maine, with Professor Richard Brzozowski serving as editor.
Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.
Published and distributed in furtherance of Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914, by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the Land Grant University of the state of Maine and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Cooperative Extension and other agencies of the U.S.D.A. provide equal opportunities in programs and employment.
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Image Description: gardener digging out a new garden bed
Image Description: Morning Glory blossom
Image Description: raised bed vegetable garden
Image Description: small hoop house
Image Description: woman with hoe
Image Description: Erythrionium americanum (yellow) and Sanguinaria canadensis (white). Photo by Kate Garland