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Plan Your Garden

Spring may seem a long way off, but if you are excited for spring gardening, why not start planning now? Serious gardeners have been formulating their plans all winter long. Whether you fancy yourself growing vegetables or flowers, here are a few tips to get you started.

First of all, if you have never done a soil test on your garden plot, do one this year. Many people guess the type of fertilizers and amendments their vegetables or flowers need, when you could do a little more fine-tuning using the recommendations of a soil test. You’ll learn the pH of your soil (acidity or alkalinity), and what your primary nutrient levels are. Most garden plants like a pH range of about 6.0 to 7.0, or slightly acid. 7.0 is neutral.

Second, you need to decide what to grow. If you are planning a vegetable garden, this starts with the vegetables you and your family like to eat. Then, you may consider things such as the size of the garden plot and how much time you and your family members are willing to commit to this project. You may want to start small, experience success, then work up.

If you shop for vegetable seeds in catalogues or online, you may be seeing a lot of “sold out” notices. This is due to several factors, including a surge in demand, delays in packaging, and other COVID-related factors. Start with your local stores this year, explore some smaller companies, and look for seed swaps or seed exchanges.

Your garden location should be in full sun or nearly full sun, well-drained, with a water source nearby. Avoid locations near walnut trees, as walnuts produce a substance called “juglone” that causes many garden plants to wilt and die.

Using the plants you wish to grow, prepare a garden layout on paper. Taller vegetable plants should be positioned toward the north of the garden to prevent shading. Perennial plants, like asparagus, should be in an area best suited to growing that crop year after year. Additionally, group cool season crops together, and consider subsequent plantings of warmer season crops. Some early harvested warm season crops can be followed by a late summer planting of cool season crops for fall harvest. Also consider staggered planting dates to spread out harvest. Consult Purdue Extension publications for suggested planting dates and plant spacings.

When planning flower plantings, consider successive bloom times. If the bed is only visible from one side (e.g. it’s against a structure), position taller flowers toward the back of the bed. If the bed is visible all around (an “island” in your landscape), put taller plants in the center. Also consider color – what colors do you like best, and what colors “go together” in your mind? Clustered plantings of flowers tend to make a better impression than single or sparse plantings. Foliage texture can also add interesting features, especially in shady areas where many showy flowers may not perform well.

When weather warms up, make sure your soil is dry enough to work into a granular soil structure. If you work the soil too wet, it will tend to slab over, compact, and provide an environment unfriendly to roots. Also consider minimum-till or no-till options.

If you plan to plant frost-tender plants, wait until the danger of the last frost is past. This is usually around Mother’s Day in northern Indiana, but can be earlier or later depending on the year. Recent weather data from the Indiana State Climate Office states that the average date of the last 32-degree frost in Whitley County is April 22-28. Remember – an average date is not a guarantee. This is Indiana, after all.

During the growing season, we begin to deal with weeds, insect pests and plant diseases. This is the period of time many tend to lose enthusiasm for gardening. Contact the Purdue Extension office about pests you don’t understand. Purdue plant doctor apps (tomato, annual, perennial) may also prove useful. Stay vigilant and you will reap a harvest soon.

Lastly, Purdue Extension has resources to help you. Search for publications on the types of plants you plan to raise at Purdue Extension’s Education Store, at For vegetable gardens, start with HO-32-W, “Home Gardener’s Guide.” For flower growers, find “Growing Annual Flowers,” and “Growing Perennial Flowers.” Find Indiana State Climate office information at:

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