Dreaming of Spring

Experienced gardeners know it well, but to beginners it might be a surprise: it’s time to get planning for spring planting! One of the most appealing qualities of growing plants outside is the cyclical nature of it all, especially in a climate like ours. You can only sow, weed, water, and harvest while it’s warm enough outside for plants to thrive, so even in these years of record-breaking winter warm spells, the days between roughly mid-October and mid-March are not fit for outside growing. Instead, they are days for cleaning up the garden, resting inside, and, happily, dreaming about next spring! 

But if you’ve ever been new to gardening (and who among us hasn’t?), you’ll know that planning a garden can quickly become quite complicated. There are, literally, a million factors to consider: Soil composition? Row spacing? Cross pollination? Shade tolerance? Colors?? I tend to get overwhelmed, and buy plants one by one, and sow my seeds in ill–advised formations. I think this is a fine way to garden, but it’s certainly not without some nail-biting, and I’m definitely not making efficient use of my precious resources. If only there were some sort of reliable, locally-focused resource for amateurs like myself… 

It turns out, naturally, that the Lawrence-area is fortunate to have a multitude of reliable, locally-focused resources for amateurs in horticulture and botany. You can learn more about a cross section of them here. I want to share some of the most useful publications for spring planning from just one of them: K-State Research and Extension, of which the Douglas County Extension Office is our local branch. (You might know about the Master Gardener program or their gardens; they’re under the purview of the Extension Office.) K-State Extension makes lots of scientifically sound publications and videos for the “lay gardener” available for free on their website. Whatever question you might have, chances are an Extension publication can answer it!

Planning your vegetable garden? Check out Planning a Garden for basic tips about site preparation, plant selection, and obtaining seeds. The Vegetable Garden Planting Guide provides many more details about when and how to plant specific vegetables in Kansas. 

Interested in herbs? Check out the Kansas Herbs Fact Sheets for detailed information about common herbs in our region. 

How about wildflowers and grasses? The site Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses, though old school, has many useful tools to help you plan your flower and grass planting! My favorite is this chart, which categorizes wildflowers by both their color and their time of flowering. Imagine: your garden could go from blue to pink to green to yellow throughout the growing season!!

For native plants: Native plants are great options for gardeners who want a relatively low-maintenance patch and want to restore a small piece of the prairie. Check out these publications from the Extension Office for establishment and management techniques, varieties for Northeast Kansas, and information about monarch habitat development in Kansas.

It’s also nearly time to start seeds inside for early-season crops like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower! By planting seeds in containers inside and growing them with the help of an artificial light, you can extend the growing season and get mature plants in the ground sooner. Luckily, the Extension Office also has a guide for this practice! Find it here

We also frequently get questions about growing vegetables in containers (including the best varieties among our Seed Library offerings for containers!). You probably guessed it by this point: there’s an Extension Office publication for that!  

If none of the above guides get you the answers you need, there’s a very good chance you’ll find the Kansas Garden Guide useful. It’s 78 pages long, and most directly applicable to the vegetable garden, but you’ll find general information about preparing your soil, making compost, and - again!! - planning your garden that applies widely. Be sure, too, to check out the Extension’s website for even more documents, videos and recorded workshops, the weekly Hort Newsletter, and much more. 

Happy gardening! Don’t forget to pick up some seeds from the library’s Seed Library starting February 19th.

-Hazlett Henderson is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.