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Want To Garden Now That You're Stuck At Home? Here's How

Here in Massachusetts, the need to stay at home and social distance is still very real. As the weather gets nicer, you may want to take up gardening this year to stay busy and get some fresh air in a safe way. Caring for a garden can also help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Whether it’s your first time gardening or you’re a seasoned veteran, this is the time of year to get outside, play in the soil and focus on growth.

David Epstein / WBUR
David Epstein / WBUR

When can I plant a vegetable garden?

It's not too early to put out cool weather crops. You can either find these at a local garden center or start seeds directly in the ground. These would be things like carrots, lettuce, Asian greens, peas, onions, broccoli or anything else in the brassica family. These types of vegetables love the cool weather. If you're starting from seed be sure to keep the area evenly moist.

What about starting seeds?

Warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers and basil should not be put out yet. You can still start these things inside. If you are starting seeds you need to be sure to use a seed starting medium. You’ll also need artificial light, unless you have a window exposed to the sun all day. Without it, there just won't be enough light and your seedlings will get tall and leggy. There are many seed starting kits online.

Should I prune now?

If you have things in your garden like roses, ornamental grasses and other perennials, they should be cut back. A quick online search will help you determine just how far back to cut your particular perennial. Some need to be cut to the ground; others just need a little bit off the top.

Generally trees and shrubs can also be pruned now. If you prune early flowering trees and shrubs now, you will forgo the blooms this year. But the trade-off is all that energy will go into the plant and it will end up healthier. If you need to prune a rhododendron, go ahead and do it now. Don't wait until after the blooms.

Can I plant grass seed now?

Your lawn may not be looking so great even after the mild winter. Seeding a lawn in spring is risky because the grass usually won't germinate until May. Then we often have dryer and warmer weather, and the new grass ends up dying out. In my opinion, you're better off using an organic, slow-release fertilizer to thicken up the existing lawn. If you must seed in the spring, be prepared to continue to keep the area adequately watered all summer or the grass won’t last.

David Epstein / WBUR
David Epstein / WBUR

What can I grow in a container?

If you don't have a garden or a lot of outdoor space, you can grow almost anything in a container as long as you have the right size and the right amount of sunshine. There are great container soils available. I use organic container soil for things I'm going to eat. Any container soil will do if you're just growing flowers, or small trees and shrubs. Be sure your container has good drainage – and you'll have to water a container more frequently as the weather warms up later this year.

When can I fill my flower boxes?

Even though we are likely done with any major cold, don't rush planting warm-weather annuals. Cool damp weather can be just as harmful for many of these plants as a frost. Having a little bit of patience before you put out the warm weather stuff will go a long way. Pansies can be used now if you want early color.

Where can I get my materials?

Some garden centers are offering pick up so you don't have to go shopping and can maintain physical distance from other patrons. I recommend calling your favorite garden center and asking them to put the order together. Then you can just go pick it up!

How much should I water?

The most common thing people do is kill their plants with kindness. Most plants would rather be a little more dry than wet. Over-watering will quickly kill tender seedlings. Fertilizer should be used sparingly. Too much nitrogen and other material can be detrimental to any young plants. The theme here: less is more. However, don’t let newly planted trees or shrubs dry out; they need the water to establish new roots.

Above all?

Have fun! Watching things grow – whether it's just by yourself or with your family – is a great activity. If you're feeling like you don't have much to do, gardening allows you to be outside from now until the weather turns cold. If you're a first-time gardener, don't be frustrated if things die. It happens to all of us; just give it another go and try to learn from any mistakes.

And in these times when we don't have much social interaction, you'll be forgiven if you start talking to your plants.

David Epstein Twitter Meteorologist
David Epstein is WBUR's meteorologist.

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