Spring planting tips from an agronomist
Gardeners, get your trowels ready
As the days grow warmer, the smell of spring is in the air. Soon, Alberta gardeners will be brushing off their trowels and preparing their soil. Many of us may be newer to gardening, so for those new green thumbs, check out these top tips from Alberta Wheat Agronomist Jeremy Boychyn to help you get your garden off to a vigorous start this year.
A mistake first-time gardeners can make is starting with expansive gardens. Too many plant types and big gardens can lead to frustration, especially for those new to the game. Start with four to five plant types—starting smaller than you think will increase your chances of garden success.
Know your plant hardiness zone
Canada has different growing zones referred to as “hardiness zones.” Each of the nine hardiness zones across Canada relate to weather conditions of those areas. The higher the hardiness zone number, the more types of plants you can grow. Hardiness zones help gardeners understand the plant types they can grow successfully. For example, Calgary is in growing zone 4a, and Edmonton in 3b. This means plants like lavender and okra are out of the question. Yet, zone 4a leaves plenty of options to choose from! Know your hardiness zone and pick the appropriate plant types.
Plan seeding times ahead
Planning a garden requires seeding each plant type early enough to ensure a timely harvest. Each plant type has a season length. Season length is the number of days required for the seed to mature. These can be found on the packaging the seeds come in. Knowing your growing area’s last spring date and first fall frost dates is helpful; these are dates you are most likely to see a killing frost. You don’t want to have a frost sensitive plant in the garden before your first spring frost. If you do, you are likely to see a frosted dead plant before the season even gets rolling! Same goes for the first fall frost—seed a long season vegetable too late and it is likely to be killed by frost before providing its bounty.
Germinate indoors & transplant or seed directly into the garden
Some plants, like basil, grow better when seeded indoors and transplanted. Other plants, like peas, grow better when seeded directly into the garden. Develop a garden calendar so you know when you are going to seed, transplant, and harvest each plant type. This will reduce your risk of losing precious plants to the cold frost.
Quick tip for seeding – always seed a few more plants than you think you will need. A couple extra seedlings in each hole at seeding time is recommended. The strongest seedlings will survive. If more than two to three survive, you can remove weaker seedlings.
Site selection and plant needs
Each plant you choose to grow has unique growing requirements and providing them will help your plants flourish. With some quick research, you can quickly determine the best way to give your plants the love and care they need. For example, some plants need full sun while others perform better in partial shade; some plants may need more regular watering than others. Potatoes prefer lighter soil to allow better underground growth; peas and grape tomato enjoy being hung from trellis systems.
Each plant type requires appropriate room in the garden to properly grow. For this reason, it’s important to plan the garden blueprint and space plants based on their individual needs.
Have fun, record everything and expect mistakes
Lastly, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, learn new things and make mistakes. Gardening is an adventure in understanding plants. Given enough time, you will learn how they interact with the environment. Like all great things in life, gardening is a long-term learning process, and every year will present new challenges. Carry the mindset of wanting to learn new things every year. With this frame of mind, you will be sure to enjoy the experience!
These spring planting tips are courtesy of Jeremy Boychyn. Born and raised on a small horticulture farm in Ontario producing fruits, vegetables and bedding plants, Jeremy Boychyn’s life has been immersed in agriculture. Jeremy attended the University of Guelph acquiring a Bachelor of Science in horticultural science and a Master of Science (MSc) in plant physiology. His MSc work investigated the developmental and physiological effects of drought and low fertility on North American native perennial plants. Upon graduation, Jeremy began his career as an agronomist in the Bradford Marsh and surrounding regions in Ontario. In 2015, he moved to Alberta where he worked as an agronomist and technical specialist in various regions across the province. Jeremy is now the Agronomy Research Extension Specialist with the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, where he connects valued research findings to Alberta’s wheat and barley growers. Jeremy is the commission’s “boots on the ground,” driving research and innovation to the farmgate.