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Starting Your Vegetable Garden in the Early Spring

Believe it or not many vegetables are the very first thing you can plant every spring in Northern Illinois. This week at the garden center, we started receiving our first cold hardy vegetables of the year. These plants are not only hardy but they are meant to be grown and harvested within the colder spring season.

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  • Cole Crops – This includes cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and broccoli. You can plant these cool season veggies as soon as you can work the soil. We recommend planting starter plants for spring crops verses seeds, starting with more mature plants will ensure they produce heads before the heat of summer. Be sure to harvest as soon as the central head is 5-6” so the plant doesn't go to flower before you get to enjoy.
  • Leafy Greens – Grow your own spring salad in the garden or in a pretty spring planter. You can direct sow seeds for spinach, arugula, kale, lettuce, mustard, swiss chard, mesclun, etc. right into the garden. We offer a beautiful selection of lettuces in flats so you can jump start the season or as a colorful (and edible) addition to your spring planters; try mixing them with pansies and snapdragons.Lettuces to Grow In Illinois.png

  • Onions – There are three different ways to plant onions, from seeds, from sets and from transplants.
    • Seeds are best for fresh scallions or green onions. When choosing seeds, look for “bunching” types such as ‘Evergreen’ or ‘Lisbon’. Plant 10-15 seeds per foot about .5 – 1” deep. When shoots reach 4”, push loose soil toward the shoots to create a hill around the plant. This will give the green onions nice long white stems. Pull green onions whenever the base of the plant is 3/8” or larger.
    • Onion sets are our most popular option as they are good for producing BOTH green onions AND dry onions. When you open your bag of onion sets, divide sets into two sizes, the largest are best for green onions, the smaller sets will produce the best dry onions. For green onions, plant the larger sets 1 ½” deep and close enough to touch one another. Plant a row every two weeks for a longer harvest. When shoots reach 4”, push loose soil toward the shoots to create a hill around the plant. This will give the green onions nice long white stems.       To produce dry onions, plant the smaller sets 1” deep and 2-3” apart. Plant rows 18” apart. Do not “hill” plants that will be used for dry onions. Pull green onions whenever the tops are 6” high.       Harvest dry onions in late July or August when most of the tops yellow and fall over.
    • For dry, slicing onions, transplants are the best option. Plant transplants 1-1.5” deep and 4-5” apart.       Space rows 18” apart. When the onion tops turn yellow and fall over (usually in August), the growing process is complete, and it is time for harvest.
  • Asparagus Fresh, tender asparagus is a spring staple. It is a perennial, so pick a permanent spot for it to grow and enjoy for years to come. To plant asparagus crowns, dig trenches 12 inches wide and 8 inches deep.       Add 2 inches of garden soil (compost soil mix) to the bottom of the trench so that the trench is now 6 inches deep. Soak the crowns in water for 20 minutes before planting. Place the crowns in the trenches 1½ to 2 feet apart spreading the roots out so that the crown sits flat on the bottom of the trench. Top them with 2 to 3 inches of soil. Two weeks later, add another inch or two of soil. Continue adding soil periodically until the soil is slightly mounded above surface level to allow for settling. Do not harvest the first year, allow the plants to grow and become well established.
  • Root Vegetables Early spring is the perfect time to plant carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips, and other root vegetables.  There is no need to start seeds indoors, simply direct sow the seeds into your garden. Check your seed packet for planting depth and keep the seeds moist while they are germinating.
  • Potatoes Growing potatoes is fun and easy! Slice the seed potatoes into 2-4 pieces making sure there is an eye on each piece, and then let them sit overnight. Plant the seed potato pieces 4 inches deep and about 9-12 inches apart. When the plants grow to 8-12 inches tall they should be “hilled” to keep the tubers covered. Mound soil to a height of 3-6 inches and width of 12-15 inches at the base of the plant. “New potatoes” can be harvested in early summer before the vines die (usually July) when the potatoes are 1-2 inches in diameter. Harvest late potatoes in August thru early September.      
  • Herbs Some herbs tolerate a frost better than others. The most frost tolerant are garlic, chives, sage, mint, lemon balm, lavender, and Greek oregano. Rosemary, parsley, and cilantro will tolerate cool temperatures, but should be covered at night if temperatures are expected to drop below freezing.       Some herbs, especially basil, are extremely sensitive to cold. Pot up your basil so that you can bring it outside on warm sunny days and keep it inside on cold rainy days and nights. Want to learn more about planting a garden? You might enjoy some of our other recent articles:Soil Preparation for Vegetable GardeningHow to Grow GarlicHow to Grow OnionsStep by Step Guide for Growing Tomatoes
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