ROCHELLE — Even though the calendar says winter and the area is still blanketed in snow, it can be an ideal time to start planning for the upcoming gardening season.
Rochelle resident and Master Gardener Sue Paulin offered some helpful tips to keep in mind while planning, beginning with reflecting on last year’s crops.
“What were the successes and failures? Be the plant detective … ask yourself if they got enough sun, water and nutrients,” Paulin began. “Have the growing conditions of your site changed? Small trees become bigger? Is it time to enrich the soil?”
Paulin also mentioned taking a look at perennial gardens for any visible areas where a plant might have died or did not thrive. On the flip side, perennials might have outgrown their areas and need to be divided.
Paulin advises making a site plan before putting a shovel in the dirt. This includes making sure plantings are rotated to deter residual insects and diseases in the soil from devouring their favored crops.
“You will be most successful if you have an idea of what you want to do and where you plan to do it,” she said. “When planning for plant placement, always look to the future. Plan for mature plants when planning.”
Members of the Rochelle Garden Club have been gearing up for the new season; the first meeting of the new year is scheduled for Thursday, March 21 at 7 p.m. at the Hub City Senior Center.
Club member Ann Andersen said several day trips will be scheduled this year to area attractions such as the Nicholas Conservatory in Rockford and a landscaping and garden expo in Madison, Wisconsin.
The club is on the lookout for area residents interested in showcasing their gardens for the Garden Walk at the end of June.
“This time of year, people are anxious. We want to get back outside and start working in the garden again,” Andersen said. “At our first meeting we will be talking about what we want to do this year, including our day trips. We have had a few tell us they would like to be in the garden walk this year but we are looking for more locations … we need at least six or seven gardens to tour. And it’s not all about having an immaculate garden. Sometimes it is just for others to get an idea or an inspiration or even ask a question on how they might have done something.”
Although a date has not been set at this point, Andersen said the garden plot sales are usually held the Saturday before Good Friday. The club also hosts a plant sale at Rochelle Township High School, supplied with perennials from the members’ gardens. Monies raised from the garden plots and plant sales are used to fund scholarships to high school seniors pursuing horticulture in college.
“Last year we took in several new members, and we always welcome more to join us. We always have guest speakers at our meetings that share their knowledge and it gives us the opportunity to learn and ask questions too,” Andersen added.
Paulin is also a member of the garden club and as a Master Gardener she is continually learning new things. She spoke about the programs offered through the University of Illinois Extension office, including a Master Gardener training program in Ogle County starting in March.
“Master Gardeners are always learning more. We volunteer at least 30 hours yearly and seek a minimum of 10 hours of continuing education annually,” Paulin said. “The Extension offers Four Season Gardening Webinars for free as one way for all to gain knowledge. After the program is presented, they are available on YouTube (go.illinois.edu/fourseasonsrecordings.com).”
Paulin added it is a good time to also plan for early crops. This includes vegetables such as asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chives, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, Swiss chard, kale, leek, lettuce, onion, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips.
Now is also a good opportunity to clean and sharpen tools.
With warmer temperatures quickly approaching, the planning will make way for outdoor preparation.
“Preparing your garden site depends a lot on the weather. Soil should not be worked if it is too wet. Safe planting dates take into account the possibility of a frost or freeze,” Paulin said. “For Ogle County, we are pretty sure of no more freeze/frost by May 31. Many folks plant earlier, but need to watch night time temperatures and protect new plantings if temperatures drop to 32 degrees.”
For more information on the Master Gardener training program offered on Thursdays starting March 28 and running through May 30 at the Ogle County Extension Office in Oregon, please contact the University of Illinois Extension at 815-732-2191. Information is also available online at web.extension.illinois.edu/bdo, or by stopping at the office located in the Farm Bureau building at 421 W. Pines Road, Oregon.
For more information on joining the club or showcasing gardens for the Garden Walk, call Ann Andersen at 815-751-3722.