2018-04-05 / Life in Leelanau

Planning to Plant

Twiddle those green thumbs, resist urge to plant too early
By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff


DIGGING IN the dirt. Northport resident Sarah Hallstedt plants some new blooms in one of the flower beds at the farm she and her husband purchased about 18 months ago. The 53-acre Hallstedt Homestead is home to sweet cherries, vegetables and flowers all grown by the Northport couple. DIGGING IN the dirt. Northport resident Sarah Hallstedt plants some new blooms in one of the flower beds at the farm she and her husband purchased about 18 months ago. The 53-acre Hallstedt Homestead is home to sweet cherries, vegetables and flowers all grown by the Northport couple. USDA Hardiness Zone 5 can be tricky. Especially here in Leelanau.

This is the time of year anyone who enjoys gardening in the Land of Delight would likely agree.

Fortunately, there are a few things those who love to dig in dirt can do now to help a garden grow.

Crystal VanThomme, manager at Plant Masters in Suttons Bay, said concentrating on preparation gets things headed in the right direction.

“You should be planning and not planting,” VanThomme said. “It’s just too early for northern Michigan.”

The focus right now should be on getting plans on paper.


SEEDLINGS SPROUT in Cedar. The Durbins anticipate this year’s garden to be similar in size to those they have had in the past. Last year’s garden, pictured here, is full of tomatoes, kale, zucchini, carrots, potatoes and more. SEEDLINGS SPROUT in Cedar. The Durbins anticipate this year’s garden to be similar in size to those they have had in the past. Last year’s garden, pictured here, is full of tomatoes, kale, zucchini, carrots, potatoes and more. “I understand the itch to get outside,” VanThomme said. “There’s not a whole lot that can be put in the ground right now. We have been getting some cold nights with hard freezes.”

Planting too early can not only freeze but also damage new plants.

“It’s the weight of the snow,” she said. “Anything shooting up can get bent or snap off.”

Cedar residents Cara and Mike Durbin plant a large garden each year. And they agree with VanThomme’s advice to plan instead of plant right now.

“We are discussing what we are putting in and where, what did well last year and what didn’t,” Cara Durbin said. “We are also discussing cover crops for sections we aren’t planting.

“I just got my seeds, so I’ll go through and see what I need to start in the house under lights. This is a lot of work, so we have cut down on starting our own seedlings. Some things I can’t find to buy as starters around here, or there are flowers I want to try.”

In addition to planning and starting some of their seeds inside, the Durbins are cleaning the barn, making sure the tiller works and doing general maintenance.

Consumer horticulture program instructor Nate Walton at the Leelanau County MSU Extension Office agrees it’s a difficult time of year.

“This is kind of a funny time right now because it’s too cold to do much,” Walton said.

He added: “It is a good time to be pruning fruit trees and woody ornamentals. You want to prune while the plant is still dormant. We are at the end of pruning season now. As soon as they wake up, you need to stop.”

The only exceptions to that rule, he said, are spring-blooming lilacs and forsythia, both of which would lose blooms if trimmed at this time of year.

Another task to check off the list, Walton said, is soil testing.

“If you haven’t had a soil test recently, it would be good to do,” he said. “It will tell you what to do to amend the soil, based on what you want to plant.”

The test kit is available at the MSU Extension Office inside the Leelanau County Government Center in Suttons Bay Township. Each kit costs $25. Results of the test are sent by email.

Amending soil with plant matter and composted manure can give plants extra nitrogen, VanThomme said. Over time, this organic matter improves soil aeration and can help plants increase water and nutrient-holding capacity.

Although relatively new to the peninsula, master gardener Sarah Hallstedt is ready for her second Leelanau county summer.

“I love to play in the dirt. I do love the garden,” Hallstedt said.

Like everyone else, however, Hallstedt has had to be patient.

In the meantime, she and her husband have been busy pruning more than 20 acres of sweet cherry trees at their farm, Hallstedt Homestead.

As far as the gardens go, she’s been doing exactly what the Durbins are: planning. Her plans include flowers and vegetables, most of which will be directly sown into the soil once the weather turns.

“Some of the flowers will be started indoors, but I will push my luck with cool-weather crops as soon as things warm up,” she said.

Her cool-weather crops will include lettuce, spinach, beets and more.

“This is the first time I’ve had more room than I know what to do with,” she said. “I’ve been thumbing through my catalogs and put in an order for my seeds. I also purchased some seeds in bulk.”

While she waits for snow to disappear for good, Hallstedt offers her skills in the soil to others. She helps with the hoop house at Northport Public School as well as the garden at Leelanau Christian Neighbors.

For those who just cannot wait and must get their hands dirty right away, the choices are limited. Besides planning, pruning or soil testing, bulbs can fit the bill. Cold-hearty choices such as primrose, hyacinth or tulips can satisfy an early April craving.

And, of course, after getting bulbs in the ground, there’s only one thing left to do: wait.

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