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March Mania

Tips to help millennials succeed with their gardening passion

Don Kinzler, Growing Together and Fielding Questions columnist. The Forum1 / 3
Millennials are now the most active gardening generation. iStock / Special to The Forum2 / 3
Basic understanding of how plants interact with soil, water, light and temperature is timeless, and if shared between generations, can eliminate many mistakes as new gardeners gain experience. iStock / Special to The Forum3 / 3

FARGO — I felt especially lighthearted last week.

For starters, I dug our carrots before the ground froze, and even though they were caked with mud, I didn’t break too many, which was cause for rejoicing. As an extra boost, I’ve been writing about millennials and gardening, and their enthusiasm is uplifting.

In last week’s column, we learned that millennials are now the most active gardening generation. They’re especially passionate about indoor gardening and growing their own food efficiently in smaller spaces. Working with plants is viewed as a relief from connectivity to our electronic devices, and as a creative way to reduce stress.

The good news about gardening is that each generation needn’t strike out on their own. Times change, but the science and art of plant care remains quite constant.

Basic understanding of how plants interact with soil, water, light and temperature is timeless, and if shared between generations, can eliminate many mistakes as new gardeners gain experience. As the gardening torch passes to the millennial generation, the following tips will be helpful.

  • Everyone can have a “green thumb,” which simply means giving plants what they need to thrive. Some people have a natural instinct for plant care; others gain their green thumb by trial-and-error experience and by educating themselves, which all of us can do.
  • Even experienced gardeners continue to learn, as they remain vigilant to deal with nature’s unpredictable weather, climate and pests.
  • Learn patience. Plants grow on their own terms, not ours, which is a great exercise in slowing down and cooperating with nature. The old saying “Good things come to those who wait” applies well to plant care.
  • The outdoor frost-free growing season in the Upper Midwest generally runs from about May 15 to 25 until sometime between about Sept. 15 and Oct. 15.
  • A successful 10-day window in spring for most of our region’s outdoor planting is about May 15-25, as frost becomes less likely and soil warms favorably.
  • Don’t be fooled by spring’s false starts. Countless gardeners have planted during gorgeous April warm spells, only to have tender plants frozen by May frost.
  • Become acquainted with your locally owned garden centers, which are generally well stocked with plant material suited to our region. The locally owned experience is much different from national chains.
  • Start small. A manageable vegetable or flower planting is more productive and fun than a larger garden overpowered by weeds.
  • Speaking of weeds, set the goal of getting them while they’re tiny, and never let any go to seed.
  • Water soil deeply and less often. Shallow, frequent watering leads to trouble, whether with lawns or houseplants.
  • To remedy both heavy clay and light sandy soil, add organic material like peat moss, compost or packaged manure.
  • For indoor and outdoor pots and planters, invest in a high-quality potting mix, such as Miracle-Gro Potting Mix or a custom blend from a locally owned garden center. Plants don’t grow as well in cheap, heavy, poorly drained mixes.
  • We are in winter-hardiness zones 3 and 4. Investigate before buying trees, shrubs and perennial flowers, especially if shopping at national chains that might be stocked with plants intended for regions outside our zones.
  • Very few flowers are direct-seeded into outdoor soil. Planting “starter plants,” either your own or from a garden center, is the norm, providing faster, more reliable blooming.
  • For indoor gardening, assess your windows’ light levels compared with plant needs. Some houseplants grow well in indirect light in a room’s interior, while edibles like herbs require high light in front of a sunny window, especially during winter’s short days.
  • Be cautious of trendy topics. Herbs growing in magnetic pots on the refrigerator make an eye-catching photo, but they likely won’t grow well long term.
  • Gardening is about a process, not just results. Watch, enjoy and learn along the way.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at kinzlerd@casscountynd.gov or call 701-241-5707.