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Over the garden fence: Make 2016 your best garden year

Despite the cold weather, the time to make garden plans is now.
Despite the cold weather, the time to make garden plans is now. Centre Daily Times, file

I cannot believe that it is already time to start planning for the 2016 gardening season. If you are like me, your mailbox is overflowing with vegetable and flower catalogs from around the country. During dull, overcast and bitterly cold winter days, it is enjoyable to sit by the fireplace or woodstove and leaf through pages of delicious looking vegetables, beautiful small fruits and tree fruits and a wide array of colorful flowers.

As I tell the students in the Gardening for Fun and Profit class that I team teach, it is a time of dreaming about getting out in the garden with each new catalog that arrives in the mail. Most of us cannot be out in the garden now unless we built a high tunnel or have a real greenhouse, but it is time to do some serious planning.

The catalogs will have many new and interesting vegetable, small fruit and tree fruit and flower varieties. Speaking of catalogs, I received one called The Maine Potato Lady, which has a lot of potato varieties and other useful information. To check it out online, visit www.mainepotatolady.com.

One thing that you can do now is review your 2015 gardening notebook. By determining what varieties performed well in the 2015 garden, you can decide which you’ll want to grow again. You should have all the names and what seed company you ordered the variety from so you won’t need to try to remember the name of that delicious sweet corn variety from last year.

It is a good idea to try a few new varieties and see how they do. This will build a good foundation for this year’s garden. You can then review your old garden plan and make a new one that includes the new varieties that you have selected from the catalogs.

Also, it is a good time to see what old seeds you saved from last year, realizing that seeds saved from the previous year may or may not be satisfactory for planting. It depends on the kind of seed and how it was stored. Most unused seeds should be stored in a cool and dry place. Sweet corn, onions and parsnips lose their germinating ability quite rapidly, while other common vegetables may produce good stands after three years of storage. Poor germination is probably the biggest cause of poor emergence in the garden. Buying fresh seeds each year is the best policy. It is probably the least expensive part of your gardening enterprise. So go ahead and place your seed order now so you will be ready to plant or start transplants when the time arrives.

It is also time to think about how you can improve your garden. Maybe you need to improve your soil by adding compost or setting up a drip irrigation system to water the garden. There are many things that you can do this time of year that will pay big dividends for your gardening experience. Reviewing last year’s notes and planning for this year’s garden are fun activities this time of year when the weather is not really conducive to gardening. It is time to dream and plan so that your 2016 gardens will be the best ever.

Bill Lamont is a professor and extension vegetable specialist in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by email at wlamont@psu.edu.