When to Start Seeds Indoors in Zone 5 Demystified

seed packets for the garden

I’ve lived and gardened in zone 5 (Madison, Wisconsin) for the bulk of my gardening life, over 20 years! This zone is no joke with bitterly cold winters and hot, humid summers – we have it all. The winters are long in Wisconsin, which is one of the reasons why I love starting seeds for my garden.

It’s one of my favorite rituals to kick off the gardening season when it’s still cold outside.

Every winter, I see a lot of questions flying around about when to start seeds indoors in zone 5 from other gardeners in the Wisconsin and Midwest groups I’m in.

There is an art to the timing of starting seeds. Plant them too early and they get big and unwieldy before it’s time to put them into the ground. Wait too long and they’re too tiny and vulnerable to stand up against the spring weather.

Luckily, I’ve been successfully starting my own seeds indoors for over 20 years, so I have plenty of tips and resources to share around timing for when to start seeds indoors in zone 5 to help you skip over the beginner mistakes.

Seed to Harvest: Growing Pumpkins in Raised Beds

white pumpkin growing in garden

After building several different gardens of my own and working with hundreds of gardeners over the years, I’ve found that building and growing vegetables in raised beds is the best choice for most people.

Raised beds offer lots of important benefits: they require less work to prepare in spring and less long term maintenance, they’re better for soil health, and can help you create a more attractive garden.

I’ve written a very comprehensive article showing how I built my home garden and the three options for easy raised garden beds.

After reading that article I’m going to assume I’ve convinced you on the merits of raised beds, or maybe you already have them in your garden. So, let’s move on to the specifics of growing pumpkins in raised beds.

Who doesn’t want to carve their own homegrown Jack O’ Lanterns on Halloween or bake a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving?

But, you may think that you just don’t have enough garden space for planting pumpkins. Don’t worry!  It’s possible to grow pumpkins in a small urban or suburban garden (or even on your patio or balcony) with the right methods that save space and prevent the long, trailing pumpkin vines from taking over your garden.  

Let’s dive into growing pumpkins in raised beds!

Harvesting Leeks Like a Pro: Tips from the Garden

leek harvest

I’m not shy about how much I love growing alliums in my garden. Every fall I plant 220 garlic and each spring 500 onions. I harvest and cure them in my garage in mid July and in fall I transfer them to my basement to use throughout the winter so I never have to buy them at the grocery store.

Cooking at our house often starts with sautéing onions and garlic in a pan with a little oil. And we have a joke that when a recipe calls for one clove of garlic it actually means one bulb.

All that to say – I love alliums! But, for some reason, although leeks are also a member of the allium family, they feel like a different category. 

I think that’s partly because although I plant them in April at the same time as my onions, when I’m harvesting leeks it’s fall, not July when I harvest the other hundreds of onions and garlic I grow.

But, this is also a bonus if you think about it. Growing leeks is a way to spread out your allium harvest. I actually love growing a fall garden, and leeks can sit in the garden as the weather turns cold and heads into winter. 

If you’re not a big fan of garlic and onions (she gasps!), leeks, with their mild and delicate flavor, could be a better option for you.

As with all vegetables in your garden, it’s essential to know when and how you should be harvesting leeks, as well as how to store or freeze them for future use. Let’s dive in!

What Kind of Garlic Varieties Should You Plant?

different garlic varieties to grow

Interested in growing garlic? You’re in luck – garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow in the home garden. You can plant a large amount in a small space, it doesn’t have many pests or diseases, and it loves cold weather.

And if you live in a very cold climate like mine in Wisconsin, you’ll be pleased to hear that it survives harsh winters like a champ. Something I can barely do myself!

(I share more great reasons to plant it here.)

As a bonus, if you plant the right garlic varieties it can store for many months in your home, allowing you to use it as the base for delicious meals all year round. Cooking with your own homegrown garlic will make dinner prep even more satisfying.

Each year when I post photos of myself using my stored garlic in January, March, and sometimes into June (almost a year after harvest!), I get lots of questions about how I get my garlic to last that long.

If you’re interested in using your own garlic year-round (it’s definitely possible, we do it at our house) then it’s important to understand all of the different garlic varieties so you can choose the best one for your situation.

Let’s dive right in!

Watering Pumpkins: Best Practices for Growing Great Pumpkins

pumpkin harvest

There are many reasons to love pumpkins: you’re a kid, Halloween is your top holiday, fall is your favorite season, orange is a beloved color, pumpkin pie is your top pick for dessert, or you’re crazy for cucurbits (the vegetable family of pumpkins, along with other squashes and cucumbers).

Pumpkins grow rapidly, and it’s not hard for even beginner gardeners to produce large, colorful pumpkins for carving or cooking.

But, there are a few tips and tricks to know if you want to grow pumpkins successfully, especially around watering pumpkins, harvesting and storing.

It also helps to know about the pumpkin growing stages before you select and plant your pumpkin seeds and if you’re a raised bed gardener, growing pumpkins in raised beds and other small spaces.

Mastering Brussels Sprouts Growing Stages for a Bountiful Harvest

    growing stages of brussels sprouts

If you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume you’re a proud member of the group of people who love Brussels sprouts! I’ll be honest, I didn’t eat one until adulthood when I became a gardener. In that way I’m spoiled because I never had to suffer through frozen or grocery store sprouts.

Mine have always come fresh from the garden, and wow, what a difference (especially if they’re frost sweetened).  

If you know a bit about me as a gardener, you may know that fall is my favorite season in the vegetable garden. And Brussels sprout are the quintessential fall vegetable. In fact, I only start harvesting mine when I feel mentally ready to fall to begin, which usually isn’t until October after the first frost. 

Brussels sprouts, with their distinctive flavor and miniature cabbage-like appearance, are a popular vegetable in many gardens. However, successfully growing these delicious greens requires a bit of knowledge and patience.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the Brussels sprouts growing stages, from planting to harvesting, and address common questions and challenges.

All About Mint: Varieties, Harvesting, Storing & Preserving

harvesting mint from garden

Yum, mint! It’s one of my favorite flavors.  Mint chocolate chip ice cream! York peppermint patties! True confession: I have a cup of mint tea every morning, all year round. If you love it, too, the good news is that growing any of the mint varieties is really easy. The bad news is that it can be a little too easy because mint can quickly take over your entire garden. (More about that later!)

Let’s get back to the good news, though. Mint is incredibly cold hardy, so it’s perfect for cold climates. I live in zone 5 a/b in Wisconsin and my mint returns to the same spot each year without fail. Most mints grow well down to zone 3, although sometimes specialty varieties aren’t as cold tolerant as the more mainstream ones.

Mint is generally a low growing plant. Most varieties grow to a height of 1-3 feet tall. Pollinators love the white and lavender flowers of mint plants, so you can let some of your crop go to seed if you’d like. They spread more by rhizomes than seeds, so you don’t have to worry about the flowers.

I recommend planting your mint by plant, not by seed. The best way to choose your favorite variety is to take a trip to your local farmers market or garden nursery and use your nose to help you decide which mint you want to grow in your garden.

Since mint is such a vigorous grower, you don’t really need more than one plant, unless you have your heart set on trying several kinds.

When you’re out shopping, keep an eye out for some of these fun mint varieties. 

Container Gardening 101: How to Care for Tomato Plants in Pots

growing tomatoes in pots

Most gardeners know that tomatoes are best when you grow them at home because there’s nothing like eating a just-plucked tomato that’s still warm from the sun. But, what if you live in an apartment or condo and don’t have the space to grow tomatoes in the ground, or you have a shady yard that makes it impossible to give them the six to eight hours of sun they crave?

Don’t worry, you can still grow delicious tomatoes in containers on your patio or porch.  Tomatoes can grow well in these situations, but it helps to know a few simple tricks about how to care for tomato plants in pots so you can set them up for success and yourself up for a long summer of fresh tomatoes.

Save Space! Growing Zucchini Vertically

zucchini trellis pictures

Do you want to grow zucchini, but you have limited space and worry that the large plants will take up too much room in your garden?

Or perhaps you just don’t find long vines or broad bushes attractive in the garden, or you might have back problems that make bending down to tend or harvest low-growing plants painful.

No problem, we have you covered!  Growing zucchini vertically is an attractive, space-saving method for this popular summer veggie.

First, we’ll dive into options for trellises and then talk about staking and pruning these huge plants. 

Timing Matters: Know When to Harvest Zucchini

harvesting zucchini for best flavor

All summer you’ve been busy growing zucchini, and now it’s time for the most fun part of all – harvesting. Zucchini grows quickly, and within 45-60 days after planting you will likely see small fruits emerging from the large, colorful blossoms.  But how do you decide when to harvest zucchini?

Knowing when it’s ready to bring in to your kitchen for dinner is crucial because you don’t want your zucchini to become overgrown and lose its tender-crisp texture. 

In this article, I’ll discuss the process of harvesting, freezing, and storing zucchini. 

Before you begin, though, you want to make sure that you understand the best methods of growing zucchini.  Remember, too, that the plants can grow quite large, so if you have limited space, you might want to consider growing zucchini vertically.

When to Transplant Tomatoes for a Bumper Harvest

Tomatoes growing in the tomato cage          

When I used to garden in my local community garden, Memorial Day often felt like the official start of the gardening season. The garden would be bustling with excited gardeners carrying their recent farmers market purchases of tomatoes and peppers. Every tool and wheelbarrow from the shed was put to use. A popular topic of conversation was when to transplant tomatoes.

Here’s a little story about a mistake I made one year. The average last frost date in southern WI where I garden is around the first week of May. My husband and I made plans to go camping on Memorial day weekend, and wanted to get the plants in the ground before we left. Because it was past our average last frost, it seemed like a low risk gardening decision. 

That week the forecast changed from cool to cold at night and a chance of frost was predicted for Memorial Day Weekend. What!? It was too late, the plants were in the ground and the camping tubs packed.  The only option before leaving town was to try to protect the plants with row cover. 

But, alas there was indeed a killing frost and I returned from my camping trip to a garden full of loss and sorrow. Most of my pepper plants were dead and the tomatoes didn’t look much better.

I don’t share this story to scare you, but rather to encourage you to consider when the best time to plant tomatoes is for your garden zone. In this article, we dig deeper into when to transplant tomatoes and explore how to best care for the plants once they’re in the ground so you’re guaranteed to be harvesting baskets full of colorful fruit all season long.

Yellow Perennial Flowers: Bring Sunshine to Your Yard

yellow golden rod

Living in Zone 5a impacts a gardener’s desire to extend the season. From the sprouting of the first bulbs in spring to the battle against the first frost in fall (with a yard full of quilts and sheets protecting annual flowers), keeping the floral show live as long as possible is the goal.

In my flower garden, yellow perennial flowers form the backdrop for season long color. Their ability to complement bold colors like purple, or bring out the heat in oranges and reds, gives them a leading role. 

As a gardener with a large vegetable garden to tend, I like to keep my perennial gardens simple and low maintenance, and also bursting with color and texture.

Over the years, I’ve purchased and planted a plethora of different perennials. Many of them were too high maintenance or didn’t survive the conditions in my garden.

In this article, I’m sharing my favorite yellow perennial flowers to add an extra pop of sunshine to your flower beds in spring, summer and fall.

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