Now that it's spring, it's a good time to organize and plan your summer garden if you haven't done so already. The winter recess from outdoor gardening chores is ending, so take advantage of this "low maintenance" period by utilizing your renewed gardening enthusiasm to plan your garden.
Planning before you purchase is particularly important when flower bulbs and annuals will be sharing the limelight - and color scheme - with your perennials. Before you pick up a hoe or plant a bulb or annual, have a garden design in mind. However, time is running short, especially if you plan to purchase from mail order nurseries.
Take a tip from the pros and start with a diagram of your garden. (Packaged landscaping kits are available by mail order or from home garden stores.) Just make a rough aerial-view sketch of the shape of your yard and the location of your planting areas. Specific measurements and drawn-to-scale renderings are not necessary.
Include on your layout all your trees, shrubs, and planters. Note the blooming season and color of your perennials. Now for the creative part. Cut out garden magazine and catalog pictures of the bulbs, annuals, and bedding plants that appeal to you and arrange them on your layout. Just make sure they are hardy for your area.
Experiment with different groupings and locations before you make your shopping list. This preview can inspire creative combinations you might not have envisioned at the bulb bins or store shelves. Don't forget to review any photographs or notes you made when appraising your garden last summer.
Contact mail order companies and visit local garden centers and plant departments at supermarkets soon. The selection of annuals and colorful summer flowering bulbs like dahlias, lilies, gladiolus, and begonias is best early in the season.
Spring does offer an opportunity to get your hands dirty - finally! You can start planting summer bulbs and transplanting summer annuals you started indoors to get a jump start on the season.
Dahlias are a summer garden staple for many Vermont gardeners, and it's not too early to start them. Plenty of ready-to-plant dahlia tubers are on the market in spring.
If you've stored dahlia tubers from last year's garden, divide the clumps into individual tubers and plant now. After planting, water the soil thoroughly, and set the pots out in a shaded spot until they start to grow.
Tuberous begonias also can be started now for the summer garden. Starting tubers indoors now will extend their growing season, and the length of time you can enjoy them.
Leonard Perry is Extension Greenhouse and Nursery Crops Specialist with the University of Vermont.