Planting Asparagus

Planting AsparagusAsparagus

Asparagus is planted in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. The plant is grown from “crowns” (1-year-old plants).

  • Eliminate all weeds from the bed, digging it over and working in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost, manure or soil mix.
  • Dig trenches of about 6 inches wide and 6 to 12 inches deep.  Some experts believe shallow trenches of 6 inches are best.
  • Asparagus does not like to have its feet “wet,” so be sure your bed has good drainage. For that reason, raised beds can be a good place to plant asparagus.
  • Create a mound in the trench and plant the crowns 15 to 18 inches apart, spreading the roots over the ridge.
  • Cover the roots and crowns with soil 2 inches deep and water thoroughly.

As the stems grow, fill in the rest of the trench with soil, leaving 3 to 4 inches of the stem exposed

Care

 When the trench is filled, add a 4 to 8 inch layer of mulch and water regularly.

  • Do not harvest the spears in the first year, but cut down dead foliage in late fall and side-dress with compost.
  • During the second year, keep the bed thickly mulched, side-dress in spring and early fall, and cut down dead foliage in late fall.Harvest/Storage

 

  • Asparagus can take three growing seasons to harvest; you may be able to lightly harvest during the second year.
    • In the first year, just let the aspargus go vegetative to give the crown a chance to get well established. Next spring, remove the old fern growth from the previous year, and keep an eye open for the new spears to begin emerging.
    • For the following years, maintain the bed and harvest only the spears thicker than a pencil.
    • The asparagus can be harvested for a period of about two to three weeks once the spears start to show. Keep a close eye on your asparagus so that you don’t miss the harvest!
    • After harvest, allow the ferns to grow; this replenishes the nutrients for next year’s spear production.
    • Harvest for 2 or 3 weeks. After you harvest, leave the ferns so it can gather nourishment for next year’s growth.
    • Cut spears that are about 6 inches in length at an angle.
    • Asparagus freezes well.

 

Planting Strawberries

strawberry patch

  • Buy disease-resistant plants , of a variety recommended in your area.
  • Plan to plant as soon as the ground can be worked in the Spring.
  • Strawberries are sprawling plants. Seedlings will send out runners, or ‘daughter’ plants, which in turn will send out their own runners.
  • Make planting holes deep and wide enough to accommodate the entire root system without bending it. However, don’t plant too deep: The roots should be covered, but the crown should be right at the soil surface.
  • Provide adequate space for sprawling. Set plants out 20 inches apart, and leave 4 feet between rows.
  • Roots shouldn’t be longer than 8 inches when plants are set out. Trim them if necessary.
  • pH should be between 5.5 and 7. If necessary, amend your soil in advance.
  • Strawberries require 6-10 hours a day of direct sunlight, so choose your planting site accordingly.
  • Tolerant of different soil types, although prefer loam. Begin working in aged manure or compost a couple months before planting.
  • Planting site must be well-drained. Raised beds are a particularly good option for strawberries.
  • Practice crop rotation for the most success. Do not plant in a site that recently had strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant.
  • Establish new plants each year to keep berry quality high each season.

 

Care

 

  • In the first year, pick off blossoms to discourage plants from fruiting. If not allowed to bear fruit, they will spend their food reserves on developing healthy roots. The yields will be much greater in the second year.
  • Eliminate daughter plants as needed. First and second generations produce higher yields. Try to space each plant about 10 inches apart.
  • Moisture is incredibly important due to shallow roots. Water adequately, about one inch per week. They need a lot of water when the runners and flowers are developing and again in the fall when the plants are mature.
  • Keep the beds mulched to reduce water needs and weed invasion.
  • Be diligent about weeding. Weed by hand, especially in the first months after planting.
  • When the growing season is over, mow or cut foliage down to one inch and mulch plants about 4 inches deep with straw, pine needles or other organic material. This can be done after the first couple of frosts, or when air temps reach 20 F.
  • Remove mulch in early spring, after danger of frost has passed.

Row covers are a good option for protecting blossoms and fruit from birds.

Harvest/Storage

Fruit is ready for harvesting 4–6 weeks after blossoming.

  • Harvest only fully red (ripe) berries, and pick every three days.
  • Cut by the stem; do not pull the berry.
  • Harvest will last up to 3 weeks. You should have an abundance of berries, depending on the variety.
  • Store unwashed berries in the refrigerator for 3–5 days.
  • Strawberries can be frozen whole for about 2 months.

 

Tips for tilling soil in a garden

garden vegetableHow To Till A Garden:

 These days, tilling dirt is a matter of personal choice. There are some people in the world of gardening who believe that you should be tilling your soil at least once, maybe twice a year. There are others who believe that tilling your soil at all can be harmful to your soil in the long term. For the purposes of this article, we are assuming that you wish to know how to till a garden on a yearly basis.

Before you can learn how to till a garden, you need to know when to till a garden. For most people, the best time for tilling dirt is in the spring. Before tilling your soil, you must wait for two things: the soil must be dry enough and warm enough. If you don’t wait for these two things, you may be causing more harm than good to your soil and plants.

To see if your soil is dry enough, pick up a handful and squeeze it. If the ball of soil in your hand falls apart when poked, the soil is dry enough. If it stays together in a ball, the soil is too wet for tilling. To see if the soil is warm enough, stick your hand or a finger a few inches down into the soil. If you are unable to keep your hand or finger in the soil for a full minute, than the soil is not warm enough. You can also simply measure the soil temperature. You need the soil to be at least 60 F.  (15 C.) before tilling and planting.

How to Till a Garden After you have determined when to till a garden,  Mark out the area where you will be tilling your soil. Start at one end of the marked out area with your tiller. Much like you would when you are mowing the lawn, go across the soil one row at a time. Slowly make your rows. Do not rush tilling your soil. You will only be tilling the dirt in each row one time. Do not go back over a row. Excessive tilling can compact the soil rather than break it up. Additional Notes on Tilling Your Soil If you plan on planting cool weather crops (like lettuce, peas or cabbage) next year, you will want to do some of your tilling the fall before. The soil will not be dry enough or warm enough to till in the early spring when these plants need to be put in the ground. Knowing when to till a garden and how to till a garden will help your garden grow better every year.

Read more at Gardening Know How: How To Till A Garden: Tilling Your Soil http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/soil-fertilizers/how-to-till-a-garden-tilling-your-soil.htm

Planting Calandar for New York State

Planting Calendar

Planting calendar key
Plant Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Beans
Beet
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Cabbage (Summer)
Carrot
Cauliflower
Celery
Corn
Cucumber
Eggplant
Garlic
Kale
Leek
Lettuce
Melon
Okra
Onion
Parsnip
Peas
Pepper
Potatoes (Maincrop)
Pumpkin
Radish
Spinach
Squash (Summer)
Sweet Potato
Swiss Chard
Tomato
Watermelon

Spring lawn reseeding

Lawn Seeding Tips

nice lawn

Even in well maintained lawns, spot or general lawn seeding is sometimes needed. Lawns can thin because of weather, a result of damage caused by insects, or grass diseases. Some badly damaged lawns need to be completely “rebuilt” before regular maintenance can do much good.

There are three general categories of seeding: spot seeding, lawn renovation and overseeding a lawn.. What type is right for growing grass on your lawn depends on the condition of your turf. At Salmon creek Nursery, Dave can help with all of your lawn seeding questions and needs.

Whatever type of seeding is done, there are three important rules to follow when seeding a lawn:

  1. High quality seed should always be used
  2. The seed has to make good contact with the soil
  3. Enough water has to be supplied to assure germination and establishment.

Reseeding will give it that thick carpet like look that all your neighbors will oooh and aaah over, and it’s pretty simple {and inexpensive}.  Spring reseeding is a walk in the park–a soon to be thickly carpeted walk in the park.

First, make sure you buy a seed that is high quality and compatible with the temperature.

Next, give the lawn a quick mow.  This will help remove any leaves and small sticks/twigs that could get in the way {it’s really best to do this a couple of days BEFORE you will be reseeding}.

On the day you plan to reseed, give the whole area a quick rake.  It will loosen the soil a bit and make it ready to receive the seed.  Using a drop spreader {you can also do it by hand, but you may not spread the seed as evenly}, cross the area you will be reseeding in a horizontal pattern, then repeat using a vertical pattern–that way, you make sure you covered the area evenly.  Then, LIGHTLY rake in the seed.  You can lay down a very, very thin layer of compost, soil, or peat moss over the top of the seed if you want {less than 1/4″}.  Water the seed in.  You don’t want to flood the place, so just give it a light watering.  You will want to keep the soil moist until the grass germinates and takes hold. Then, you can move to letting the soil dry out completely between watering and using a deeper watering plan.

That’s pretty much it.  Make sure you KEEP OFF of the grass while it is germinating.  You wouldn’t go walking on all the little seedlings in your garden, the same principal applies to new grass.  Also, resist mowing the new grass until it is at least 2″ long.Most important, Avoid any type of weed control until the new grass has been mowed 4 or 5 times.

Hopefully, when it is all said and done, the grass really will be greener on your side.

Spring Gardening Tips, Week of 4/14/17

Our weather is slowly starting to settle out, They are calling a little warmer temps this week, and  just a little rain. Here are some chores to keep you buisy this week even though it is still a little too early to plant those tender annual flowers and vegetables.

water can

 remove stakes or relax wires installed on trees planted last fall.
Allowing a little swaying of tree stems results in sturdy yet resilient plants. Thin out some branches

 transplant any existing shrubs you want to move before they begin to leaf out.

Soil conditions in early spring are favorable to transplants because the soil is more consistently  apply horticultural oil sprays to fruit trees.

 It’s not too late to apply oil spray to fruit trees just as the buds begin to swell and then again 10  also apply oil to ornamental trees and shrubs

• Its a great time to roll your lawn and apply the first step (crabgrass preventer) of your Turfline four step lawn care program. ( we still have all four steps on sale at the nursery for $49.99 /5000 sq feet) Here is the website for the four step program  http://www.turflinelawncare.com/pages/premium%20program.h

divide perennials. clear and mulch perennial beds.

For easier handling try to time the division so emerging shoots are only 2 to 4 inches tall. One last thing, as long as it stays drier it’s not a bad time tun over the vegetable garden and get it ready for planting, if you haven’t already. It’s also a good time to test the soil and ad any amendments it might need. For some great tips on how to prepare your soil check out the Farmers Almanac websitehttp://www.almanac.com/content/preparing-soil-planting

Ok thats more than enough for this week!!!! If you have any questions, or need suggestions, just give us a call at the nursery, we are more than happy to help!

Have a great week and enjoy your garden!!!!!

 

 

Tips For DIY Landscaping

Landscape Design: Seven Tips for Beginners

Whether your yard needs new plantings or a complete refresh, here are seven, must-know landscape design tips for the perfect garden.

If you’ve never tackled a landscape design before, you might be overwhelmed by all the choices you can make. But the same principles that guide your room setup inside should guide your designs outside, too. Here are seven ideas for landscape design for beginner

Idea 1

Make a list of needs and wants. Do your kids need a play space? Do you want to grow vegetables? Would your family gather on a patio? Do some very rough sketches of the yard with thoughts of where you want to place things; it’s a great organizing principle for landscape design for beginners. These aren’t master plans, just ideas. They can be a few lines and a couple of circles. You can easily play around with ideas without a lot of time and commitment.”

Idea 2

Study the sun and wind patterns. You might want to place a patio on the west side of the house, but it will get lots of afternoon sun, which means dinnertime in August won’t be relaxing — just hot. And wind whistling around a corner will quickly extinguish a fire pit. Those are common mistakes in landscape design for beginners. Your design should take into account what the sun and wind do at different times of the day and year.

Idea 3

Live with it for a while. Coming to quick conclusions about your yard can lead to choices that don’t work in the long term. In your yard, there might be certain areas where you want to go and sit that you wouldn’t have thought of when you first bought it.

Idea 4

Start small. Home and garden television shows are masters at revealing complete outdoor makeovers in just three days — but they have a crew of 60, which is not a situation enjoyed by landscape design for beginners. Part of creating a landscape is slowly developing a plan and enjoying the process. From your master plan, start with a small flowerbed. Go out and work on it for an hour or two when you have the time, and worry less about filing everything up right away. Give yourself some time to see how things develop. Plants grow and things fill in, and people forget that. The point is to take time and do it in pieces so you are happy with the final results, If you get into this thing and want to get it done, you’ll take shortcuts and be too  tired to do it well.

Idea 5

Work around a focal point. Any good garden design has a focal point or series of focal points, and it’s an easy principle to put in place in landscape design for beginners. That may be a sculpture or a stunning plant, a tree, or a series of shrubs. The point is to draw your eye and move it through the landscape.

Idea 6

Focus on scale and pacing. It’s the trickiest principle in landscape design for beginners, but scale and pacing give your yard a pulled-together look. There will be variations in size, shape, and color, with tall plants against a building or in the back of a flowerbed, and paths that lead people through the space. You’ll want to repeat some elements, whether it’s a certain plant, a common color, or even a shape, so there’s a sense of cohesion. But you also don’t want it to be monotonous, so try adding an occasional element that’s different from the landscape and will stand out.

Idea 7

Be open to change. Unless you’re strongly devoted to something, be honest about what you like — and what may fall out of favor. Be open to change.

Remember: Patience is key to landscape design for beginners. If all of that bare space is too much to look at, and the kids and dogs are tracking in mud, rely on temporary solutions — annuals, fast-growing groundcovers that you don’t care about for the long term, even mulch – to cover an area while you’re figuring out what you want. Large landscaping features like trees can be hard to move; annuals can be taken out, and small perennials and shrubs can be transplanted if you realize they’re in the wrong spot. But in the meantime, you have something out there.

 

Spring cleaning in the perennial beds.

Surely spring is the busiest season of the year for the avid perennial gardener.  Fortunately, most of us have been cooped up indoors all winter and are anxious to get outside anyhow, and the cool but pleasant spring weather beckons to our gardening spirit!

Is it time yet?

The dead tops of perennials that have been left to stand through the winter are truly not fussy about when you get around to cutting them back. However, heavy and wet clay soil is not a pleasant thing to slog through, and if you have clay soil it might be better to wait until it has a chance to dry out a bit.  Treading on wet clay can easily lead to soil compaction — retarding soil drainage and reducing the tiny air spaces that plants require for strong and healthy root growth.  Walking within the border too early can also damage the emerging or still-hidden tops of perennials and bulbs.  It’s a better idea to wait a bit until your bulbs at least begin to awaken.  Some gardeners put down pieces of plywood to walk on, which helps to spread the weight and reduce compaction in any one spot.  Another idea is to take advantage of the frozen soil surface first thing in the morning, a sneaky way to get across even a boggy site without causing very much damage.

Which perennials to cut back, and how?

There are basically four types of perennial growth patterns to be aware of when it comes to cutting things back in spring:

1.  Evergreen perennials, including many alpines will require no cutting back or only a minimal amount of tidying up.  By March or April, if the plant looks green and healthy still, then leave it alone.  If just a few leaves are tattered or brown it’s simple enough to trim them back or remove them using sharp scissors or hand pruners.  Spring-flowering alpines, for example: Wall Cress (Arabis), Rock Cress (Aubrieta), Basket-of-Gold (Aurinia), Pinks (Dianthus), Candytuft (Iberis), Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata) may suffer a few brown tips over the winter, but no major pruning should be done until after they finish blooming.  At that time plants may be trimmed back to half their height using a pair of hedge shears, to encourage a dense and bushy habit.

2.  Semi-evergreen perennials sometimes stay completely evergreen in mild winter regions but for many of us they may look so beat up by spring that some of the more tattered leaves need to be removed.  Among these are: Bergenia, Coral Bells (Heuchera), Foamy Bells (Heucherella), Foam Flower (Tiarella, Japanese Sedge (Carex), and various ferns.

3.  The tall, upright flower stems of Shasta Daisies (Leucanthemum), Coreopsis and Rudbeckia die back in late fall, but these plants keep low ground-hugging rosettes of evergreen leaves that become especially obvious in early spring.  Remove the dead upright tops first, then see what the bottom leaves look like.  These too may be trimmed a little if they look untidy, removing dead tips with scissors or shears.  It’s picky work, so if you just ignore them for a bit the new spring growth will quickly freshen up their appearance.

4.  Woody Perennials are better left alone until well into mid-spring before pruning them back.  Generally about 6 inches of woody stem is left at the base for the new buds to appear from.  Accidentally cutting them right back to the ground will sometimes cause these plants to die.  Some examples of woody perennials: Artemisia ‘Huntingdon’ and ‘Powis Castle’, Butterfly Bush (Buddleia), Blue-beard (Caryopteris), Shrubby Wallflower, (Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’), Fuchsia, St. John’s-wort (Hypericum), Lavender (Lavandula), Tree Mallow (Lavatera), Russian Sage (Perovskia), Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius), Lavender Cotton (Santolina).

True herbaceous perennials are those that die completely back to the ground in winter.  Fortunately, this includes the vast majority of common garden perennials.  With these, it’s an easy decision — cut everything right back to ground level.  A few examples: Peonies, Daylilies, Summer Phlox, Solomon’s Seal, Hosta.

Don’t wait TOO long!

Although cutting back too early can compact the soil badly, waiting until too late in the spring will leave you with a tangled mess of dead plant tops and fresh spring growth.  This is very time-consuming to try and deal with, so waiting until late May for example is something to try and avoid also.

What to do with the dead junk?

Unless you suspect or recall a disease problem from the previous season, the dead tops of most perennials can be chopped into small pieces and added to your compost pile.  Alternating the dead stuff in layers with green lawn clippings and other “green stuff”, along with the occasional shovel-full of garden soil will have your compost pile off to a great start.

Dispose of any dead tops from diseased plants.  Also discard the seedheads of anything you want to discourage from spreading, including both weeds and flowers.

Spring weeding

Once things are cut back and the dead tops raked away, overwintered weeds become fairly obvious.  Get rid of these in the spring while they’re small and well ahead of when they flower and set seed.  Annual weeds (chickweed, garlic mustard) are easy to pull out while the soil is moist. Perennial weeds, particularly deep-rooted ones, may require the help of a fork or dandelion digger to get the entire root system.  Discard the roots of perennial weeds in the garbage, not the compost pile.

Spring Fertilizing

Some gardeners fertilize every spring, others not quite so often.  Newly planted borders are usually good for a couple of years if the soil was prepared well initially.  Older gardens often are re-invigorated by a spring feeding, and if you use a mulch of wood chips or bark it is a wise idea to fertilize your perennials every spring.  When mulch begins to rot the bacteria responsible will rob the soil of available nitrogen.

There are boxes of fancy perennial food readily available in garden centers, and these are fine if your garden is relatively small.  For larger borders it’s a much better deal to buy large bags of all-purpose vegetable garden fertilizer.  Look for something with a high middle number (e.g. 5-10-5, 10-15-10) to promote strong stems and lots of flowers.  Do NOT be tempted to use lawn fertilizer on your perennials — it is too high in the first number, nitrogen.  Also, don’t ever use a “weed and feed” formulation on any part of your garden other than lawn grass.

Whatever product you choose, follow the manufacturer’s rate carefully.  Sprinkle fertilizer AROUND your perennials, not directly on top of the clumps.  This will help to avoid burning the foliage.

To Mulch, or not to mulch…

The benefits of an organic mulch are many.  They add humus-forming organic matter to the soil, improving its structure and eventually supplying food to your perennials.  They cover the soil and smother many seeds, reducing the amount of weeding required.  The biggest benefit with mulching is that it helps to keep the soil cool and moist during the summer months, thereby reducing watering needs and avoiding drought stress.  Mulch should be no thicker than 2—3 inches and should taper off to nothing as it approaches your perennial clumps.  In other words, don’t heap mulch all over and smother your plants to death.

Choose a mulch that is good value.  This varies from region to region, and includes such things as shredded bark, cocoa beans, rice hulls, commercially bagged or municipal compost, composted steer manure, pine needles and many, many other products.  Plain sphagnum peat moss is not a good mulch because it has a tendency to repel water and can blow all over the place.

If you have terrible problems with slugs, consider removing all of your old mulch this spring, leaving the soil exposed to the sun for a few weeks, then replacing with fresh mulch.  This will help to eliminate overwintered slugs, snails and their eggs.

Edge your beds

If you didn’t get around to it last fall, spring is a good time to freshen up those bed edges.  When you do this, try to follow any invading grass roots and remove them entirely before they invade nearby clumps of perennials.

Moving or dividing perennials in the spring

Spring is an ideal time to move or divide the vast majority of perennials, particularly if you live in a very cold region (Zones 1 to 4).  Even the early spring-bloomers can be moved, so long as it gets done before they flower.  This might sacrifice a few blooms for the current season, but next year’s display will be especially grand.

Gardeners often ask us when the best season is to move specific perennials, so we have a working “rule of thumb” for timing.

John’s Rule-of-Thumb for when to move or divide perennials

If the plant blooms between early spring and late June, then early fall division/moving is ideal.  That being said, you can nearly always get away with doing this in spring, if necessary.
If the plant blooms after late June, then early spring division is ideal.
Exceptions to the rule are: Peonies (move/divide in fall only), Oriental Poppies (move/divide in August), Bearded Iris (move/divide in July through September ideally, or spring as a second choice) and true Lilies (move/divide in mid to late fall).

Of course, you can always break the rules and see what happens.  Just remember that if you move or divide a perennial later in the season when it’s big and bushy bushy always cut back the foliage by at least half to prevent serious wilting.  This helps to keep the leaf mass in proportion to the reduced number of roots!

A few other tips:  fall-blooming ornamental grasses that were left for winter interest need to be cut back before any new growth appears from the base.  Some of these, particularly Miscanthus selections, aren’t even going to think about growing until late spring.  Gardeners sometimes take advantage of this and leave a few clumps to stand as a lovely contrast to spring-flowering bulbs.

The old leaves of Lenten Roses (Helleborus orientalis or Helleborus hybridus) should be cut right back to the ground in late winter. This allows the emerging new flowers to be seen at their best.  Do not trim back most other Hellebores, including Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger).
The old leaves and stems of Barrenwort (Epimedium) should also be trimmed to the ground in late winter.
Hellebores and many other woodland plants may have dropped seed last season that will germinate during the cold days of early spring.  Try to be gentle when raking around these, to avoid disturbing any tiny seedlings that might be starting to push through the ground.  If you do notice seedlings, wait until early fall to move them to a new location, or even the following spring.
Bearded Iris of all types tend to carry some green leaves through the winter.  Carefully pull off any dead leaves in spring and dispose of them, since they can harbour the dreaded Iris borer.  If any clumps failed to flower the previous season, you might as well divide them in spring rather than waiting until the traditional summer-dividing time.

Our Mulch Products

mulch

Pre Pay Mulch Sale
We are in the process of ordering our mulch  and are giving you the opportunity to place an order and lock it in at the lowest price of the season!!
At Salmon Creek Nursery we carry an extremely high quality mulch which is manufactured in Watertown NY. We are happy to say It is a family business which takes pride in their product.
If you Place your order and prepay now through the 31st of April

It’s Only $2.99 per bag

Pick up only, sorry but at this price we cannot deliver.
Orders must be picked up by 5/31/17
If you have any questions give us a call at
585 637 4497

All of our mulch products are produced by Pala Wood, a Family owned and operated company located right here in New York State. Pala Wood mulch products are manufactured from virgin, unadulterated bark and wood raw materials from sawmills located in New York State. They have worked hand-in-hand with many of their suppliers for years to supply the highest quality mulch possible. Pala Wood guarantees that their products are not manufactured from any recycled wood (i.e. pallet wood, construction and demolition, storm debris or treated lumber) that may contain environmental or chemical contamination. The aging process of their bark also occurs at elevated temperatures which virtually eliminates the potential for any living organisms (i.e. bugs, molds, fungus spores, etc.) to be present in their finished products.

Their color-enhanced mulch products are enviromentaly safe. Their colored-enhanced mulches are colored with a water-based dispersion of naturally occurring iron oxide and carbon pigments mined from the earth. Iron oxide and carbon are common substances in soil and groundwater. The colorants are nontoxic to plants, animals and the environment and have been extensively tested through independent laboratories.

Need help calculating how much mulch you need?  Just click here

Build a Cold Frame and get an early start on your gardening!

A cold frame is a bottomless box with a skyward-facing window. Like a miniature greenhouse, a cold frame lengthens the gardening season by protecting plants and seeds from the moderately cold temperatures and drying winds of late fall and early spring. With the addition of a simple heater, a cold frame can be used nearly year-round to grow cool-season flowers and vegetables, and to give summer plants an early start.

The low-cost, easy-to-build cold frame presented here takes one or two weekends to build and uses widely available materials. You can place it on a deck or patio to grow plants in pots, or you can place it over a garden bed.

Materials

  • 4-x-4-foot sheet of 1/2-inch exterior plywood (or 2 2-x-4-foot panels) plus scraps of 1/4-inch plywood for corner braces
  • 18-gauge perforated steel angle – approximately 3 feet
  • 2 1x3x8-foot clear pine for the top frame
  • Hardware: 25 1/4-inch-diameter by 1-inch-long hex bolts and nuts; 16 washers sized to fit the hex bolts; 4 4-inch steel L-brackets; 45 3/4-inch No. 8 wood screws; 3 3-1/2-inch steel or brass hinges. Expert tip: Buy a few extra bolts and screws.
  • 6-mil poly sheeting, clear, to cover the top of the cold frame
  • Tools: Long ruler or tape measure; saber saw or circular saw; hacksaw; power drill and 1/4-inch bit; screwdriver (or screwdriver bit for drill); staple gun, or a hammer and 3/4-inch roofing nails
  • Optional materials: 1 or 2 4-x-8-foot sheets of 3/4-inch rigid foam board insulation (Foamular or similar). 2 or 3 100-bulb strings of miniature holiday lights. Vinyl tablecloths or blankets.

Instructions

1. Using a saber saw or circular saw, follow the cutting diagram to make 9-x-48-inch front; a 15-x-48-inch back, and two 48-inch-long sides that slope from 15 to 9 inches wide.

2. Join the side pieces (with the angled cut facing up) to the front and back pieces using the 18-gauge perforated steel angle. (Buy a 3-foot piece and cut it with a hacksaw.) Use the 1/4-inch hex bolts to attach the angles to the plywood. Always use a washer between the head of each bolt and the plywood. The finished box is 48 inches wide by 49 inches long (48 inches for the length of each side plus 1/2-inch thickness for the front and back pieces).
3. To make the lid frame, cut two 8-foot clear pine 1x3s into four pieces: two 46 1/2 inches long; two 47 1/2 inches long. These four pieces can be arranged to form a frame that is 49 inches by 50 inches. Join these pieces using 4-inch steel L-brackets on the underside. Expert tip: Before you cut, verify that these measurements will produce a lid frame that will overlap the sides and front of your box approximately one inch. To accommodate the hinges, the lid frame will be flush with the back of the box.
Flip the lid frame over. Cut triangles from the 1/4-inch exterior plywood scraps and attach them to the top side of the lid frame using 4-3/4-inch-long No. 8 wood screws in each brace.
4. To hinge the lid to the box, use the three 3-1/2-inch hinges. Attach the hinges to the underside of the lid frame first, using 3/4-inch-long No. 8 wood screws.
Next, lay the lid frame atop the box and used the hinges to mark the location for drilling 1/4-inch holes on the outside of the back of the box. Use 1/4-inch hex bolts to fasten the hinges to the plywood. Use washers between the nuts and the plywood.If the lid and/or the box is not quite square, you can push on the corners of the box to adjust the shape.
5. To complete the project, remove the hinge bolts from the box, then unscrew the hinges from the lid frame. (To make it easier to get everything back together, number the hinges and their location on the lid frame. Also, mark the location of the screw holes in the lid frame by circling them with a bold marker.Wrap the lid frame with a single layer of 6-mil poly plastic sheeting. Start with a piece of poly sheeting about 4 1/2 feet wide by about 10 feet long. Use the staple gun or roofing nails to secure the poly sheeting to the lid frame. To reduce tearing, use strips of thin cardboard between the poly and the fasteners. Try to get the covering as taut as possible, and avoid getting multiple layers of poly on the hinge side of the lid.
6. Place the covered lid atop the box, and reattach the hinges to the box with the bolts.Your cold frame is now ready to use and will protect plants from cool weather. A very important note: Your cold frame will warm up very quickly when the sun is shining directly on it. Always prop open the lid a little on bright sunny days, even if the air temperature is cool. On some days, you may want to open the lid completely. Always close the lid before nightfall to preserve the day’s warmth.The Simple approachIf you aren’t handy with tools you may be able to put together a cold frame today with simple materials you have lying around.An old bathtub with a shower door on top would make a fine cold frame. Or you could stretch a spare scrap of clear plastic over a cardboard box.  I’ve even seen gardeners cover a struggling plant with a plastic milk jug as a  tiny makeshift cold frame.You could build a heated cold frame with a straw bale and an old salvaged window. It keeps your plants toasty warm through the heat produced during decomposition. As the straw bales compost, they heat up – in some cases so much so that they start to smoke!

Raised cold frames are becoming popular because they are easier to access and do not require their  user to squat or kneel. Make sure if you are designing a raised cold frame you make your legs strong enough to support  your chosen growing medium.

Cold frames are most useful for hardening off seedlings that have been started indoors or in a heated greenhouse. Most plants should not spend their entire lives in a cold frame. As always, first decide what you want to grow, then choose your greenhouse strategy based on your crop’s heat and space requirements.

Useful Tips

Insulation
Insulation is critical to keeping temperature swings from overwhelming your cold frame inhabitants. The easiest way to insulate your cold frame is with pieces of 3/4- or 1-inch-thick rigid foam insulation board. This material can be cut and shaped easily with a utility knife. Expert tip: Make sure you’re using extruded polystyrene insulation, not the crumbly white insulation.Expert Tip
To improve the insulation power of the lid, cut a 2-inch-wide strip of insulation and tape it to the inside of the poly film before attaching it to the lid frame; this will help maintain an air space between the two layers of poly.On cold nights, place some pieces of insulation atop the lid, then cover everything with an old plastic tablecloth. Taken together, these steps will help keep temperatures in the cold frame from dropping too much.You can also moderate temperature swings by adding water-filled milk jugs inside the cold frame. The water warms during the day, then releases that heat slowly at night.If you’ll be using the cold frame on a deck or patio, consider setting it atop a couple of layers of the rigid foam board insulation.

Adding Heat
You can heat your cold frame with special warming cables or mats. A simple way to  raise the air temperature in a well-insulated cold frame approximately 10 degrees is by plugging in a string of 100 miniature holiday lights (still in their box). You may need to use several sets to heat the cold frame on very cold nights. If you’re using the cold frame on a deck or patio, put scraps of 1/2-inch plywood under the lights to prevent damage to the surface or insulation. If you can keep the temperature at 40 degrees or higher, you can grow many cool-weather plants like lettuce, radishes, and pansies.

Using Your Cold Frame

Resist the urge to fill up your new cold frame right away. Like a new baby, a new cold frame demands a lot of attention at first and can be very demanding. You’ll need to be watchful of the weather, deciding early in the day whether to crack the lid a bit or keep it closed. And you’ll have to be religious about covering the cold frame at night if the temperature is going to drop below freezing.

A great tool for helping you decipher your cold frame’s personality is an electronic remote thermometer. They have a sensor you can put in the frame, and a remote read-out that you keep inside. Most have functions that let you review the high and low temperature over any time period.

Once you get to know your cold frame, you can start using it to grow just about anything you’d grow in a greenhouse — provided it fits under the lid. By far, the best role for your cold frame is to give you an extra-early head start on growing plants for the coming gardening season.