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Late February or early March is a good time to prune and repot container plants that have wintered indoors, such as this mandevilla. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Growing Together: Take your mind off winter by preparing for spring gardening

FARGO -- Is it just me, or has this been a long winter? The other day I overheard an elderly gentleman saying it was so cold he couldn’t stop his false teeth from chattering, and they were still in the glass on the nightstand.

We can be upbeat about our perennials nestled snuggly under the insulation of chest-high snowdrifts, but being overjoyed about deep snow is more difficult when you can barely see daylight through the little snow peephole that was once your picture window. We can be thankful for a deep winter, as it will make spring all the brighter, and we can start making preparations now.

  1. Seed catalogs are now arriving, and we should order early because popular varieties of flowers and vegetables sometimes sell out. If you aren’t on seed companies’ mailing lists, most have their catalogs online. A few favorites are Johnny’s Select Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Burpee, Prairie Road Organic Seeds and Twilley.
  2. While you’re browsing seed catalogs, use the photos and descriptions to plan this year’s yard and garden. Catalogs and garden magazines are full of good ideas, and it’s fun to change things up a bit each year.
  3. If you plan to start seeds indoors this spring to produce your own flower or vegetable transplants, now is a good time to gather your equipment. If you reuse seed trays, packs and pots from year to year, disinfect by soaking for 10 minutes in a solution of 1 part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water. Then rinse in clear water to remove bleach residue.
  4. Seed germination heating pads make seed-starting simpler with increased success. Consider shopping for one if you’ve never tried a germination pad.
  5. If you have leftover seeds from last year, it’s wise to check their viability, as many types diminish in time. To test germination, moisten a paper towel, place at least 10 seeds on the towel, fold it over several times and enclose in a plastic bag. Put it in a warm spot, and begin checking in about seven days. After two weeks, determine the percentage of sprouted seeds.
  6. Seed racks are out in many stores. Start salad greens in a container in a sunny window. You might not get huge bowlfuls of salad, but they’ll yield tasty trimmings for sandwiches.
  7. Start saving eggshells and coffee grounds, which can provide a certain amount of slug control when placed around slug-prone plants like hosta.
  8. Geraniums that were wintered indoors in windows or under lights are best cut back in early March to 4 inches above soil level. They’ll sprout fresh, compact growth and will be a perfect size for planting out in mid-May.
  9. Days are beginning to lengthen, and plants can tell. Early March is the preferred time to repot and prune back hibiscus, mandevilla and other container plants that were wintered indoors. This is also the best time to repot any houseplants in need.
  10. Encourage spring fever by browsing for winter-hardy roses to add to the landscape. Many of the Canadian-developed roses have proven especially successful.

Learn more

There are two programs coming up in the region to get prepared for the gardening season.

The 19th annual Gardening and Beyond Workshop, presented by Pennington County Master Gardeners, will take place 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at Evangelical Free Church, 211 Arnold Ave. N., Thief River Falls, Minn. Gardening columnist Don Kinzler will discuss improving home landscapes, growing raspberries and honeyberries, and the great tomato race. Florist Allie Enge will present on making floral arrangements. Registration is $25, which includes lunch. Register by calling 218-689-5423.

Clay County (Minn.) Extension will present Winter Garden College from 6:15 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, the Family Service Center of Clay County, 715 11th St. N., Moorhead. Extension educators Randy Nelson and Robin Trott will discuss flowering trees and shrubs, tree pruning basics, tree planting tips and Northern-hardy roses. Registration is $10 by calling 218-299-7338 or emailing

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at