Want to garden in 2021? Plan ahead because the pandemic is still affecting supplies

In today's "Growing Together" column, Don Kinzler says those of us in the Upper Midwest should start stocking up early to avoid shortages this year as the nationwide gardening surge continues.

High demand for seeds could create shortages again in 2021, so shop seed racks early. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

We’ll likely be gardening pandemic-style through the spring planting season and beyond.

People gardened worldwide in record numbers last year, causing shortages in vegetable seeds and creating high demand for landscape plants and flowers. The trend is predicted to continue.

With an increased interest in spring garden products expected, it might be wise to plan ahead. The following are suggestions for avoiding the spring rush and possible shortages.

  • Vegetable seeds are expected to be in high demand once again. Shop seed racks early, especially for carrot, green bean, cucumber, squash and lettuce seeds, which sold out early last year.
  • Because the gardening surge is nationwide, and other areas begin spring planting before the Upper Midwest, order material soon from seed catalogs, so other regions don’t deplete the supply before it’s our turn.
    Gardeners in the Upper Midwest should order from seed catalogs early before warmer regions monopolize supply. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
  • Be prepared to accept substitutes that might be comparable. If your favorite lettuce variety is sold out, try another.
  • Plan ahead and buy just what you need, so we don’t cause hoarding-induced shortages. One packet is often all you need, especially with types such as lettuce, radish, spinach and others.
  • If the smallest quantity of seed offered is more than you need, consider sharing with a friend or store extras in a lidded jar in the refrigerator.
  • If you have seeds left from last year, test germination by laying 10 seeds on a moist paper towel, roll the towel, enclose in a plastic bag, and place in a warm, 75-degree location. Check in seven to 14 days and determine the germination percentage to be sure the seeds are viable and worth planting. Generally, larger seeds have a shorter shelf life than tiny seeds.

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  • Highly visible seed racks in chain stores often sell quickly. This is a good time to support locally owned garden centers by shopping their seed racks.
  • Look closely at the description for “days to maturity” when comparing varieties of tomato, pepper, watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, sweetcorn, cabbage and other types sensitive to season length. For example, main season tomato types for our region should be about 70 to 78 days, which is the average number of days required from the time the tomatoes are transplanted into the garden until reliable harvest. For melons to ripen in our region, check for maturity lengths between about 70 and 85 days.
  • If you intend to grow vegetables in pots and planters, check catalogs or seed packs for types identified as container-growing varieties. Standard types meant for in-ground planting might become unwieldy in pots.
  • Flowers and landscape plants were also in high demand, as people remained home and beautified their spaces. Develop a plan now if you’d like to make landscape or flower bed additions.
  • Check with your local garden center for the list of flower or landscape trees and shrubs they’ll have available this spring. Planning your landscape or flower beds with known availability will help avoid seeking material this spring that isn’t being stocked.
  • It might be tempting to buy greenhouse plants early this spring to beat the rush, but be careful. Plants that are accustomed to growing under the high light conditions of a greenhouse will quickly languish if bought early and held in a garage or other indoor home location. If purchasing plants early before the preferred planting dates of mid- to late May, keep outdoors during the day in a sunny, wind-protected area, and move indoors on chilly nights.

Webinar series starts soon

Experts from across the region will provide information about growing, processing and serving specialty-crop fruits and vegetables safely in the sixth annual Field to Fork webinar series hosted by North Dakota State University Extension.


Webinars will be held online from 2-3 p.m. Wednesdays and are free of charge, but registration is required at Registrants will be sent sign-in reminders with the link for viewing.

The schedule of topics includes:

  • Feb. 10: Shopping in a Garden Center: Tips for Customers and Managers — Don Kinzler, NDSU.
  • Feb. 17: Growing Safe Produce for Distribution to Food Pantries — Barbara Ingham, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Feb. 24: Hot Topics in Food Preservation — Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University.
  • March 3: High Tunnel Cut Flower Production — Esther McGinnis, NDSU.
  • March 10: The Best Vegetable Varieties for 2021 — Tom Kalb, NDSU.
  • March 17: Weed Control in the Home Garden — Randy Nelson, University of Minnesota.
  • March 24: The “Good” Creepy Crawlers in Your Garden — Janet Knodel, NDSU.
  • March 31: Maple Syrup Production — Joe Zeleznik, NDSU.
  • April 7: Hot Topics in Nutrition: Why Eat Fruits and Vegetables, Anyway? — Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU.
  • April 14: Tips for Selling Food Safely at Farmers Markets — Londa Nwadike, Kansas State University.
  • April 21: How to Start a New Food Business — Amy Illg, North Dakota Department of Health.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at

Don Kinzler column mug.jpg
Don Kinzler, "Growing Together" and "Fielding Questions" columnist.

Don Kinzler column mug.jpg
Don Kinzler, "Growing Together" and "Fielding Questions" columnist.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at
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