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Extending the growing season: start early, end later

The typical Minnesota gardening season ranges from May to September. Minnesota gardeners wait impatiently for the last spring freeze date in their area. The first frost in the fall is also important to know. The Midwestern Regional Climate Center has produced an up-to-date interactive map of first fall and last spring freeze dates. Although the growing season is longer in the Twin Cities metro area and the far southeast corner of the state than other regions, most gardeners in Minnesota agree: the season is too short! 

There are a number of ways to get an early start in the garden and stretch the harvest longer into the fall. Soil-warming mulches help get direct-seeded and transplanted crops off to a good start. Tunnels, cold frames, hot caps, tents and floating row covers provide protection from cold and wind, allowing gardeners to start early and keep harvesting until late in the year.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) keeps track of current soil temperatures throughout much of Minnesota. Even if you do not use any techniques to start early, you will still want to know when the soil is warm enough to plant heat-loving crops such as sweet corn, cucumbers, melons and squash. If MDA’s map does not cover your area, use a thermometer to measure the temperature two to four inches below the surface.

Soil warming mulches

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Protective structures and covers

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Beth Berlin, former Extension educator and Beth Jarvis

Reviewed in 2018

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