What’s a Gardener To Do?

It looks like we are all facing a few weeks  of restricted social activity due to the COVID-19 virus. We’ve seen several memes around social media saying “Your Garden is NOT Closed,” or something similar, and that is sure true. During this forced period of home-time, here are a few things for a gardener to do — solo or with children.

tomato seedlings

Seedlings bulk up after a few weeks under lights.

Start seeds: It’s that time of the year anyway, so why not start seeds. You can order them online, if you haven’t got some already, and while lights and trays are great, some used yogurt containers and a sunny window may be all you need to start seeds. This is also a great science project for kids! See which seeds sprout first; compare the sizes of seeds; little ones can count the seeds. Use your imagination and have fun. Here are some basic seed starting instructions ; some tips on trying winter sowing and a column on seed starting on a windowsill.

Prune your fruit trees and hydrangeas. Outdoor time is essential for many of us. On a nice day, bring your pruners and work on hydrangeas or fruit trees to get them ready for the season. We shared this series on pruning apple trees from the University of Minnesota earlier this winter on Facebook and it’s full of good information. For hydrangeas, check out the video from blogger Erin Schanen (a.k.a. The Impatient Gardener) on how to prune them.


Binge watch garden shows! The British have some of the best gardening shows on TV and you may be able to watch a few during the pandemic. My favorite is Monty Don’s American Gardens. Occasionally you can grab an episode on Youtube, but if you have Netflix, it’s available there. Monty Don has a variety of garden series and they’re all packed with information. Speaking of Youtube, you can learn a lot about gardening there, too. Many folks love the Garden Answer videos — there are hundreds. What I really like about Laura, the host,  is she is always clear about her zone (USDA Zone 5) and growing conditions, so no one gets mixed signals about whether they could do the projects she does. You could watch those videos for hours!

Do a garden project. Now might be a good time to build a raised bed, turn a favorite garden photo into a wood-block print, paint a terra cotta pot, design a new garden bed, or send in your soil for a soil test. How about making a mosaic to display in the garden?

Clean up, clean out. Did you forget to clean your tools last fall? No judgement. But maybe now is a good time to get that job done. Or, how about cleaning out your seed collection, the garden shed or garage or sorting through your tools and donating the ones you don’t use. Maybe the kids can help with the sweeping up!

Check out some podcasts. MSHS board member Jennifer Ebeling has produced two podcasts over the years and both are still available for listening. The long-form Still Growing podcast includes dozens of interviews with authors and experts. The Daily Gardener podcast is on hiatus now, but has many backlogged episodes which are short and informative. Other garden podcasts we like include Plantrama, a quick half hour of “science, art and dinner all in your own backyard” from two well-known garden writers, and The Gardenangelists, a fun and informative show by Carol Michel (an occasional contributor to Northern Gardener) and Dee Nash, a garden blogger from Oklahoma. Both live in warmer climates than ours, but have lots of experiences to share. They’re fun and funny, too.

Dig into a garden book. There are so many great garden books available. A few of my favorites from the past few years include Away to Garden (new edition) by Margaret Roach; The Homegrown Pantry, by Barbara Pleasant; The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables, by Catherine Reid, and while not a garden book per se, the thought-provoking The Eight Master Lessons of Nature by Gary Ferguson is a terrific read. You should be able to get all of these for digital readers or audio downloads, too.

Try your hand at botanical drawing. There are many video tutorials on botanical drawing and being able to sketch your garden would be a fun skill to have. Here’s a good beginner’s video on drawing leaves. She goes a bit fast, but you can stop as you go to catch up an refine your leaf drawings. Have fun with this and let the kids try their hand at leaves, too. If you decide you really like this, there are online courses available.

Take an MSHS webinar. We have a webinar on growing lilies scheduled for Thursday and are working on more webinars for members to enjoy for free!

Hang in there! Spring is coming and soon we can spend our home time outside, too.


  1. Allyson Bergman on March 21, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    Thank you for the video. I’m feeling frustration from not being near my garden to work outside. It was nice to see and hear someone sharing their “fun”.

    • Allyson Bergman on March 21, 2020 at 2:53 pm

      Thanks for the video. I’m not near my garden so I enjoyed your “fun”.

  2. Richard on March 25, 2020 at 8:01 am

    Hello Mary, I really enjoyed reading your article about the to do’s of a gardener, I found it very helpful. Thank you, Richard

  3. Sherry on March 31, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    Rookie question.
    Is it too early to clean the leaves out of the flower beds?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on March 31, 2020 at 3:58 pm

      It’s maybe a bit too early. You can brush back some of the thick leaves or if you have a huge pile on a rose or something, you could take that off. The ground is really soft now, so you don’t want to be trampling the soil too much. Generally, you want temperatures to be consistently in the 50s before doing a lot of spring cleanup. Also, many pollinators may be overwintering in the stems of your plants. I generally don’t cut down and remove all of my stems until May. (Some go in fall, like hostas, which look terrible if they are wet.)

      • Sherry on March 31, 2020 at 6:58 pm

        Thank you Mary. I will work on my patience.
        Have a great day.

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