Gardening enthusiasts prepping for planting

Apr. 30—Regardless of predictions for a weekend of cool and rainy weather, many gardeners will be out and about prepping for those warmer days to bring on the growing season.

Grow-light gardeners who overestimated the number of cherry tomatoes needed for their vegetable plot and flower lovers who purchased a glut of marigold varieties may be interested in a seed-seedling exchange with other green thumbs.

Swapping begins 9 a.m. today at Living Earth Center on Good Counsel Hill.

"We plan to serve hot cider and meet near the barn," said Executive Director Laura Peterson.

"The whole idea is to use the barter system; there's no money involved. People should bring something to exchange."

The rain-shine event concludes at 2 p.m. and is one of many garden-related activities planned this spring by the nonprofit.

Minnesota Valley Extension Master Gardeners are getting ready for a plant sale/fundraiser May 14 at Caledonia Curling Club.

Norla Hesse, of Mankato, plans to donate her coleus plant cuttings to that sale. Her brother, Harvey Hesse, of rural Mankato, will be there selling heritage tomato plants.

Both are longtime participants in the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener program, a statewide volunteer program. There were more than 2,300 Master Gardeners in the state in 2013, and they gave 130,400 hours of service to their communities.

"Mostly we sell flowers that are perennials, like hostas, at the sale," said longtime member Barb Maher, of Mankato.

Although hostas are common backyard favorites in Minnesota, they may be scarce at the sale.

"It's been cold; they may not be out of the ground," Maher said.

Norla Hesse's coleus cuttings are perhaps the only type of perennial flower featured at the sale. The "mother" plant — the source of a multitude of cuttings — was rescued by Hesse years ago from a wastebasket at the Blue Earth County Fair. The gorgeous plant with curly leaves in red, pink and green has been the source of countless "babies."

Preparations for this year's sale involves new steps to prevent the spread of a destructive invasive species — jumping worms.

"There's only been one sighting in Mankato so far, but they lay hundreds of eggs in the soil," Maher said.

The worm's mulch-eating habit dramatically strips nutrients from soil, kills plants and increases erosion. Its name describes its unusual jerky movements when disturbed.

Minnesota Extension provided specific instructions on how to prevent the spread of jumping worms, Maher said.

"We have to take all the soil off the roots of plants (to be sold) and wash them in water with a little bit of bleach. Then we put them in little plastic sleeves like the ones carriers use to put The Free Press in," Maher said.

Master Gardeners will offer plants at the sale as bare roots wrapped with plastic or paper.

Plant sale co-chair Jean Sik said proceeds are given to 4-H groups or used for Master Garden projects, such as its native plant beds at Glenwood Gardens.

Upcoming gardening-related events in the area include:

—"A Story of Local Native Plants" — noon Thursday in the Brown County Museum Annex, 12 North Broadway. There is no admission fee for the presentation by Megan Schnitker; however, reservations are required. Email a request to: or call 233-2621.

—Compost pickup event — 9 a.m. to noon May 7. The Mankato Area Zero Waste fundraiser is being organized in partnership with Living Earth Center at Blue Earth County Community Farms, near Indian Lake Road and Mount Kato and off Blue Earth County Road 1. Free-will donations will be accepted in exchange for compost. Participants may bring two containers to be filled. For more information, go to:

—Twilight Garden Club plant sale/fundraiser — 8 a.m. to noon June 4-5 at the Historic Hubbard House Gardens, 606 S. Broad St.

—Pollinator plant sale/fundraiser for Treaty Site History Center — 9 a.m. to noon June 11 at 1851 N. Minnesota Ave. Proceeds will be used to support the upkeep of the native plant gardens and landscaping at the treaty site.