Leafy green vegetables provide heaping portions of important vitamins and also, a number of minerals and trace elements. A large portion of my leafy greens come in the form of foraged wild plants. But I grow the cultivated varieties too.

Regarding wild greens, I have a wonderful topic in mind for a future column, but it isn’t yet time for it. However, as a sneak preview, I’ll mention now that I’ll discuss the wild greens, “weeds” that come up in our vegetable gardens, the ones that we so ruthlessly pull up. More on that later.

Planting early

Cool-weather crops such as lettuce and radishes should go in the ground in early spring. Notice that I include radishes in a column on leafy green vegetables. I grow radishes mostly for their leaves. The root part is just icing on the cake. Radishes are powerhouses of vitamins and come with numerous health benefits. Unfortunately, the advice on most seed packets to, “sow in spring as soon as the ground can be worked," leaves much to be desired. In nearly every instance, and this goes back many decades, seed that I planted as soon as the soil could be worked never germinated.

Our Maine climate is nothing if not capricious. An early thaw and spring-like weather often prompts us to get out in our gardens early. But these false alarms often precede extreme cold snaps and even major snowstorms. Planting too early amounts to nothing more than wasted energy and of course, wasted seed.

Of course we do have an alternative to in-the-ground planting. Hotframes and small greenhouses allow us to get a jump on the season. In fact, my in-ground beds in my small greenhouse now have lettuce and radishes, already germinated and growing.

Other greens

Soon, though, conditions will permit in-ground planting of cold-season crops. Mid-April works fine for Midcoast Maine. Besides lettuce and radishes, we can also plant chard and beets (for the beet greens), to name only a few. For any of these, though, make sure that the soil crumbles when you squeeze a handful. If it clumps up, it’s too wet.

Also, even if the soil seems friable (doesn’t clump), it still may be too cold for good germination. Some seeds germinate at soil temperatures as low as 45 degrees. But even at that, germination rates will stay well below optimum. Waiting for soil temperatures to rise past 50 degrees will help greatly. Mid-50s to around 60 will make for even more dependable germination. And mind you, we’re talking of leafy green veggies, cool-weather crops. Plant warm-weather varieties now and they’ll probably die, if they germinate at all.

Sure, now that spring has come and snow retreats from lawns and gardens, we all want to get out and start gardening. But even with cold weather crops, it pays to wait for the best time to plant.

Of course some plants that we usually direct sow, might benefit by being started indoors, either on a sunny windowsill or perhaps in a small greenhouse. Lettuce, for instance, transplants well. So if the bug has hit hard, try starting six or eight plants of your favorite lettuce and by the time they become big enough to transplant, the soil should have warmed up to were they will survive transplanting fine. Also by then, the time will have arrived to direct seed the rest of your cool-season crops.

By the time the transplants have matured, the others will have grown to about half size. So pick the early plants that you transplanted and in their place, plant seed in order to ensure a continuous flush of lettuce.

Yard cleanup

As soon as lawns and yards dry enough to permit walking, we can begin our spring cleanup. Even here, though, too much of a good thing can have unintended consequences.

For instance, if you used fir boughs or similar materials as protective winter cover for perennial plants, it may seem a good idea to remove them now. But beware. If the ground beneath them remains frozen solid, leave the protective cover on a little bit longer. And if the cover material remains frozen to the ground, let it be. In most cases, winter cover should remain in place just a little longer than most people think it should. So err on the side of caution for safety’s sake. The plants will thank you.

However, we have one area that can benefit from a thorough cleaning as soon as snow melts, and that’s the spring-flowering bulb bed. It’s fine now to go ahead and remove branches, sticks, pinecones and so on. Then, take a plastic (don’t use a metal hard-toothed rake, since it may damage the bulbs or plant tips) lawn rake and gently remove last year’s dead grass and weeds.

In situations where you have naturalized spring bulbs, a wooded hillside, for example, it doesn’t make sense to rake, since that would take away from the natural look. But do go ahead and pick up sticks, branches and so on and discard them. But in this instance, try and leave the previous year’s cover of dead leaves intact, since that’s how it works in a truly wild setting.

Useful tip

Here’s a useful tip for those who save seeds from year to year. Some seeds remain viable for a number of years, others do not. To determine the germination rate of saved seeds, place exactly 10 seeds on a damp paper towel. Roll up the towel and then place it in a plastic bag and seal the bag. Place the bag in a warm, 70-75 degree place.

Next, check the seed packet for the germination time. At the end of that time, take the paper towel out of the plastic bag, spread it out and look at the seeds. Those that germinated should have a little white, hair-like protuberances coming from them. Those are the vestigial roots. Now count the number of seeds that have germinated. If eight out of 10, for example, have germinated, then you have an 80 percent germination rate, quite acceptable for saved seeds.

Tom Seymour of Waldo is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.