Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring Fever

It doesn’t take much to get a gardener’s motors started. Just two consecutive days above 60 degrees usually does it. The forecast isn’t that good yet but my weatherman says that 7 of the next 10 days will have high temperatures in the 50’s. And it should be relatively dry. But it will be below freezing on several of those nights.

Time to plant the tomatoes? Not quite. Many of the things we grow in our gardens are tropical and will not tolerate cool temperatures, not to mention a freeze. In the vegetable world, we’d consider all of the vine crops (cucumbers, zukes, melons) to be most cold sensitive. Tomato, eggplant and pepper will tolerate a bit more cold stress but still prefer temps above 45 at a minimum. So, in Bucks County the vine crops go in about June 1 and the tomato/eggplant/pepper group in mid-May.

So, if you’re itching to plant something, what can you do? Start with hardy perennials. They don’t mind a freeze. All of the fruiting plants such as strawberry, brambles and fruit trees should be planted ASAP…as soon as the soil is fit to work. If you were thinking about planting trees and shrubs in the landscape, now if the time. No worries about cold temperatures here.

In the vegetable realm, think about leafy vegetable crops such as lettuce in a week or two. Onions and shallots can go in then, too. Root crops such as beets and carrots also tolerate early spring weather.

You can enhance the growth of early seeded crops and protect from wind and cold by using cold frames or floating row covers. In addition to cold protection these techniques increase daytime growing temperatures and accelerate growth.

In many areas the soil is still simply too wet to plant regardless of temperatures. Those of us with raised beds have an advantage since they dry out sooner than soil. Never try to work soil that is still saturated. You will destroy soil structure.

So, rake those garden beds, finish pruning fruit trees and shrubs, plant a tree or shrub, start a new compost pile, get a soil test and sharpen your hoe as we wait for planting season.

Pansies have appeared in the gardnen centers and are a great way to liven up a late winter/early spring landscape. They love the cold. Put them in a planter box with potting soil if native soil is too wet.

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