Thursday, April 24, 2014

Amy Ivy On When To Plant The Garden

springfrostlgGardeners across the North Country have had a stressful winter, wondering what the sheets of ice, endless snow and sub-zero temperatures are doing to their perennials, berries, trees and shrubs. All we can do is wait and see how things get through. The next biggest stressor for gardeners is going to be deciding how early you can start planting your garden.

I’ve learned to not even try to make predictions related to the weather, especially as it relates to plants. Luckily many plants are quite resilient, so even if they get off to a slow start in spring they often catch up by summer. I have no idea what May is going to be like, and therefore no idea if you should make any adjustments to your usual gardening practices.

Just last year we had a killing frost in early May followed by those endless days of pouring rain that lasted into early July. All I can do is advise you to be ready for anything. Go ahead and plant your peas and spinach at the end of April if that’s what you usually do, but save a few seeds for replanting in case those don’t make it. When possible, plan to make successive plantings and hope that the timing works out for at least one of them.
Make a plan for how you’ll protect delicate plants if a late frost hits, or delay your usual planting until you’re certain all chance of frost is past.

A Quick Review of Hardy (Cool Season) and Tender (Warm Season) Plants

Hardy, cool season plants are those that can tolerate colder soil and a light frost. Today I’m focusing on annual plants, not your shrubs and berry bushes. Even though they can take cool soil, none of them like cold soil. Wait until your soil temperature, not the air temperature, has reached 50 degrees before planting any of these:
·      onion seedlings or sets
·      leeks
·      shallots
·      peas
·      spinach
·      lettuce
·      arugula
·      potatoes
·      carrots
·      chard
·      parsley, and
·      parsnip.

freezefreelgHeavy, wet soil takes a lot longer to warm up than well-drained, light soil so the best way to determine when your soil is ready for these cool season crops is to literally take its temperature. They do make soil thermometers, but many meat thermometers have low enough readings to work as well. Set the probe so it’s reading two inches below the soil surface.

Tender, warm season plants do not tolerate cool temperatures. There is no advantage to putting them out too early, unless you have extra protection for them, since they will simply not grow until it is warm enough. This group includes:
·      tomatoes
·      peppers
·      eggplant
·      beans
·      cucumbers
·      winter and summer squash
·      pumpkins, and
·      basil.

Perennial crops including asparagus, various berries, and perennial herbs and flowers can use a little attention now while you wait for the weather to warm up. All strawberries should have their winter mulch removed by now. Rowcover will cause them to flower early but those flowers are very sensitive to frost, and frosted flowers will not set fruit.

Asparagus needs a good weeding now before the shoots emerge.

Blueberries and raspberries need to be pruned this month. Each type has its own pruning requirements so if you’re not clear on how to do this google ‘Cornell Berries’ to find the Cornell Berry home page then scroll down to the section on Information for Home Fruit Plantings where there are several helpful links.

Maps provided by Cornell University.

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Amy Ivy is a Regional Vegetable and Berry Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture Program. Amy also often leads local foods production research funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. She can be reached at 518-570-5991,

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