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Planting too early has its downfalls

Numerous plants are waiting to be planted in the ground. Gardeners are playing it safe until the last spring frost has passed. John Zvirovski / The Sun

May is already over half done and there is always so much to do. I don’t know about you, but the month for me is filled with various outdoor activities and events. Obviously everyone is a little different depending on the organizations they are associated with, but I can assure you that sometimes you can volunteer for a little too much and run yourself thin. For me it is the month of May, and things seem to tame down after that.

One of the most common questions I hear throughout the month is: Can we plant things yet?

Well, that question is highly dependent on the weather trends in our region. Sometimes we have an early spring season with stable temperatures that enable an early planting season. Other times the temperatures are volatile and go from one extreme to another with each passing day. Two years ago we had nice temperatures only to surprise us with snow on May 17. Never a welcomed sight that late in the season, however, if it is wet and covers the plants, it can provide protection to the growing plants that are already acting vigorous. Without the moisture protection, the plants can freeze and be faced with a serious setback.

This year I continue to answer this question with the most common rule of thumb for our region and say we are safe for planting Memorial Day weekend. That is not that far off. Our season has been pretty stable for the last month, but this past week we have had some scary temperatures that ran close to freezing. We always have to be careful with how enthusiastic we get for planting.

Obviously the planting season can be phased based on the types of plants you are dealing with. Trees and shrubs that were dormant are easily planted at the end of April. They begin to leaf out with all other trees and shrubs in our area. Perennials are another one of those items that can be planted early as they are more resilient toward lower temperatures. I always tell people to select a perennial that is about the same size as the ones currently growing in the garden. If you get one that is too large or too grown out for this time of year, it runs the risk of freezing. That is not to say that plants in the ground that came up early don’t still run a risk of freezing, but it is much less. A good thing to remember is if a perennial freezes, it will usually come up from the ground again and grow to maturity to bloom by the end of the season.

It’s a little more limited when it comes to annuals. Most of the annuals that we plant in our area are very tender to the frosty temperatures. However, there are a few plants that can handle lower springtime temperatures. Of the annuals, you are safe to plant alyssum, petunias, violas, pansies and dianthus as they can handle temperatures as low as 25 degrees. There are others such as snapdragons and geraniums that can handle temperatures as low as 30 degrees. We can take a chance with these items, but for others we will want to wait until we feel safe.

For me, I always feel safe curbing my planting cravings by getting the pots ready and planted. These items fare well as the sun heats up the soil in the containers much quicker and plants adjust well to this environment. If the weather take a turn for the worse and threatens to get below freezing, these items can be taken into the garage until the weather improves.

Shopping for plants can start early, and they can sit out in the sunshine and continue to grow well. Again, if the temperatures get too low, they can be brought into the garage for a safe haven. Within the week, we will be able to plant these items outside.

If you are planting seeds, you can put these in the ground seven to 10 days prior to the possible last frost. The seed may take a little longer to come up if the ground is cold, but even on a regular schedule, they will emerge just in time to avoid the low temperatures.

Pacing your planting out in a wise and efficient manner can mean a beautiful year ahead without the worry of losing a great deal of plants from too much spring fever and too early of a planting.

Have fun with the season and plan accordingly. The garden requires some work, but above all else make sure you have more fun in the process. You are dealing with beautiful products, so make it a beautiful experience.