Recent tastes of spring may have garden enthusiasts ready to plant at the next thaw, and some crops could be fine.
However, professional greenthumbs advise being careful about what is planted this time of year and three local growers are recommending their customers hold off a little longer on most garden favorites.
“They’re ready though,” John Harrison, owner of In the Garden, said of his customers. “I’ve had a lot of phone calls. When they see me out and about they ask me questions.”
“I’ve had some people coming in looking,” said Julie Ramage, manager at Fred VanBecelare Greenhouses.
Both Harrison and Ramage said there are some early spring vegetables and some hardy annual flowers that may hold up to current temperatures, albeit with some additional protection during freezes and snows.
Veggies include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions and potatoes, and flowers include pansies, violas, snapdragons and possibly petunias.
“They’ll take it down to right around freezing,” Ramage said, adding that the snow acts as an insulator, but plants still need additional protection. “As cold as it got last night, there’s not too much that can take that without some protection.”
Harrison said he pulled his plants inside his greenhouse for the latest round of winter weather because the freeze likely would have taken the blooms off the plants, although the plants themselves probably would have survived.
Other owners are even more cautious.
“We don’t really believe in starting this early,” said Dan Longan, co-owner of Longan’s Garden Center.
He said at the moment, the ground temperatures are sustaining snow and are too cold for spring planting, which he recommends once the soil is above 60 degrees.
“Nothing’s going to grow that early,” he said. “It just sits there dormant.”
Harrison said the 10-day forecast looks pretty good, but he often advises gardeners to be careful about planting too much before April 15.
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“I wouldn’t take any chances this year,” he said. “If you plant it too soon, the ground temperature isn’t warm enough. Those plants will actually be set back a couple weeks.”
Ramage said that is tough for customers.
“They say they’re just here to look, and that they have the fever,” she said, but she added many also can’t resist going ahead and purchasing something.
She said VanBecelaere’s does have tomatoes and peppers, which customers say they are purchasing to transplant to a larger pot, but that is a temporary solution about which the greenhouse gives additional advice.
“For the people who do that, we tell them don’t leave it inside too long,” Ramage said. “You can’t do that long-term at all.”
Ramage also advised purchasing cold-season crops from a greenhouse where they have been hardened, or exposed to temperatures a little above freezing, so that they are able to handle late frosts.
She said plants that haven’t been hardened won’t hold up to chilly nights
Longan said he tells his customers that before Easter weekend it is just not safe to plant.
“From Easter to mid-April you have to use your judgment,” he said, adding that May 1 is the magic date he recommends.
Longan said as the soil begins to warm he advises customers to begin with root plants and perennials, then cold-weather annuals. Tomatoes eventually can be introduced with caution, and peppers and other vine plants need warm soil and weather to thrive.
Longan said he expects to begin building up his inventory after Easter.
Harrison’s greenhouse currently is full between the plants he is protecting from the cold and several additional plants he grows himself.
“I just grow things that generally I can’t find other places,” he said.
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This includes some specialty flowers and custom hanging baskets.
He expects his inventory to expand further soon.
“I have seeds and I have pansies and viola flats currently, but that will change in a couple weeks when it warms up,” Harrison said.
“Traditionally, it’s the second or third week of April when everyone is feeling comfortable,” Ramage said.
She said a lot of people are doing what they can to be ready for the full-blown grown season by purchasing soil, compost and other items.
“They’re just getting the garden prepared,” Ramage said.