Szerlag: Resist urge to plant until time is right
This is a frustrating time of year for avid gardeners like me, who love to plant. When the weather climbs into the 60s or higher during the day, the juices flow and the urge to put a spade into the ground is almost overwhelming.
To tempt us further, the "big boxes" have brought in boatloads of tender-leafed perennials forced into bloom in warm green houses, and they call out "buy me." But I pass on these pretties. At this time of year it may be warm during the day, but at night the temperatures often drop back to the 30s or lower. According to my weather map, this pattern will continue in lower Michigan through the first couple of weeks in May.
So if you buy hardy perennials sporting frost tender leaves and flowers now, plan to stow them in the garage or a protected area when temperatures drop and drag them out when the sun shines. Lack of sun and wildly fluctuating temperatures stresses plants, so when you finally get them planted, they start off life in the garden at a great disadvantage.
Rushing to plant these lovelies early results in plants sitting and pouting in cold wet soil and, if they don't get stung by frost, they may become stunted and fail to thrive.
Lettuce, young peas and pansies are exceptions. They can handle light frost and even snow, but I keep a frost blanket, also called a floating row cover, handy to wrap them up should the temperatures take a nosedive.
There are two things I look at when deciding when to plant warm weather lovers, including tomatoes: Evening temperatures of 50 degrees or above and soil temperatures of 60 degrees in the top 3 to 4 inches. Peppers and eggplants need soil temperatures of 65 degrees.
Soil thermometers priced under $10 are available at garden centers, but the little meat thermometers used to check hamburgers on the grill work, as well. The dial should read 0 to 220 degrees, not rare, medium and well done.
Sow sunflower seeds after all chance of frost has past. Plant these hard-shelled seeds in cold, wet soil and they will rot. Snap peas and other cold weather plant seeds, on the other hand, can be sown now.
Appearances: Join me at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Wiegand's Nursery at 47747 Romeo Plank, Macomb, to find out "What's New in the Garden for 2015." Program free. Contact Information: (586) 286-3655, wiegandsnursery.com.
Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question, go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.