This is a frustrating time of year for gardeners. When the weather climbs into the 60s during the day, the gardening juices flow and the urge to plant is almost overwhelming.

A lot of folks don’t realize when planting seeds and transplants that soil temperatures are more important than ambient air temps. If the temperature climbs into the 60s during the day and drops into the 30s or colder at night, the soil will be too cold to plant species that love warm weather.

According to the Michigan State Extension, in southeastern Michigan pea seeds can be sown as soon as the soil can be worked, so they can be planted now. But wait until the soil reaches at least 60 degrees before planting tomatoes. And 70 degrees is best for peppers.

If you’re fertilizing your lawn this spring you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck if you wait until the soil temperatures reach 50 to 65 degrees. Crabgrass starts to germinate at 57 degrees, but the pre-emergent should be in place prior to the seed sprouting, so put it down when the soil temperatures reach 55 degrees.

Soil thermometers, available at garden centers, are usually priced around $10. To measure the soil temperature make a hole in the ground about 5 to 6 inches deep with a screwdriver. Be sure the soil is touching the thermometer and leave it in place for a couple of minutes. Do this in several spots in the area you plan to plant in as temperatures can vary from one place to another.

SunPatiens, the new Bounce Impatiens and Begonias are also warm weather lovers, so don’t plant them until the soil warms to 65 degrees. If you stick them in cold soil, they often become stunted.

While waiting for the soil to warm, pansies, primroses and hellebores can take the cold weather and make delightful porch pots.

Appearances: Join me and celebrate the arrival of spring at English Gardens’ Garden Party Weekend. At 10 a.m. Saturday, I will talk about “Bees, Pollinators and Other Good Stuff” and share my tips on creating and caring for pollinator gardens at the Clinton Township store. At 1 p.m. I will be at Eastpointe and at 4 p.m. I will be at Dearborn Heights.

At 10 a.m. on Sunday, I will speak at Royal Oak, and at 1 p.m. I will be at West Bloomfield. At 4 p.m., I will be at the Ann Arbor store. All programs are free. For information, go to

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.

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