For Release March 25, 2003
Time to Start Spring Gardening
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
Now that spring has officially arrived, itís time to start gardening! Many gardeners feel that if they donít plant their potatoes by St. Patrickís Day then they have failed! Well, the truth is that you canít go just by the calendar when it comes to starting your spring garden. You have to pay more attention to the weather and the soil.
Soils are surprisingly wet and cool this year. Last weeks warm weather brought soil temperatures up, but cooler weather this week could slow that down. Soil moisture is a concern whether it is wet or dry. Wet soils are a concern because working wet soils will create a lot of problems in the way of clods that will haunt you all season long. Cool soils can cause problems from slow emergence of garden crops. Plants that are slow to emerge will be at greater risk to disease and insect problems. Transplanting tender crops, such as tomatoes, into soils that are too cool will also shock them severely enough that you will delay fruit set later on in the summer.
If you didnít work your garden plot last fall, or in late winter before some of the rains, you may have to wait a while before it is dry enough to till. Soil temperatures, as of March 24th, were in the mid to upper 40s. With slightly cooler weather now, those temperatures will stay flat, or rise very slowly, for the next several days. While spring is here, our average last frost date is still almost three weeks away and our frost free date isnít until about Motherís Day. So donít be in a hurry, weíre just at the start of the season.
So what can you be planting in your vegetable garden right now? For the last week of March or the first week in April think root crops and cabbages. Specifically on the root crops, potatoes, radish, onions (sets or plants), turnips, and beets.
One of the biggest mistakes that most gardeners make is planting too deep, especially in cool soils. The deeper soil is going to be slower to warm. Plant potatoes just a couple of inches deep. Then as they grow, hill them up to protect the developing tubers from scald. Potatoes can be planted clear into mid April and then again in early July for a fall crop. The other root crops need to be planted fairly shallow. One half inch is plenty deep enough.
Next, think leaf crops and cabbages or cole crops. When I was growing up my Mother always talked about cole crops and I thought she was talking about cold crops because it was always cold when we planted them! Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, endive, spinach and lettuce can all be planted right now. In the case of lettuce, itís nice to make sequential plantings about 3 to 4 weeks apart to spread out your fresh lettuce season. Lettuce is a small seed that needs to be planted fairly shallow, less than one half inch. Spinach is a larger seed than can go in up to one inch deep. Remember that you need to have fine soil that will assure good seed to soil contact. Most of the cole crops are going to be transplants. Protect them from southwest winds and hot afternoon sun, which can scald tender young transplants, with a shingle, hot cap or old milk carton.
Finally we need some peas to go with those new potatoes. Plant these now and plant them like the potatoes, a couple of inches deep. A lot of gardeners like to mulch their garden, but applying mulch now will slow soil warm-up and retard development of young plants. Let the soil warm up more before mulching. Nothing beats fresh vegetables from your garden, and now is the time to get planting!
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