For Release March 26, 2006

The Gardening Season Has Started

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

With the wet, cold, snowy weather of a week ago it was kind of hard to imagine that it was spring and the gardening season has started! Late March certainly has it's limits to what you can be planting in the garden. But even if you don't plan to plant anything for a few more weeks, there's plenty to get done so that the garden is ready for the rest of the season ahead of us.

Let's review some gardening basics. Our average last frost date is April 16th, but our frost free date is around May 10th, or if it's easier, just remember Mother's Day. The average last frost is nothing more than the a mathematical average. Over the last 50+ years, the earliest last frost has been March 18th and the latest last frost has been May 14th. What we should be more concerned about is when does that soil really start to warm up and when are we pretty well past the chance of having a plant damaging frost. That's our May 10th date.

Many garden crops can tolerate cold weather and frosts with no ill effects. This includes potatoes, peas, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, radish, onion, spinach, turnips and beets. These plants handle being planted in late March and early April just fine. One thing to keep in mind with this group is that while they handle cold very well, they generally don't like the hot weather of summer, so don't try planting them in May.

The second set of vegetable crops are those that need slightly warmer conditions. They can handle a light frost, but we don't really want to risk exposing them to temperatures down in that 27 or 28 degree range, or lower. These crops need to be planted in mid to late April. This group includes collards, swiss chard, carrots and if you push that planting date into late April you can also count melons and sweet corn in this group.

The third group of vegetables are the cold temperature wimps. These plants don't like frost of any kind, in fact many of them don't even want their feet to get cold. In general these are also vegetables that have long growing seasons and may need all summer to reach maturity. This group should be planted during May, probably best to wait until after the first week of May. Included in this set are snap and lima beans, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, okra, pumpkins, sweet corn, summer squash (zucchini), and tomatoes.

Our fourth and final group are those that can really handle the heat of summer and are best planted in late May or early June. Some of these are also present in that third group and this simply shows that we can have a lengthy planting season for successive harvest dates of these crops. This would include snap and lima beans, sweet potatoes, sweet corn and winter squash. In fact those last three could be planted clear up almost to the end of June if you wanted.

But back to the present day. Getting the garden soil prepared is something that must be done when the soil is not wet. Working wet soil turns it into a cloddy mess that you'll be fighting all summer. Wait for it to dry down. If you are in a new garden location or if you haven't tested your soil for several years do that now. Take soil from the top six inches from 8 to 20 spots around the garden and mix these all together. Then bring in a one pound butter tub full of soil to the Extension Office for testing.

The last thing to be doing is making your plan. With pencil and paper you can layout your entire garden now, so you know how everything will flow together through the season. If you need more information on gardening, stop by the Extension Office at 119 East 9th in Junction City to pick up free copies of our many gardening bulletins.


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