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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Local and statewide information on a variety of current topics for home gardeners and market growers.

Spring Planting Considerations

The air is full of the delicious sounds and smells of spring early this season. The summer temperatures we've been experiencing lately have really accelerated our season in many ways. Plants are budding sooner, bugs are out in large numbers, and the soil is warming fast. In all this excitement it is easy lose track of the date. It is still mid-March and our average last frost dates in this area range from April 16th in Pontiac to April 25th in El Paso. While it looks unlikely that it will freeze again, there is still a chance.

This means that growers should still take precautions to preserve their early season crops. Concentrating your planting on the cool season crops such as brassicas, lettuces, radishes, chard, beets, peas, and green beans is a safer approach right now. Potatoes can be planted basically any time from here forward. This may be the year to try an early season carrot crop. They germinate best at temperatures around 72 degrees, and can survive if the temperatures do drop later in the spring.

Another result of this heat is that transplants will be growing fast. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil and other warm season crops that will be transplanted need regular attention in a warm situation like this. Be very careful if you are germinating them in a hoophouse, cold frame, or window. A 75 degree day outside can put temperatures in your propagation area well over 90, and could kill your seedling plants. Water regularly, but try to make your last watering by mid-afternoon so plants and soil have a chance to dry before dark. This will help to prevent damping off and other diseases that can affect seedling plants.

Extra attention should be given to when to up-pot or prick-out seedlings into larger pots. Wilting and yellowing, or chlorosis, can be signs that your seedling is rootbound in its cell in the tray. In addition, hardening off plants in this situation requires shade. While temperatures will be more similar between the propagation area and the outside, keeping them shaded for a few days before field planting will help to prevent sun damage early on as they adjust to the outdoor environment.

Weeds should be growing like crazy with warmer temperatures. Try a stale seedbed technique and till your beds the day before you plan to plant or transplant into them in order to eliminate the first flush of early season weeds. Tillage 4-7 days after transplanting will likely be necessary given the warm weather. May the sun shine favorably on your farm venture this spring!

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