Friday, April 29, 2011

When to Plant the Garden?

When should you plant your garden?

This is a question on everyone's mind at this time of year, and there are as many opinions on this topic as there are gardeners.  Everyone ultimately makes their own decision based on the various bits and pieces of information they collect.

Here are a few resources that might help you make your decision about when to plant your garden.  If you just want a simple list, check out the When to Plant Chart I created this spring.

The Soil Temperature Approach
Here's a handy soil temperature guide for various vegetable crops from the Weekend Gardener.
To use this approach consider purchasing a soil thermometer ($9.50 at Lee Valley).

Soil Temperature Guidelines for Vegetable Crops
Crops that will germinate in the coolest soils, down to 4° C arugula, fava beans, kale, lettuce, bok choi, parsnips, peas, radicchio, radish and spinach seed
Crops that will germinate with a soil temperature above 10° Chinese cabbage, leeks, onions, Swiss chard, and turnips
Crops that will germinate with a soil temperature at or above 16° Cbeans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots and cauliflower.

NOTE: Beans will not tolerate any frost and may have to be planted again if the temperature goes below freezing
Crops that will germinate with a soil temperature above 21° Ctomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn and melons.

NOTE: Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are slow-growing and take many weeks to grow to the stage where you can plant them out in the garden, so you might want to purchase these seedlings from your local garden center. On the other hand, squash, cucumbers and corn grow quickly and are easier to start from seed

The Soil Clumping Approach
Here's some advice from The Old Farmer's Almanac about testing the soil with your hands.
  • Grab a handful of your garden soil. If you can form it into a ball, the soil is too wet for planting. (Chances are the seeds will rot.) If it crumbles through your fingers, it's ready for planting.
  • Here's another soil test. Make a ball of soil and drop it. If the ball crumbles, your garden is ready for seeds. If it holds its shape or breaks into two clumps, it's still too wet for planting.
  • You can also step into the garden and then step back and look at the footprint you've left in the soil. If it's shiny, then there's too much water near the soil's surface to dig and plant. If it's dull, then excess water has drained away and it's time to plant.
  • Old farmers had an even easier guideline: When the weeds start to grow in your garden, it's time to plant your hardy vegetables
The Calendar Approach
You've probably heard a lot about this method which is based on your planting zone and the average first frost fee day.  In Winnipeg, Zone 2b, our average first frost free day is May 24 - which is why many gardeners wait to plant their garden until May long weekend.  But, even if you follow the calendar approach, there are some veggies you can plant before the first frost free day.  Here's a list I created last year in a post on May 1, 2010:

Cold Weather Crops 
- plant outdoors 4 weeks before last frost ( in Winnipeg - April 26)
swiss chard

Cool Weather Crops 
- plant outdoors 2 weeks before last frost (in Winnipeg - May 12)

Warm Weather Crops 
- plant after the last frost when soil is warm (in Winnipeg - May 24)


The Phenology Approach
This approach is interesting and requires a keen sense of observation.  Basically, it's using cues from nature to identify when to plant certain things.  For example, here's a list from About.comGardening :

Plant peas
When forsythia & daffodils blooms
Plant potatoes
When 1st dandelion blooms
Plant beets, carrots, cole crops, lettuce and spinach
When lilac is in first leaf
Plant beans, cucs and squash
When lilac is in full bloom
Plant tomatoes
When lily-of-the-valley are in full bloom
Transplant eggplant, melon and peppers
When irises bloom
Plant corn
When apple blossoms start to fall

The Mom Approach
Of course we can't forget the old "my mom said so" approach.  It's only natural that we take into consideration what our foremothers did before us.  So, if mom always seeded carrots on May 15 and she always had a bumper crop - well, there must be something to it.  Why mess with success.

Whatever approach you choose, I have found keeping a log (or a blog) is very beneficial.  It's great to go back and see what worked and what didn't and then go from there.

Good luck!    


Anonymous said...

Now what about the snow we received this morning??? Guess I should have read your blog before planting with excitement last Monday...
I will see if anything survives (carrots, radishes, lettuce, chard and red onions). Need onion bulbs again Getty?

Christine said...

My mom always planted everything on May long weekend. I almost planted my potatoes this past weekend (thankfully I didn't) I really want to plant something this week though! Getting anxious to start watching things grow!

Getty Stewart said...

Randi, I'm confident your seeds will be safe and sound in the ground. They'll decide when it's warm enough to germinate. As long as they're not soaking wet for too long, they should be safe. Even the sprouts from those cold weather veggies can withstand a bit of frost.
Would love some onion sets!

Getty Stewart said...

Christine, May long weekend is a good bet here in Manitoba. But, you don't have to do it all at once. If you're antsy and your soil dries up from this weekend, you could start with onions, spinach, chard, garlic (actually May long might be too late for garlic)and other cold crops. And, if this spring continues to be this cold, you might want to save your peppers and tomatoes until early June. If planting is a pleasure rather than a chore, why not drag it out over a couple of weeks.

Christine said...

I do want to start garlic, but that I will do in the fall. I think my soil is just nice for planting. I'm growing my peppers and tomatoes in the house...they might be just right by June.

Anonymous said...

Plants survived the snow. I heard the full moon in May is a great time to plant. Randi

Anonymous said...

Never plant when the moon is waning, so always wait till after the full moon to plant

Anonymous said...

Hi, I live in Winnipeg and my seed potatoes began sprouting so high that they were tangling together even though I had them in a cool dark place! I freaked out and planted them thinking they'd die if I waited any longer. However that was a week ago (May 2) and we have since had really cold rainy weather. The soil is cold and soggy and I'm afraid they might be dead and begin to rot in the ground... I'm feel like such a failure right now :(

Getty Stewart said...

Don't despair, it's actually been a relatively dry, warm May so your potatoes may make it yet! They actually don't mind cool soil and you can start potatoes a couple of weeks before the last frost because they take a while to pop out of the ground. Soggy is not great for potatoes, but let's hope for the best! I'd be digging to see what they look like. If they're mush, you still have plenty of time to replant.