Gardening books recommend planting peas “as soon as the soil can be worked.” But what does that mean? This week, many of our vegetable garden plots are still under water and it’s going to be quite a while before they dry out. Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have well-drained, sandier soil, or raised beds for your vegetables. In either case, the test for when the soil can be “worked” is to pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it gently in your palm. If the soil sticks together, it is too wet. If it crumbles, it is ready.
No matter how anxious you are to plant, and regardless of what it says on the back of the seed packet for planting time, you must wait to plant until the soil is dry enough. Trying to work the soil, especially clay, while it is too wet can ruin its structure and you’ll end up with big sun-baked clods later in the season.
Perhaps you think you can plant earlier by avoiding tilling the soil, which normally is an excellent option. However, placing seeds in cold, wet soil is just asking for them to rot rather than to germinate. So, take a few more days to relax before the real work begins, and just wait.
Assuming your soil is ready to go, you can plant the following any time now: beets, cabbage, lettuce, onion sets, peas, radishes, mustard and turnips. If you need some color, you can plant pansies outdoors as soon as they are offered in the nurseries. They are tough enough to withstand the cold, and if they are knocked back slightly by some extra cold temps, they will recover. Trees and shrubs can be planted now as well.
In mid-May, plant seeds of annual flowers and also tuberous begonia bulbs, dahlia bulbs and gladiolus corms. This is also when you can plant purchased annual flowers like geraniums, vinca, marigolds, snapdragons, dusty miller, begonias, and impatiens.
Wait until about the third week in May to plant beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, zucchini and basil from seed. Do not set out tomato, pepper and other nursery grown plants until the last week of May.
Always be prepared to cover everything except the earliest planted vegetables and pansies if a late frost is forecast.
Don’t be worried if you don’t get things planted at the times suggested. Almost everything can be planted later. Many times it is an advantage to plant later because the first life cycle of insect pests that may have attacked will be completed before your plants are up and ready to be their lunch.
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