It’s that time of year…finally!
I think I can actually start planning on putting out some of my home-grown plants. Weather in zone 6B has finally moderated. No more wild extremes like 81 degrees on Monday and 27 degrees on Friday night!
We’ve been on a roller coaster ride for temperatures and high (and constant) winds in the Mid-Atlantic states. The weather has made gardening more like a series of fits and starts than planning and planting.
My lettuce and kale got burned almost to the ground in spite of having been covered by a tunnel of plastic! Wind swept under one end of the tunnel and flipped it off on night. I didn’t catch it until the next morning and by then, the damage was done. Even my garlic took a hit and that’s hard to do.
But now, it looks like we are getting to the time when something other than kale, beets, lettuce, onions and garlic can be put in the ground so here are some tips for getting your babies and their new “digs” ready.
Prep your soil!
If your garden soil has been covered during the winter, uncover it. I pull straw back about 12 inches from the fences I use to support my plants so the soil can warm up.
If you’re going to amend your soil, adding worm castings or compost (or both), now is the time to turn it and add the amendments. I use 1-year-old horse manure so I have to dig down, put manure in the trench, and cover the manure with about 8 inches of soil. I want to feed my babies, not burn their new roots.
Lay down your soaker hoses. It’s so much easier to put soaker hoses on the ground before you put your veggie plants in so take an afternoon to organize and lay them out especially where you’re going to plant tomatoes, which you don’t really want to spray with water.
Harden them off!
Hardening off your plants does NOT involve tools or torture. It just means that you have to introduce your transplants to the outdoors, gradually.
Five or six days before you want to put them in the garden, start setting them outside for a an hour a day for 2 days, 2 to 3 hours a day for 2 to 3 days, 8 hours a day for 3 days and only then (and only if it’s not hailing or very windy) do they get their first overnight! Keep an eye on them. Make sure they have water and are not staked out in high sun or high wind.
NOTE: when hardening off, stop fertilizing. If the plants have small flowers or fruit on them, pinch both off. You want to help transplants direct all of their energy to rooting in the soil before trying to set flowers or fruit.
Plant When It’s Warm!
I also used to hurry and plant my babies by May 7th or 8th. Frequently, the ground was too cold for warm weather crops like tomatoes and peppers and they simply stopped growing for a couple of weeks (or forever in some cases). Putting plants in the ground too early can be deadly so give the soil a chance to warm while you get your plants ready for the great outdoors.
Remember, plants that I call “Mediterranean”like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant like warm earth and warm air. The optimal air temperature for them to go into the ground is 75 to 85 degrees. In my neck of the woods, that means these warm weather babies are typically transplanted the last week of May, especially if the weather is dicey.
So, even though it’s not quite time to start putting your plants in the ground, you can go out and play in the dirt, yourself. Get your garden ready for the big day! Your babies will thank you.