Is it Spring Yet?

By Paul James

Officially, spring doesn’t arrive until Monday, March 20, at precisely 5:28 AM. But if plants could talk, they’d tell you that it’s already here. And according to experts, they’d be right. Climate scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey have confirmed that in terms of average temperatures, spring has arrived in much of the south-central and southeast areas of the country between 20 and 25 days earlier than normal. So does that mean it’s time to plant anything and everything?

My response to that question, which I’ve been asked a lot lately, is no. After 40 years of trying to second guess the weather, I’m hesitant to suggest that gardeners move up their planting dates just because it’s warmer than usual. After all, despite the weirdly warm and wacky weather pattern we’ve been experiencing lately, there’s still a very real likelihood of a freeze – perhaps even a hard freeze – this month or next.

Now is a great time to plant trees and shrubs, both deciduous and evergreen, and all but the tenderest perennials. Annuals can be planted in containers, but be prepared to move them indoors if temps drop below 28F or so. Other than pansies, you should probably wait at least another two or three weeks before adding seasonal color, but that date could change a week or more either way depending on what happens weatherwise.

In the veggie garden, it’s definitely time to plant potatoes, onions, asparagus, greens of all kinds (arugula, spinach, lettuce, kale, etc.) beets, carrots, turnips, and cole crops – broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. These are by definition cool-season crops, so they grow best under cool conditions. It’s also time to plant a number of culinary herbs, including oregano, marjoram, thyme, mint (see Tip below) and cilantro.

However, I’d wait at least another two weeks (perhaps even longer) before planting warm-season veggies such as tomatoes, eggplant, beans, melons, and peppers, and tender herbs such as basil, because they can’t handle temps below 45F or so, and even colder overnight temps are in the forecast. I’d also hold off on planting parsley, because although it can take cold temperatures, anything below 40F may cause it to bolt later in the spring. And I’d be prepared to protect those crops with blankets or row covers through the end of April.

Let’s face it, folks, making predictions about the weather is tricky at best. And that’s why I think the safe bet is to stick with normal planting dates and simply pay close attention to forecasts. Besides, even if you wanted to plant Lantana or Begonias this time of year, you’d have a tough time finding them because growers and retailers schedule their deliveries for “normal” planting dates.

And there’s a very good reason for that.