By Paul James
Last Sunday I was having lunch with my father at his assisted living center, when out of nowhere a woman shouted at me from across the dining room. “Is it time to plant tomatoes?” she asked. “Yes, and everything else that grows,” I answered, which prompted a collective chuckle from the diners. And to everyone else who’s asked me that question in the past week – in the grocery store, at the pharmacy, while walking the dog -- my answer is the same…but with one caveat.
And that has to do with weather. Because let’s face it, none of us knows what nature has in mind. There’s still the very real, albeit miniscule, chance that we could get a freeze, perhaps even a hard freeze, even into early May.
But that’s always been the case. And the fact is the damage done by a freeze this time of year rarely amounts to much. Sure, you might lose your tomato crop (as well as other warm-season veggies), but most of those can be replanted. Once the leaves of ornamental trees and shrubs have hardened off (which they have for the most part), they can withstand temps in the upper 20s. Even if they lose their first set of leaves, secondary leaf buds will often produce a new flush of growth in no time. The same is true of perennials, whose top growth may take a hit but will invariably reemerge. And even most annuals can withstand those same temperatures for a few hours or so, which is usually about how long the cold snap lasts.
Sure, there are a few plants that you might want to hold off planting for another ten days or so – caladium bulbs come to mind, maybe even basil – and I’d still wait another week or two to move houseplants outside, but pretty much everything can and should be planted now.
That’s why, after saying goodbye to dad, I went straight home and planted my tomatoes…and everything else that grows…even basil.