Friday, April 15, 2016

Planting Annuals in April

The garden centers are chock full of beautiful flats of annual flowering plants. Impatiens, petunias,'s a feast for the senses after a long winter's wait, isn't it? But the waiting isn't over...

The other day, I happened to stop by the garden center just at the right moment...the discount moment. You know what I mean. That magical day, time and place when the stars align and the plants not just 50% off, but 75% off. It's like Christmas in the spring!

So I scooped up two flats of annual flowers, impatiens and petunias, for 75% off. You can't beat that, right?

So why are they still waiting in their tiny little cell packs to be planted in my garden?

Because we aren't past the danger zone yet when it comes to temperature. That's right, the F-word: frost. Freeze. Frigid. Call it what you like, but there is still a danger of frost. Frost kills impatiens quickly, and nips petunias, although they can withstand a little chill.

I'm not taking any risks, so my treasures are waiting to be planted until around May 1. Our "frost free" date is anywhere from April 20 to May 15, depending on exactly where you live in the Piedmont region. From experience, I can say for sure that some years it is on the early side, some years on the later side, but in all cases, we are still in the "danger zone" when the flowers tempt us but the temperatures fool us.

The garden centers stock the flowers now so that you have great choices. If you do find a bargain as I did, or you simply can't resist stocking up, then do keep your plants in their pots for now. I whisk mine back into the warmth of the garage on these cold nights and return them to the warm, sunny front walk slates during the day. It's the best of both worlds for an impatien, and until I can be sure of constant warmth and sunshine for my treasures, they will remain as you see them here.

Some tender annuals that you should wait to plant include:

  • Impatiens
  • Coleus
  • Ageratum
  • Begonia
  • All of your warm-weather veggies like tomatoes, peppers, etc.
  • Most herbs, including basil.

Of course there are more plants on the list than this. But these are the most common ones, and those which I happened to spy on my trip to the garden center this week. If you're in doubt about whether you can plant something now, wait or look it up on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website.

Wait to plant most tender annuals. You'll be glad you did!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Can I Plant Vegetables Now?

The answer to the question, "Can I plant vegetables now?" depends on the vegetables you want to grow. The cooler spring temperatures often give way to 70+ degree days, which can fool you into thinking that spring is here to stay. Not in south central Virginia. Nature blows hot, cold, and everywhere in between in spring, and temperatures can rapidly drop below freezing again, killing all those tender flowers and vegetables you worked so hard to grow.

Lettuce and cool weather greens can be planted outside now.

So what's a gardener to do? The Virginia Cooperative Extension has created a wonderful Vegetable Planting Guide that you can use as a guide as to when to plant most vegetables. There's a chart you can customize and even information on which veggies grow best from seeds sowed directly into the garden and which are best grown as transplants. Check out the link above!

If you did make a mistake and plant those tender vegetables and flowers now and a frost looms, remember that you can cover them with cloth blankets, cardboard or newspaper overnight. Cloches, or little hot houses made from clean, empty soda or milk bottles, can also be placed over individual plants.

Garden centers often stock plants at this time of year that you really shouldn't place in the ground quite yet. They want to entice gardeners to spend more and to shop early and often. If you buy them now just to get your favorite varieties before they're sold out, you can keep them in pots or containers outside on a patio or deck. That way if a frost threatens, you can whisk them inside overnight to keep them safe and warm. Just remember to keep them well-watered or else you'll be making another trip to the garden center to replace them!