March 11, 2013

Slowly but surely, spring is creeping in

March can be a very long month for gardeners. It’s not really winter anymore, but it’s not spring, either. 

Some years, the weather taunts us with hints of spring weather in March, but I try hard to not get my hopes up until well into April. And even April can be a tease, alternating between lovely spring weather and blasts of winter cold.

But at least we’re heading in the right direction now. The days are getting noticeably longer, and this week we’re getting used to the time change. 

The calendar tells us spring arrives on March 20 with the vernal equinox, and there’s an old adage about planting peas on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, but I’m still unconvinced. The past years have been far too fickle to make any kind of prediction about the upcoming season. Remember this time last year when we had that heat wave in March that lasted more than a week? I certainly hope we don’t have to ride that weather roller coaster again this year.

I mention all this to back up the wishy-washy answers I’m forced to give when people ask how soon they can get started on their spring-garden chores and activities. I suggest you take it in stages, and don’t gamble more than you’re willing to lose. Maybe your time will be lucky, and you’ll get an extra-early crop of peas or spinach, but maybe you won’t. To hedge your bets, I suggest you plant some of your key crops in succession. That way, if your earliest efforts fail, you’ll have the later ones, and vice versa. 

Every spring, I debate with myself over when to start my flower seeds indoors. If I start them too early, they’ll be tall and spindly, but if I start them too late, they’ll take most of the summer to come into bloom. It really helps to keep records to learn from past experiences, but the fickle weather makes all that data somewhat relative. I usually advise that when in doubt, start your seeds a little later rather than a little earlier than you think. Small seedlings can catch up quickly when conditions improve, but spindly seedlings will turn into spindly plants.

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