Way Early Spring in the Garden
by Rob Sproule, May 5, 2013
With only a few precious months to spend in the garden, we Albertans are an eager bunch! Every early May we pace our yards, desperate to plant flowers but skittish of the weather.
We cling to the May Long Weekend as the magical date when it’s “ok” to plant, but the reality is that it’s all about the forecast. If it’s Victoria Day and the forecast calls for snow tomorrow, rent a movie and stay indoors. If it’s Mothers’ Day and the forecast is, as mountaineers would say, “bluebird”, I say go get your fingers dirty.
Safe Early Gardening
In the words of Mr. Eastwood, “do you feel lucky?” Even if the answer is a definitive “no”, and you’re not ready to put the fate of your tomatoes and petunias in the hands in a long-range forecast, there’s still a lot you can do in the garden.
Cool weather loving crops can be sown as soon as you can work the soil. Peas, beets, carrots, lettuce, radishes, chard, green onions, and spinach should all be seeded early as possible so they have time to mature before the summer heat sends them bolting.
If you’ve been growing Brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage) indoors or are buying starter plants, early May is the best time to plant them. Don’t forget the row cover to protect from hungry bugs.
As soon as you can work your soil, plant those spuds. Cut the seed potatoes into pieces, making sure that each bears 1-2 decent “eyes” (growing points). If the spuds are small just plant the whole thing.
If you have deciduous shrubs or perennials to transplant or prune, early May is the best time. Avoid plants that flower in the spring as the sap will already be racing and you’ll probably be snipping off their flowering buds.
Cheating the Weather
If you do feel lucky, than you’re in good and growing company! Everyday I talk to gardeners who, sick of waiting until the 3rd week in May, are either taking their chances planting or, more commonly, bringing home flowers to enjoy first and plant later.
Once the grass greens up, a yard feels pretty empty without flowers. If you just can’t fight it anymore and bring them home early, leave them in their pots or baskets and put them in a sunny spot (unless they’re shade lovers, of course).
Watch the forecast and if the temperature is set to drop to about 4 degrees C or lower, pull them into the garage for the night. Some savvy gardeners keep their colourful flowers in a wheelbarrow, which effectively becomes a large planter with wheels that’s easy to move.
Keep in mind that most weather forecasts are for cities. If you live in a rural area, subtract a couple of degrees from the nighttime low, as you will probably be cooler.