Returning To Normal, April Style

After we had several days of record setting high temperatures in March, our April weather has settled into a more seasonable pattern. For the last few days we have seen typical April weather, with highs around 60F and lows near 40F. Saturday morning we even had light frost here at HA. That’s typical too, since our last frost date is often in mid April or even later.

April 7 frost (click on any image to enlarge)

So far I have resisted the urge to ignore the calendar and plant like it was May. My tomatoes and other heat loving plants are still snug and warm indoors under fluorescent lights. I also decided to ignore a local county extension educator who on March 30 exclaimed “Go ahead and plant your tomatoes!” I am hoping that any folks who took his advice protected their plants from the frost and the cold north winds that were blowing a few days ago. The forecasts for later this week call for more frosty mornings and cold temperatures near freezing – not exactly conditions that tomatoes like!

tomato seedlings under lights

Deciding when to plant things is really one of the trickiest parts of gardening. I am a big fan of using soil temperatures as a guide, but even that can sometimes be misleading. Back in late March I had soil temperatures in one garden bed that were near 70F. But those unusually high readings didn’t last. Current soil temperature in that bed is now around 50F, which tells me it’s time to plant broccoli and cabbage. I’ll wait until the soil warms up to at least 60F before I will plant any of my tomatoes. Last year that didn’t happen here until May.

April 7 soil temperature

Finding out your soil temperature is easy. Since soil temperatures fluctuate quite a bit depending on the time of day, timing is important. I generally take my readings around 10am. I insert the thermometer probe into the soil about 3 inches deep. This newsletter from Kansas State University has a short article on Soil Temperatures and Vegetables that addresses the subject. They recommend taking readings for 4 or 5 days in a row to make sure the desired temperature is consistent. Being the gadget collector that I am, I have a special soil thermometer I use outside, but I often use an instant read kitchen thermometer to take indoor soil temperatures.

soil and instant read thermometers

I am just now starting seeds for basil and some heat loving annual flowers like nicotiana and coleus. Basil likes it warm, so I try and keep the seedlings at least 70F before planting. I probably won’t plant it outside until mid to late May, when temperatures are reliably warm enough.

basil seedling

Whatever the weather is like in your area, I hope you are planting everything at the appropriate time – whenever that happens to be. I have found that it’s usually best to resist the urge to plant too early, and remember that sometimes even the ‘experts’ get it wrong. Until the next time, I wish you happy growing from Happy Acres!


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12 Responses to Returning To Normal, April Style

  1. Daphne says:

    I’m resisting planting to early too (except for seeds as they are cheap to replant). I’m not even starting the tomatoes until this week. I’ll plant them out in mid May if it is warm enough, but in bad years not until the end of May. The earliest they have ever gone in has been April 29th I think. But that was unusual and they were under plastic.

  2. Jenny says:

    I tried planting some stuff early hoping for early spring and Mother Nature reminded me that it’s not wise to hurry. So now I’m waiting at least with all warm loving plants like beans until end of April and tomatoes until mid-may. I have some extra tomatoes that I might try to plant at the end of april and see if they’ll make it under tent but my main ones will have to wait until it’s above 75 for them to grow.

  3. Jonathan says:

    We had temps around 31 a few nights ago, but no frost cover, fortunately. We still covered the roses and fruit bushes. Nothing seemed to be affected except the hibiscus. Tomorrow night it’s supposed to be 29 though, so I’m hoping everything hangs in there. We have plums on our trees already!

  4. bunkie says:

    i was wondering if the warm weather was going to last. spring can be so fickle! our gardens are just thawing out now in the PNW. we hd snow last week!

    i was wondering where you purchased your soil thermometer. haven’t seen one like that with temps for the crops on it. very nice.

    • Dave says:

      I got the soil thermometer from Jung Seeds for $9.95. It was a replacement for one I bought years ago, which finally bit the dust after leaving it outside one too many times.

  5. Liz says:

    I have to admit being one of those people who likes to push the boundaries and as a result I often do plant earlier than is sometimes advised. Having said that I do it in the knowledge that my garden has a warmer microclimate than other parts of Melbourne so it is something of a calculated risk. I also always have back ups…

  6. Deb Fitz says:

    I cheat with my covered raised beds and soil warming cables to get the soil temperature up to germination speed in April for my carrots and beets and the like , but the tomatoes will stay in the greenhouse for another month.

  7. Bavaria says:

    I’ve heard that a foliar kelp spray can help plants deal with lower than normal temperatures. Might be fun to experiment with, but always have the backup plan.

  8. Robin says:

    I have kept my plantings on schedule this year. I actually started some things a little later due to the garden move. You just can’t trust Mother Nature! We have had some below freezing temps and some hard frosts recently. We are also having our March winds, which is keeping me from hardening off some of my plants. I really wish we would get some rain!

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