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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!