A GROWING CONCERN: Chill out before you plant too early

AS THIS PAST week’s chill lay heavy in the valleys and the snow-frosted trees sit low on the mountains, I could not help but be dumbfounded as I saw geraniums and marigolds being offloaded at a couple of outlets on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Then, I realized this is indeed America — a very capitalistic place with seizing market share as a predominant goal. And flowers, even though they are lovely, are not immune in any way to the vices of quick and easy sales regardless of inappropriateness.

And make no mistake, it is absolutely inappropriate to plant geraniums, impatiens, marigolds, coleus, begonias, celosia, caladium, balsam, zinnias, ageratums, antherium, dahlias, gerberas, polygoniums, tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, zucchinis and gourds now.

All these plants need warm soil and air temperatures above 50 degrees in order to not only thrive, but to also maintain their current health. So even in two or three weeks, the time is not right for planning these types of flowers, no matter how gorgeous or inexpensive they are.

A good friend of mine loves to say “the first of June is none too soon,” and for these warm-desiring plants, it is a correct statement!

If I wait until June 3 to place my dahlias, gerberus or geraniums in the ground, these plants will greatly out-flower any planted in similar conditions during the first half of May. I have won many a bet that my tomatoes planted June 10 will produce tomatoes first and in greater quantity than any planted before June.

Cool temperatures “harden off” warm-craving plants by turning them purple and woody, thus reducing new growth, bud production, fruit production and leaf growth.

You are left with a half-dead looking, stalled plant with no buds or fruit until several weeks of 50 degrees or warmer soil persists — meaning, at the end of July, these plants will finally grow out of this adverse condition.

Unless you have a greenhouse or growing space, avoid planting these for the next month.

If, however, you do have a nice, sunny, warm growing area that is not already filled with pots of dahlias, cannas or caladiums, then buy these items immediately when they are small and cheap. Bump these plants up into larger pots, pinch off all flowers, strip away the largest leaves, fertilize and behold.

Remember, we are trying to grow large gorgeous plants for the garden two months from now.

Flowers only rob the energy, and lots of it, we want entirely directed toward more flowers and bud production. You must spend flowers to make flowers.

There are now plenty of plants, flowers, annuals and perennials that are well suited for today’s outdoor masterpiece. Here, too, caution may be the best advice.

Many plants that could easily be bought and planted today might very well be sensitive to our temperatures and weather in a most adverse way.

Very few greenhouses actually grow their early spring plants in a space where they are ever exposed to either direct sunlight or cool temperatures.

So even these beautiful pansies you just bought may very well sunburn, wind burn or harden off outside tonight, having never been subjected to anything less than 62-degree evenings and 70-degree days.

In fact, many wholesale greenhouses purposely jack up night temperatures, turn on grow lights all night long and inject fertilizer and CO2 in order to more rapidly turn the bench over, getting the product to market earlier and reaping greater profits.

The trick this time of year is to properly time your plantings.

This week, why not get some cabbage, kale, lettuce, kohlrabi, cauliflower, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts or onions?

Make sure to take a few days and acclimate them to the outdoors and sun, leaving them outside an hour more each day, then, in a week, plant them.

Or treat yourself to that specimen tree, bush, shrub or rhododendron you have been wishing for, and plant those items now while you’re at the last moments of opportunity for ideal conditions.

And please … stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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