10 March 2010
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
When should you plant annual vegetable and flower seeds and seedlings? That depends.
Check Virginias Cooperative Extension (VCE) vegetable planting guide (#426-331) online http://pubs.ext.vt.edu (enter planting dates), or request the brochure from your local VCE office.
As with all guides for a wide area, the cautionary message is Actual dates will vary due to local conditions and yearly fluctuations. With below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation, this winter season is hardly the exception to fluctuations.
The National Weather Services online Climate Prediction Center (NWS-CPC) at http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/ shows that March temperatures will be below normal.
Rainfall for March through May is a different story. The NWS-CPC says there are equal chances for above, below or normal precipitation. There are also equal chances for above, below or normal temperatures for April and May.
Theres not enough data to make predictions with any more certainty than that. So you must be prepared for a cool March, while anything goes for April and May, at least for now.
The NWS-CPC updates its monthly predictions on the last day of the prior month. Though well be more certain about Aprils weather on March 31 there is a tentative outlook on the third Thursday of March and every month thereafter.
This means that the gradually melting snow cover will suppress soil temperatures, delaying germination and growth. When soil temperatures remain below 60 degrees Fahrenheit and with uncertain seed germination we will also have rotting, often called damping-off.
If persistent cloud cover accompanies a stalled snowmelt, soil temperatures will lag even further. Higher temperatures and cloudless skies in April, however, will accelerate the melting and bring on flooding.
With more sunny days, the snow will surely lift; nevertheless, you must wait until the soil releases some of its moisture, otherwise youll compact the clay. Compacted soil crushes air pockets and its underground inhabitants: worms and helpful microbes. Tender roots will gasp for oxygen and drown in the sodden earth. Recovery is slow. But to repair any damage, maintain a 3-inch mulch of compost or other organic matter like shredded leaves.
Transplant tender annuals after the last killing frost. In the mountain area, which is all of Fluvanna except the southeast; its 5/10 to 5/15. For southeast Fluvanna and all of Buckingham it would be 4/20 to 4/30.
However, you can still put in hardy annual seedlings before those frost dates, including calendula, pansy, sweet alyssum, stocks, viola, and some dianthus cultivars.
Theres still time to set out cool weather vegetable transplants before the frost dates: broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. To direct-sow cool weather vegetables, try chard, cooking greens (Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, and mustard), lettuces, and spinach.
Because of what looks like a late spring, our growing season may shorten to less than Virginia piedmonts usual 182 days. A drier and warmer April and May wont make up for lost time when planting has been put off by a cool spring. With delayed maturity for some vegetables this means they will ripen later with smaller fruit.
Working with the natural forces of weather is no different than working with the challenges of soil, disease and pests. It only makes the fruit of your labors more precious.
Tip of the Week
Check First Aid for Storm-Damaged Trees posted on the University of Missouri Web site http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=G6867. They advise you to be patient, be safe and be wary of those eager to remedy your plight so quickly. Use the resulting wood chips as mulch. Dont let the arborist cart them away.