Gardner’s knows that when it comes to sowing seeds and planting, “timing is everything.” Whether it’s sowing seeds indoors or planting tender seedlings in your garden, if you don’t time the activity correctly, you are surely setting yourself up for failure. The same goes for the beautiful flowers sold at this time of year that have been propagated in greenhouses. Remember that you may need to protect them from sporadic cold temperatures in the evening if you buy too early.
Browsing through my favorite garden centers and perusing the many plant suppliers at local markets lately, I wonder how long it will take to protect my purchases (if patient restraint fails me) from the weather before the threat of ‘a kill frost or frost is gone. It is extremely difficult to pass the many beautiful hanging baskets and tables overflowing with lush multi-colored flowers and vegetables begin to burst their pots wanting to be planted in the garden. Some tender flowers and vegetables will not thrive if smothered in temperatures below 50* Fahrenheit.
Many factors come into play when starting, transplanting and planting seeds in the garden. Seeds should be started indoors 8, 6, 4, and 2 weeks before the last spring frost, depending on which seed you wish to start. Then transplanting the tender seedlings grown from seed indoors should be hardened off (a period, usually between 1-2 weeks where the seedlings are gradually acclimatized outdoors) before planting them out in the garden, again at a specific time before or after the last spring frost.
There are an abundance of charts and schedules all based on USDA plant hardiness zones online and in gardening books to give direction to the planting task. I have used and relied on many in the past. Over the past few years I have noticed a subtle change in the temperature and weather patterns of the eastern United States. The USDA reports that plant hardiness zones are moving north in the United States at a rate of 13 miles per decade. That might not seem like a lot, but if you stray even a week away from frost dates when starting seeds or planting, it can lead to failure.
Through my past observations and careful monitoring of the weather, I have become more and more aware of the importance of the “timing” of a garden. I paid more attention to the gardeners of yesteryear and their clever sayings and “chantettes” about what and when to plant in the garden. Most seem to be nature-based, all cleverly entertaining.
Here are some snippets of ancient knowledge to digest; When the nightjar sings, plant corn. Wait for the apple trees to flower before planting bush beans. When the apple blossoms fall, plant green beans and cucumbers. Transfer the tomato plants to the garden when the lily of the valley is in full bloom. Transplant peppers and eggplants when bearded irises are in bloom. It is prudent to plant tender annuals and gourds when the lilacs are in full bloom. It is prudent to plant heat-loving melons when the peonies bloom.
This all makes perfect sense when you let nature dictate planting time. The beauty of this thought is that it works in all hardiness zones because nature is leading. Observing the life cycle of one plant to time the success of another is very vivid. Science based on nature, to succeed in timing the dates of sowing and planting.
So if you have the opportunity to chat with an elder who you know is an avid gardener or farmer, ask them for spring planting tips. If they have a catchy phrase or two to share on the subject, ask them to explain it to you, you won’t be disappointed.
Dawn Conrad is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, herb enthusiast, writer, and fiber artist. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.