March Ask A Gardener

It’s time for all your burning garden questions, March edition!

Q: The weather has been so warm, and my plants have really taken off. But in the upcoming forecast I see temperatures dipping down into the low 30’s. Should I be worried?

This has got to be one of the top 5 worries for gardeners in the spring. If we’re frost-free for weeks on end, as we have been in this unseasonably dry and hot winter, many of our plants are lulled into a false sense of security. I’ve got some fall-planted flower starts in the field that are hip high and almost ready to bloom. A frost or two could really threaten all that new succulent growth. My strategy is to watch the weather closely and be prepared to cover anything I’m able with frost blankets. Failing that, I know that in most cases I can come through a few days after the frost (after I’ve watched to see if the plants recover) and cut down any damaged tips. In most cases, things will be just fine.

Q: Is it too late to plant ranunculus for the season? What about sweet peas?

In our fairly warm climate here in the North Bay, both ranunculus and sweet peas really do prefer to be planted in the fall. They thrive with a long, cool establishment period and planted this late in the season there’s no way to obtain that necessary chill. That said, here in early March, it’s always worth a try. The likely scenario is that your plants will be mildly stressed from the get-go, and burst into flower long before they’re meant to. Since they start to decline when temperatures reach the 70’s, they’ll also bloom for a much shorter period then they would when planted in fall. A shady spot or some overhead shade cloth can always help bring temperatures down when you’re in a bind.

Q: There was a great sale at my local nursery and I snagged a few tomato starts. I always thought you were supposed to wait until late spring to plant tomatoes, but figured that the professionals know best. Should I trust these and just plant them out?

Nurseries have a tough time in early spring, because customer demand can really do a number on their decision-making process! We all know that warm summer vegetables like tomatoes and peppers do in fact need warm, late spring-like conditions to survive and thrive out in the garden. But in a warm winter, people get the itch to grow! After hundreds of requests, nurseries figure they may as well give the people what they want. So i’d suggest taking their spring advice with a grain of salt. Just because you see a tomato for sale in February doesn’t mean it’s going to be happy in your garden! When in doubt, wait. Or else plan to pot up into a bigger container and grow-on in a covered space.