Final Frost Dates and Just WHEN to Plant
The urge to plant strikes about the same time the days start to lengthen and brighten in late winter. But if gardening teaches us anything, it is to be patient. We must wait not only until the air temperatures are well above freezing, but also until the ground has had a chance to warm up.
The latest below-freezing date in our area was recorded at 30 degrees on April 29, 1874. As we’ve witnessed in past years, April can be a very cruel month. Frosts can and do occur well into May.
Once the air temps warm up, keep in mind that just because the days are no longer frigid, does not mean the soil is ready to receive your tender young transplants. It takes several days of consistent warmth and sunshine to heat up the earth.
Mother’s Day is the traditionally recognized date for the start of spring planting in the greater DC-area. If you want to wait a week or two after that date, there is no harm done. In fact, tomatoes, herbs, etc. need consistently warm soils to survive and thrive, so better to be later in your plantings than early.
If you are a risk-taker or are just impatient to start the season, you may want to chance it and plant earlier. Then you'll need to be ever watchful for frost warnings and prepared to give your new plants frost-blankets and protection at a moment's notice. If you plant in containers, pull them into a protected area such as a garage and porch and maybe throw a light sheet over them as well. Those of us with cold frames can start the season earlier. Don’t forget to crack open the glass during the day, lest you fry your plants!
What is safe to plant now? You can still put in pansies and violas for instant color as well as starting your vegetable seeds indoors. Lettuce greens, peas, and other cool season veggies can be sown and harvested until the summer heat and humidity moves in. Now is also a great time to plant flowering shrubs, trees, and perennials. If you are looking at putting in a rose bush or two, you should get it in now so it has time to settle in before the hot growing season.
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