Now is the time of year that folks are sowing seeds outdoors and transplanting indoor plant starts. Many beginner or inexperienced gardeners would like a clear-cut date and time that is best to sow and transplant. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work like that. But no worries—you don’t have to break your brain trying to be the “perfect” gardener. Just understanding a few basics and taking it easy will keep gardening an easy-going and fun practice that will pay off!
- Knowing the estimated frost date and being aware of the weather patterns of your area will help you know when the weather conditions are right for planting. Keep in mind the frost date is an estimate based on historic averages and not intended to be a firm date. A general rule of thumb is to wait until nighttime temperatures are at or above 50° F for two weeks. Then it’s good time to start your sowing and transplanting. Keep in mind to TAKE YOUR TIME; you don’t have to plant everything in one day. It’s even recommended that you plant sporadically over the course of a few weeks. In addition to spacing out your harvests, spacing out your planting increases your odds of growing successful crops or minimizing your losses—depending on if you are a glass half full or half empty kind of person!
- Soil should be light and fluffy, still holding moisture but not wet and clumpy. Checking your soil moisture is actually a fun activity. Roll your soil into a ball and drop it on the ground. If the ball crumbles evenly, your soil is ready. If it breaks into clumps or in halves, your soil is still too wet. Kids tend to like doing this, and they learn something while doing it. Tilling wet soil can disrupt the soil structure so wait until soil passes the ball test.
- Garden vegetables like Eggplants, Tomatoes, and Peppers are almost always sown indoors and are transplanted after the “hardening off” period, whereas Cucumbers and Summer Squash are generally sown outdoors. “Hardening off” is the period of time when you slowly introduce your plants to the outside elements. It should last roughly two weeks. Start in the shade and move into the sun. Keep your soil moist but not soaking while “hardening off”, and saturate soil immediately after planting. Transplant in the morning or on an overcast day as to not shock the plant with too much sun and heat.
If you think you may have planted too early or if the weather in your area is becoming unruly, try using plant protectors to ensure plant survival. It acts like a mini greenhouse, protecting your transplant or early-sown seed against the unpredictable cold nights.