Don’t jump the gun on planting garden

The first day high temperatures reached into the low 50s, I felt the itch.

Why not clear that flowerbed of leaves? Dig around and see if the irises are starting to push their vibrant green spear-like leaves through the winter muck. Take off that ratty sweatshirt and put my feet in the dirt?

Nobody wants to believe Punxsutawney Phil’s depressing prediction that we’ll endure more wintry weather before we see spring. Personally, I have little faith in a New England resident rodent’s knowledge of our weather patterns in western Colorado.

Sometimes I wish we had a local version of a weather-forecasting rodent. Why not enlist a prairie dog instead of a groundhog? We could name him West Slope Willard. Why not? Even if we did have Willard, though, he’d surely tell us winter is not over yet.

Something about that barely warmish breeze nags me to JUST PLANT SOMETHING. ANYTHING. At this point, I’m happy to even see the greenish tinge of a weed sprouting through the gravel by the mailbox. Late-winter weather can be such a temptress in our high desert climate. Spring teases and comes out for a few moments, a few hours, a day at a time and then retreats with blowing winds and pouring rain and hail.

Just when I reach this point of desperation, the seed displays start popping up. Ah, marketing. I have to remind myself that I shouldn’t be too eager to plant them — just because I walked past a display of perfectly-arranged envelopes of promised bounty doesn’t mean it’s time yet. Planting most things now (unless you have a greenhouse) is just asking for disaster. I have to remind myself it’s just like any other marketing method in big-box stores. There’s Christmas stuff out at Halloween, but that doesn’t mean you need to decorate the house and dress up like Santa.

Jumping the gun on getting your garden started won’t necessarily get you ahead in the long run. In fact, experts have proven that plant vigor can actually decrease if you start seeds too early and they’re too big when you transplant them to the garden.

The first thing to consider when harnessing your urge to plant seeds too early is the timing of your last average frost date for your area. In the Grand Valley, these dates vary. In general, Fruita experiences later frosts than Palisade, because it’s located at the colder end of the valley.

These dates are averages, so some years may have a last frost date earlier or later than these dates. If you live in Grand Junction, the last average 32-degree frost date is around May 3. If you live in the Fruita area, it’s colder, and your average frost date is a week later, around May 10. Palisade’s last frost date is around April 21. All of this climate data is available through Colorado State University Extension and the National Weather Service.

Once you know the average frost date, consider what you want to plant. Tomatoes take longer to start than many other vegetables (so you would begin planting them earlier). According to CSU Extension, you will need five to seven weeks before the last frost date to start tomatoes indoors. If you live in Grand Junction, and you want to start tomatoes from seed, the earliest you should probably start them is March 15. That’s three weeks away.

So, in other words, chill out. It’s not warming up that fast. Drool over some more seed catalogs and resist the urge to rip open those packets just yet.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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