Don’t let April fool you. Wait a little longer before setting out heat-loving summer vegetables.
Warm weather in March made it very tempting to start transplanting tomatoes, peppers, squash and other summer staples into the garden. But it’s not the daytime heat that matters most; it’s the soil temperature. Tomatoes want soil warmer than 60 degrees before they really start growing. (That’s a temperature our soil usually doesn’t reach until May.) Peppers and eggplant want it even warmer.
Think your ground is warm enough? Try the “sit down test”: Sit in thin shorts (or less) on the bare ground. If you can stay seated comfortably for 60 seconds, then go ahead and plant. Otherwise, your tomatoes will just sit there, too, and not grow.
If you have tomato seedlings that can’t wait, transplant them into 1-gallon containers (preferably black) as a stopgap before putting them in the garden. They can develop their roots in the pot while the ground warms up. Then transplant them (and their new bigger rootballs) into the garden in late April or May. They’ll be ready to really take off.
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▪ What can you plant now? In the vegetable garden it’s time to plant seeds for beets, carrots, celery, chard, endive, fennel, jicama, mustard, radish, spinach and turnips.
▪ Watch out for slugs and snails. Spring brings them out in force. An hour after nightfall, check your tender plants with a flashlight and hand-pick snails and slugs off foliage.
▪ To deter snails, sprinkle wood ash or crushed eggshells around plants. Make this barrier thick enough to form a solid line of defense; a few scattered shells won’t work. Or try this trick: Put boards (such as two two-by-fours or one-by-sixes) flat in the garden and leave them overnight. In the morning, you’ll find the slimy critters hiding under the boards. Scrape the pests into the trash and dispose of them.
▪ Catch stink bugs early. Their eggs, in neat rows, soon will start appearing on the underside of leaves. The young stink bugs look like long-legged aphids. They can be controlled by such organic products as Nature’s Pest Fighter, Safer Brand Insecticidal Soap or Bug Buster-O. Or, wearing gloves, pick them off and drop them in an old coffee can containing an inch of soapy water. Then, cover the can and dispose of it.
▪ With warmer weather comes mosquito season. Empty water out of saucers under pots. Also, eliminate any other standing water that may have accumulated during spring showers.