Seasonal transitioning is not always easy for New Englanders. If you doubt that, look at how people dress when the weather is unseasonably warm. You’ll see people out and about and looking rather bizarre in shorts, flip flops and tank tops on a warm winter’s day in Boston.
I personally love transitional fashion. For example, white jeans with boots and a leather jacket. So I never really understand the urgency to wear beachwear in the city in March.
But when it comes to gardens I know I’ve succumbed to the irresistible temptation to plant as soon as ground is thawed and the sun is warm. I also know all too well, the lingering regret of jumping the gardening shark and finding everything I’ve rushed to plant, dead from a cold snap or late spring frost.
So I believe that “transitional contingencies” are an important piece to getting started with your garden, especially when spring comes early and unseasonably warm, like it has this year in Boston. I touched on the subject in my RedShift Gardens blog post Priorities by up the following questions:
If I plant early:
- When is the temperature safe enough?
- What has to come in?
- What can stay out?
- How much work is involved?
- Is it worth it?
It depends on the 1) the plant and 2) where its planted and 3) how its planted.
Plants in protected areas and in containers have a better chance of surviving a cold snap then those planted in ground, in an open area.
Some plants, like pansies, will bounce back after being snowed on all night even below freezing.
Some herbs will be ok under 45 degrees, but others, like basil, are at risk. Its easy to look up and most plants are labeled with minimum required temperature.
How much work is involved?
Well I just did this. I planted balcony containers a week ago: window boxes and pots. I had begonias, pansies, alyssum and herbs in 8″ – 10″ pots. I brought the begonias and basil indoors when the temperature dropped to 45 degrees. I brought the rest in when it dropped below 40 degrees. I live in a very small studio but I’d made some space on a table top and floor corner with no rug. I made sure I had clear plastic saucers for every container, just in case. It takes 5 minutes to bring them all in, and 5 minutes to bring them back out. I would rather not have plants on my table and on the floor but its an extremely minor inconvenience and in any case they are lovely.
So to be safe I recommend:
- Plant in containers
- Watch the forecast and think of mid-forties as the limit.
- Have a space ready to bring the containers indoors.
Is it worth it?
Its worth it if planting early is aligned with your priorities. It definitely is aligned with mine, particularly my immediate gratification desire! I don’t want to start with litte plants in May that may take months to fill out. I feel the same about spending a lot of money on large plants in May. I think there’s just as much risk in that (although many garden centers do guarantee unconditionally).
Also, there are benefits to plants having time to acclimate while temperatures are still often low. Mine just took off like crazy and its been less than a week. The garden centers are uncrowded, the stock is fresh, and you’ll be enjoying large healthy plants within weeks if you put a bit of effort into seasonal transitional garden contingencies. And just like the fashion police, the garden police will have nothing to critique!
Happy gardening from The Flower Whisperer and don’t forget:
Real men love pansies!