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Itchy green thumb? The risks of early-season planting

Warm temps, early bloom can prove pitfall for unseasoned gardeners.
Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 6:55 PM EDT
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JERUSALEM TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WTVG) - It feels more like mid-June than early April today, though the mild season so far can give a false sense of security for unseasoned gardeners. Cindy Bench, co-owner of Bench Farms in Jerusalem Township, says one of the best ways to get ahead of your gardening is to not get ahead of yourself.

“We live in Northwest Ohio... and if you don’t like the weather, wait until tomorrow... it’s guaranteed to change!” she quips. “This has been an unusual weather year... a mild fall, a pretty mild winter for most of it, and today feeling more like summer. Guess what’s going to happen pretty soon? [Temperatures] are going to plummet down, and all those lovely little plants that are heat lovers are not going to like it.”

Certain blooming bushes serve as Bench’s benchmark for prime planting season: “Forsythia bushes, which are yellow -- those are Mother Nature’s indicators,” remarks Bench. “They get in full bloom, then when they’re done and getting on the green side, then it’s safe to start planting.”

Soil temperatures are about 50° right now, but 60° and above is ideal for a litany of warm-weather crops. “You can get away with some of the colder crops like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, alyssum, pansies, and snapdragons,” offers Bench, “but when you get into tomatoes, peppers, petunias, and geraniums, it’s just too risky to plant those out yet.”

The Benches do sell warmer plants right now, but tack on some caution-free with each sale: “We give good advice because we want our customers to be successful gardeners. If they insist on taking warm-weather crops, they come with a warning: Take them outside in the day, back in at night, do NOT plant it outside yet.”

Bench Farms specializes in floral and vegetable plants, though late-season cold snaps can prove even more concerning for fruit farmers. “We’ve had enough warm days in a row that their buds are now popping,” says Bench. “If we get below 30°, it’s going to be a disaster like last year. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers... it’s a tough row to hoe if you’re a fruit farmer.”

Watching the thermometer is one thing, but the rain gauge hasn’t been getting much of a workout so far this season... and at present, we have to work our way out of moderate (D1/Stage 2) drought. “Mother Nature doesn’t live by a calendar like we do... it goes by whatever the climate is doing at the moment,” says Bench. “We should have an overabundance of water right now, and I’m worried we’re going into a drought situation this summer... so use your water wisely.”

If you can’t be out there planting yet, you can at least get your gardens primed and ready. “My rule of thumb is you should wait until at least the 15th of May for warm weather crops,” offers Bench, “but until then, you can work all over the ground, add some good compost, get that topsoil so you’re all ready to go when the time does come.”

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