What to do when spring is late in the garden

What to do when spring is late in the garden

Tips from the head gardener at Saanich’s Horticulture Centre of the Pacific

Spring is late and it’s adding some confusion to the regular planting season.

Even Horticulture Centre of the Pacific head gardener Linda Petite is having a hard time trying to balance the cold April temperatures with the go-to standby advice of the Farmers Almanac.

“This year it says April 14 is the last frost date in Victoria, [but] I would question this,” said Petite, who is still hesitant to plant anything that isn’t frost tolerant. “It depends where you are, up here [at HCP] we tend to have a colder ground.”

Generally speaking, the main planting weekend is the long weekend in May, Petite said, especially for starters coming from the greenhouse.

“But at the HCP gardens we don’t plant tomatoes until the first week of June, same as any heat-loving crops: tomatoes, squashes, corn, peppers, etc.”

After a couple of warm springs (who doesn’t remember the summer of 2015 starting in April that year) it’s tough to gauge.

Spring weather can be still quite unsettled, rain, sun and even hail, with warm afternoons followed by frosty nights.

Now is the time to plant perennials, shrubs and trees that can survive, but unlike the last two years, when some Greater Victoria gardeners were able to sneak their veggies and annuals in early, this year that’s not the case.

“A good rule of thumb is if you can walk across your garden without clumps of mud sticking to your boots, it’s planting time,” Petite said. “We are noticing that the bulbs and flowering plants last longer than when we have a warm spring.”

For starters, it’s weeding time. Weeds are out in full force, and a weekly weeding is essential. Lawn prep is happening, de-thatching, fertilizing and seeding, Petite said.

In the HCP veggie garden, the volunteer crews have worked the beds and are ready to direct seed root crops such as parsnips, potatoes, beets, brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage), lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard. It’s also a good time to clear room for annual flower seeds such as cosmos, sunflowers and nasturtiums.

HCP it holding its annual Tomato Day veggie plant sale on May 20, from 9 a.m. until noon, including heirloom tomatoes, and all kinds of veggie starters.

With the cold snaps this winter and extended wet weather, some plants have suffered, Petite said.

Here’s a tip: Don’t remove those dead-looking plants yet.

“They they may leaf out once it warms up. Carefully scratch the bark with your thumbnail near the base of the plant. If it’s green it is still alive. Be patient.”

Start your succession planting (lettuces, mescluns, mustard, beans, beets, carrots, peas, radishes, spinach and Swiss chard) anytime and repeat by planting the seeds again every two weeks.

“That way you get a consistent crop as summer moves along,” Petite said.

 

Nancy Grossert and Jesse Pereira, students at the Horticultural College of the Pacific, were among those taking part in last weekend’s plant sale at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific.                                 Wolf Depner/News Staff

Nancy Grossert and Jesse Pereira, students at the Horticultural College of the Pacific, were among those taking part in last weekend’s plant sale at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific. Wolf Depner/News Staff