One of the most neglected tools for vegetable gardeners is a soil thermometer. Soil temperature is a much better measure of when to plant than air temperature or the calendar. Planting when soil is too cool can cause some seeds to rot and transplants to not root successfully.
A number of vegetables can germinate and grow at cool temperatures. For example, peas will germinate and grow well at a soil temperature of 40 F. Though lettuce, parsnips, and spinach can sprout at a soil temperature of 35 F, they prefer at least 45 F for best germination and growth. Radishes also do well at a soil temperature of 45 F. Even if the seeds of these cool- season crops are planted below the recommended soil temperature, the seed will rarely rot.
Warm-season crops such as tomatoes, sweet corn and beans are different. They prefer at least 55 F for germination (or transplanting), but others such as peppers, cucumbers, melons and sweet potatoes need it even warmer, about 60 F. If planted when soils are too cool, they likely will rot before germinating.
To take the temperature of your soil first, use a metal soil thermometer, which is sold in many garden, auto parts and hardware stores. Take temperature 2.5 inches deep at about 10 to 11 a.m. Temperature variations throughout the day and night affect soil temperature, with lowest readings after dawn and warmest around mid-afternoon. The late-morning reading gives a good average temperature. Be sure to get a consistent reading for four to five days in a row before planting, and make sure a cold snap is not predicted.
It may be cold and dreary outside, but it’s also seed catalog time! You can request catalogs for free from most seed suppliers. They are often shiny, colorful, and offer the latest high quality seeds. If you find the catalogs a bit overwhelming, you are not alone. Look for varieties that offer disease resistance and will do well in our summer heat.
For more information on choosing seeds watch this video:
The best time to fertilize spring-flowering bulbs is when foliage emerges in the spring rather than at flowering. Traditionally, gardeners have applied fertilizer during bloom or a bit after, but because bulb roots start to die at flowering, fertilizer applied at bloom is wasted. Roots are active when the foliage first pokes through the ground.
Nutrients applied then help the plant produce flowers the following year. If bulbs have been fertilized in the past, there are often plenty of phosphorus and potassium in the soil. It is best to use a soil test to be certain. If the soil needs phosphorus and potassium, use a complete fertilizer (such as 10-10-10, 9-9-6, etc.) at the rate of 2.5 lbs. per 100 square feet. This would equal 1 rounded teaspoon per square foot. If phosphorus and potassium are not needed, blood meal makes an excellent fertilizer. It should be applied at the rate of 2 lbs. per 100 square feet or 1 teaspoon per square foot. Lawn fertilizers such as a 27-3-3 or 30-3-3 can be used, but cut the rate by a third. Also make sure the lawn fertilizer does not contain a weed preventer or weed killer.
Remember to leave the foliage until it dies naturally. The energy in the foliage is transferred to the bulb as the foliage dies and will help bloom next year.
The holidays may be over but January is a time to celebrate houseplants. Most houseplants are easy to care for and add so much life to a space. Having a plant in your office or home is a great way to bring some color indoors and cure your winter blues.
If you start vegetable plants indoors, it is often helpful to list seeding dates on a calendar so that plants are ready for transplanting at the proper time. To do this, choose your transplant date and count back the number of weeks necessary to grow your own transplants. For example, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower are usually transplanted in late March to early April. It takes 8 weeks from seeding to transplant size. Plants should be seeded in early February.
Below are examples of some common vegetables grown for transplants and a recommended date for seeding. Dates are on weekends as this is when many homeowners have the most free time. The dates are not set in stone, and a week earlier or later will not ruin the plants. Keep notes on how well the transplants did so you can tweak the planting schedule. Your conditions may result in plants that need a bit more or a bit less time.