Wither the weather, and why? May gardeners wonder

This year's garden may bloom when it's eventually planted, a bit later than ususal

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Many of the 55 and older crowd are involved in gardening, and aside from freezing to death while weeding, this year, the garden may not have its usual robust late-May growth and blooms.

Your gardening efforts are not all in vain; it's warming up, finally. Maybe with a vengeance. But it's also a shock for plants to go from cold to very warm and back to cold in a short period of time.

Plenty of gardeners have been frustrated by the weather this year, according to Mary Eagon, Master Gardener coordinator, assistant education coordinator at the WSU Cooperative Extension Office.

That abrupt change from cold to very warm is a stressor, too. "It's really tough on them, especially the transplants," Eagon said. "They haven't established their root systems yet, they haven't gone down into the soil. There could be some wilting."

A simple solution: shade. She suggested a shade cloth or even propping up a shingle in front of little plants, anything to block the sun. "It's really tough on plants, especially with their new, little leaves."

If you get the plants out there too early, they'll freeze. It's a matter of the temperature of the soil not being warm enough, according to Eagon. If you thought the wind has been cold, remember the soil takes time to warm up in a even in a "normal" spring.

But there are things you can do to warm up the soil. "You can put black plastic over the area to help get the temperature up. I put it in rows, but with all the wind we get here, just bury the edges. It will help warm up the soil quicker. When it's this cold, you put seeds in the ground and they may rot before they germinate. You can protect them with a "Wall of Water" where the plant is surrounded by plastic that has columns of water heated by the sun," she said. Work your first plants into the most protected areas of your garden, use row covers and encourage the ground to warm.

The persistent wind will make the ground colder and drier. Don't just bring the plants home and set them in the sun. "Remember little plants are sensitive. Plants come out of green houses, that's a shock for them. Let them sit out in regular weather. Put them in a shady spot, then the sun. It's hard to be patient," Eagon said.

Those are some of the things you can do, to make your plants stronger. "I think we're just so sick of winter, but if you plant them and they all die it hasn't saved you any time. You have to do it all over again."

Eagon uses raised beds. She said those are often warmer so she can get started sooner. Work the soil, get the weeds out, work with a soil cover and plastic to warm the soil as much as you can.

"What you want is a soil temperature of about 50-60 degrees. Get a thermometer out there and measure it, not at the surface but about four to five inches down where the roots are going to be. It's just real slow and icky this year, everybody's frustrated." She said that, because of the warm days, the soil is gradually warming, depending on how cold it gets at night.

If you have questions or concerns, the office is ready with information and staff with plenty of experience. "We have tons of gardening information," Eagon said. She suggested Tonie Fitzgerald's book, "Gardening in the Inland Northwest." According to Eagon, "It helps with great references about gardening here. So many books just emphasize the west side of the state rather than the east." Doing some reading and researching can help a gardener get more information while waiting for conventional spring weather to get started. "Especially if they're retired and have the time to garden," she said.

The office is at 328 W. Poplar St. For more information call 509-524-2685.

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at karleneponti@wwub.com.

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