For many of us in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions—and for a good portion of the U.S., for that matter—the process of gradual warming to vegetable garden planting-appropriate temperatures seems to be stuck. It’s cold! We may have a warm day here and there but consistently mild weather has been nowhere in the forecast. The calendar, the seasonal holidays and the commercials heralding the start of Summer ’22 all say “go out and plant your heart out.” But the need for a wool hat and the dog shivering at morning’s first outing are clear indicators the weather isn’t heeding those messages.
With that said, we’ve prepared six tips for this still-too-cool-but-let’s-get-in-the-garden-anyway season.
Check Your Long-Range Forecast
Long-range weather forecasts will give you approximate temperatures for a few weeks out. If night time temperatures are hovering in the mid to high 40s—even low 50s—hold off on planting anything that thrives during the heat of the summer. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cukes, squash, corn and a countless number of other garden delights adore the heat of summer. Hold off on your vegetable garden planting until night temperatures are consistently forecast to be in the mid to upper 50s. “But 50F should be fine!,” you’re saying. Just because a forecast says it’ll be 50F doesn’t mean it will be 50F. It could be lower! Be skeptical of forecasts and err on the side of caution.
Pro tip: Don’t rely on your weather app. Get an actual thermometer! And if you really want to know what the temperature is, put that thermometer probe in the soil and see how cool your roots could potentially become. Brrr.
Prepare the Vegetable Garden Beds
Once those temperatures stay in the mid-50s and higher, you’ll want to get into the garden pronto. Lessen your future workload by preparing your vegetable garden planting beds now. Map out what will go where. You can even mark out your garden rows and dig in your soil amendments, then just wait for temperatures to rise.
Disturbing the soil a lot can break up that network of soil microbes that will nourish your plants’ roots. But from time to time you still need to incorporate amendments into the ground to replace those lost by frequent harvest. Simply spread out an amount of your chosen amendment along your row or in the whole bed, and hand-trowel it into the top inch or two of soil. One of my favorite tools to do this with is a Garden Weasel Garden Claw. I don’t dig it in more than an inch or two and I just simply turn the device, which mixes the amendments into the soil pretty effectively.
And speaking of soil amendments, our Worm Castings gives newly planted plants a head start by creating an awesome soil structure that roots can easily grow and spread into. Studies show that earthworm castings can also contain high levels of microbes compared to the surrounding soil. Microbes help those roots absorb nutrients, so the more the merrier!
Lay Down Landscape Fabric
If your long-range forecast is cool for a while and you just need to get your vegetable garden going, lay down some black landscape fabric. The soil under the cloth with warm up during the day and hold some heat during the evening. Once the soil under the cloth is warm enough to your liking, you can cut slits into the cloth and insert plants into the soil through the slits. Now, many landscape fabrics are polyester-based fabric, and we’re not huge fans of plastics. But, these product is somewhat reusable if you’re careful with it.
Acclimate Your Seedlings
While you’re out there laying down some amendments and possibly some landscape fabric, you’re inviting your indoor-grown seedlings to spend some quality time outside with you, correct? Start bringing your seedling pots and trays from the warm but dimly lit indoors to the bright yet cool outdoors for an hour or two each day. Work your way up to having the youngsters camp outside on their own. But check the evening’s forecast first!
Did your forecaster get the forecast way wrong? It happens. There’s another piece of lightweight fabric called frost cloth that you can lay over your already-planted warm-season garden plants to protect them from low temperatures. Get yourself some! Lightweight blankets also help when temperatures dip into the 30s.
Topdress with Compost
A good layer of compost can help regulate the temperatures around your garden plantings. It’ll warm up during a sunny day and as the night cools, it releases that warmth around the plant. Hey, it’s not a sun lamp, but it’s something!
Need compost? We’ve got a compost blend, too. The Organic Mechanics Planting Mix Compost Blend is a delicious thing to add to soils just as you’re getting your garden going, whether you grow in-ground or in raised beds—works for either. Head on over to our STORE and see why it’s one of the many Organic Mechanics products whose sales support the Rodale Institute.