Spring comes late to the dance

Posted May 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Talk about being all dressed up with nowhere to go. Too many Missouri gardeners are watching spring days slip away because of cool, wet weather which has delayed the gardening season well past the frost-free date.

Gardeners may be eager to put spade to soil, but they need to wait.

“Avoid the temptation to work the soil when it’s wet because it’s one of the worst things you can do to your soil,” said David Trinklein, horticulture specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

As many gardeners wait for saturated soils to drain, raised-bed gardeners may have an advantage this year.

“Raised-bed gardens tend to drain better,” Trinklein said. “Also, the soil will warm sooner because it’s separated from the surrounding cooler soil.”

Size gives raised beds an advantage too. Because they tend to be smaller, they’re easier to cover with plastic, he said. That covering can help warm the soil quicker through a greenhouse effect, and also keep excessive rain from over saturating the soil.

The delayed spring is also causing problems for commercial nurseries. They have lots of plants in inventory but are seeing fewer customers than normal.

“There are gardeners and there are ‘yardeners,’” Trinklein said. “The yardeners are the first to give up if it’s a late spring. Unfortunately, the yardeners make up the bulk of bedding plants sales from nurseries and green industries.”

The wet and cold won’t last forever. Eventually the soils will dry out and the gardening work can begin.

“For early planting when temperatures are still cool, choose species that are at least half frost-hardy, such as petunia and alyssum. They can tolerate cooler temperatures. They may not like it, but they still will tolerate it,” Trinklein said.

Avoid ornamental plants that are truly heat-loving, he said. Vinca is a perfect plant for Missouri’s hot summers. But we often abuse this plant by putting it out too early, he said.

Planting a cool-season vegetable garden this spring may be tricky because there may not be enough time for cole crops like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts or the leafy green vegetables to establish before Missouri’s heat arrives.

“A good gardener will know that we may transition from cool temperatures right into hot temperatures and so may skip the cool-season vegetables altogether this spring, choosing more heat-loving plants like corn and cucumbers,” Trinklein said.

This doesn’t mean that there’ll be no fresh mustard greens, spinach or turnips this year. Instead, many seasoned gardeners will postpone planting cool-season vegetables until the fall. There are some advantages to growing cool-season vegetables in the fall.

“The cole crops grown in the fall are much milder and more succulent,” Trinklein said. “For plants like cabbage and broccoli, the heat tends to build up a sulfur compound that makes them pungent. They are not as strong-smelling when they mature in the cool temperatures in the fall.”

Still, there are a few cool-season vegetables that can be planted this spring.

“Onion is a good example. We can pull and use them at anytime during the growing process as green onions,” Trinklein said. “It’s just we might not have the big bulbing onions that we might store throughout the winter.”