As we move into late March and spring gets underway, I think about how tempting it is to try and get plants in the ground as soon as possible. I also think about how doing that can often be a big mistake.
Here are just some of the mistakes I’ve made in the past:
- Planting out courgettes and squash in early May and then watching them all turn yellow and weak because of strong, cold winds.
- Planting out peas and watching leaves turn purple because it was still too cold and the plants were in shock.
- Planting out sweetcorn and seeing leaves get scorched at the tips because of winds.
- Planting out beans and losing them all to frost.
- Planting out beans a little later and then having to uproot them and move them to the shelter of the greenhouse because of a sudden drop in temperatures in early May.
Working with the weather is better, I think. And it’s not the same for everyone. Some people’s gardens will be warmer earlier, some people’s gardens will be more exposed to wind, some people’s gardens will have frost pockets.
I’ve got to know my own plot fairly well now. I’m in year seven or eight of growing veggies there, so I know which beds are more prone to frost, which are in a wind tunnel and so on. It’s useful to know these things so that you can plant accordingly. I know now that it is better for me to plant out squash seedlings and sweetcorn plugs in mid May, not early May, and to cover them with a bottle cloche (I have several that I re-use year after year.) I know that it is better for me to plant bean plugs temporarily in small pots in the greenhouse if they arrive earlier than mid May, and then plant them out from mid May onwards. I know that if I plant potatoes, I should plant them in the bed that doesn’t get much frost.
It’s about working with the weather, with the temperatures, rather than just wanting to get out there and plant simply because it’s spring. It might be spring, but it can be cold, winds can be strong, late frosts can appear from nowhere, nighttime temperatures can be cold. It really is worth waiting and planting out when you know conditions are more friendly for the plants.
My favourite time to plant is mid-May – I don’t know why, but it often falls around 20th May that I plant out, and everything does so well. Last year, I planted a little later than that as I was away, and some plants didn’t go in the ground until June, and everything did well. In fact, a lot of the plants – particularly the more heat loving plants like squash and sweetcorn – did just as well and were ready to harvest at much the same time of year as they were in previous years when I’ve planted in late April or early May.