Phenology could save you from Naked Gardening Day mistake

Erin Schanen

    Beware of garden adages. I don’t know how such things come to be, but I’m pretty sure most of them didn’t originate anywhere near Ozaukee County or places with similar climates.  
    For instance, if you followed the adage about when to plant your peas, you’d be putting them in the ground on the day this newspaper lands in your mailbox, March 17. But I’d advise bringing an ice pick because you’re not going to get far at that time of year here.
    Peas, of course, like to grow at cool temperatures, so a soil temperature of even 45 degrees is about right, but you’re more likely to find that about three or four weeks from now. If you’re eager to get peas sooner you can, contrary to popular belief, start them indoors early in a cool but sunny spot or under a grow light and transplant them to the garden when the soil is workable.
    One method for this that seems to be popular is to use a length of gutter with holes for drainage. Fill it with potting mix and plant peas in a row. When it’s time to plant them out, you simply make a furrow in the garden bed and slide the gutter of peas right in.
    There are more ridiculous adages related to planting times. One suggests that potatoes should be planted on Good Friday, a day that can fall anywhere during the third week of March and the third week of April. The later dates might be OK since the optimal soil temperature for potatoes is around 50 degrees, but try to get away with that in late March around here and you won’t be feasting on homegrown spuds this year.
    Warm season crops such as tomatoes shouldn’t be planted until you can comfortably sit in the soil with your pants down, according to another odd but amusing adage. Of course tomatoes detest cool soil, but one would assume that cool buttocks tolerance varies from person to person, and wouldn’t a soil thermometer do a better job and stand less chance of giving the neighbor a heart attack? Wait until that thermometer hits about 70 (or at least 65) before you plunk those tomato babies in the ground.
    That’s not to say that all adages offer bad advice, it’s just that it’s probably advice for Tennessee, not Wisconsin. However, those based on phenology — the relationship between climate and plant and animal life cycles — can be worth paying attention to because they aren’t dictated by a calendar date but rather the climatic conditions.
    For instance, if you don’t feel like buying a soil thermometer, you can look for serviceberry (Amelanchier) trees and shrubs to bloom as a guide for potato planting. Or plan to prune your roses when the Forsythia are blooming.
    Common lilacs are a cornerstone plant in phenology and can be used to determine planting times for everything from lettuce and collards (when it first leafs out) to squash and cucumbers (when blooms just start to fade).
    But if you want to save yourself the embarrassment of celebrating World Naked Gardening Day (this year on May 7) on the wrong day, look for lilies of the valley to be in full bloom before you plant your tomatoes. Your neighbors will thank you.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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