Memorial Day is a time to reflect on how lucky we are to be living in a country that allows us the freedom to do and say as we please - and to honor those men and women who lost their lives fighting for that right. For us northern gardeners Memorial Day also has a secondary significance. Generally speaking this is the point in the calendar where you can be 99% certain that we have no danger of an overnight frost. I say 99% because...well it's the weather...so check your weather app to make sure there are no low temperatures below 40 in the foreseeable future. If so, you're ready to go. Here is what should be on your to-do list:
Plant your seeds directly in the garden
You're now cleared to plant any seeds that go directly in the garden. Cucumbers, pole beans, broccoli, and summer squash are just a few examples of items you can direct seed. If you missed out on a spring planting of peas, carrots, kale, or other greens, go ahead and get those in the ground now too. The seed packet should have instructions in terms of how far apart to space them and all that good stuff. Or you can check out our Vegetable Index for quick and detailed instructions on how to plant the most common garden vegetables.
Transplant the plants you started from seed
Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and any other veggies you started from seed can now go in the ground. But - did you harden them off first? Hardening off means bringing your seed trays outside for a few hours every day to get them used to real sunlight and wind after being in a climate controlled environment for so long. Going directly from your windowsill to the real world might be too much of a shock for your fragile seedling, so if you haven't done this yet it's better to do that for a week or so first vs. rushing to get your plants in the garden ASAP.
If you are ready to transplant - be gentile. The less you can disturb the existing roots the better. You can click on the links for specific instructions on tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, but one tip that applies to all is to use the deep planting method.
Dig a hole deep enough so that only the top 4-6" of the plant will stick out. This is where most beginners go wrong only planting the existing roots underground. It may seem odd to bury part of the stem that has already begun growing leaves in the ground, but new roots will grow from any part of the stem that ends up under the dirt. Tall skinny plants are weak producers and this deep planting method helps to promote a strong base which will support the plant and its fruits for several months. Deeper roots and more roots results in bigger tomatoes and more of them. Snip off any small fruits or flowers that may already be there so that the plant can focus all of its energy on the plant itself rather than the budding fruit. Don't worry - they will come fast and furious soon enough.
Slow and steady wins the race
Memorial Day is a guideline, not a deadline. If you need an extra week or 2 to do things right you'll be better off in the long run vs. rushing to get it all done now. If you're looking to prioritize, something to consider is the temperature needed for seed germination. Lucky for you we put together a little chart showing the optimal soil temperature for most plants (scroll down below the pH stuff). Start with the lowest temperature plants first and work your way up. Seeds planted at lower temps will take longer to germinate, so for things like squash and melons you're not going to gain any advantage by rushing them into the dirt.
If you're planting corn or pumpkins - give it an extra week or 2 before planting those. Corn requires some serious heat to germinate and planting too early can make your seedlings weak and more susceptible to pest problems. Pumpkins also require a lot of heat, but another reason to delay is planning for when you actually want them to be ripe. If you plant your pumpkin seeds too early you will have bright orange pumpkins in early August and by the time we get to October they will be a pile of mush. Delaying planting your pumpkin seeds also helps in the fight against squash bugs and vine borers who typically come out of hibernation now looking for your new squash or pumpkin plants. If there are none for them yet they will move on to a new spot.
We hope you all enjoy this long weekend no matter what your plans are, and as always if you have any questions we are happy to help. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (see links below), or just add a comment here. Happy Memorial Day everyone, especially to those who made it possible for us to spend our days worrying about squash bugs and tomato worms instead of our safety and security, something none of us should take for granted on that day or any day. Thank you to those that have served and to the families of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.