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Spring has sprung — but don’t start planting yet

Temperature dictates best time to garden, not calendar
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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It must be that time of the year again, the time to plant a spring garden - or is it?

While spring has officially arrived, the planting season doesn't necessarily coincide with this March 20 calendar date. Instead, gardening aficionados wait until the weather dictates the best planting opportunity.

"We are at Mother Nature's will," said Rich Swanson, during a rainy day in mid-March.

Swanson is the manager for Bushnell Gardens Nursery and Garden Shoppe in Granite Bay, where he's worked for the past 13 years. He's been in the gardening business almost 40 years. His advice to newbies: Be patient.

Alyssa Sedmak, of Green Acres Nursery and Supply in Roseville, agrees with that suggestion. She said planting too early before soil temperatures warm up is a common mistake among virgin gardeners.

The Farmers' Almanac pinpoints April 15 as the last day of frost, Swanson said, but last year, Placer County experienced snow in May. Many vegetables, including tomatoes, shouldn't be put in the ground until nighttime temperatures reach the high 50s, Swanson said.

"We're not even close to that yet," he said.

Eggplant, squash, peppers, zucchini and many other vegetables enjoy evening warmth. So get a planting schedule for in-season produce and stick to it.

Green Acres has been buzzing on recent weekends with customers eager to begin their spring gardening and yard work. To avoid battling the crowds, check out tips on the company's website.

One such tip suggests three questions first-time gardeners should ask themselves before planting: Do I have the right plant for the right place? How's my soil and drainage? How are my plants going to receive water on a regular basis?

The best time to plant is late April and early May when a wider range of plant material is available. But aspiring gardeners shouldn't wait to get their hands dirty - start preparing today.

First, decide if you will build a raised bed, pot the seeds or put them in the ground, Swanson said. He prefers working with raised beds, which he fills with soil and organic material such as compost, manure or chopped up leaves.

Properly amending the soil is critical as healthy soil means healthy plants, Sedmak said.

Ensure that you'll be planting in a sunny location - most vegetables and fruit trees need at least six hours a day of sun. More sunlight exposure is even better.

Next, make sure your irrigation works and start fertilizing in April.

"I try to grow as natural as possible and try to use as little chemicals as possible," Swanson said. "There are plenty of products on the market now for insects or diseases that are natural or organic."

Sedmak suggests gardeners make sure to space out their planting.

"Be aware to give things enough room to grow," she said.

And make sure to put some flowers in the ground nearby, which attract bees and help with crop pollination.

First-time gardeners tend to make three common mistakes, Swanson said: They start too early, overplant and overwater. In terms of overplanting, if you have a family of four and plant 12 tomato plants you've planted about eight too many.

'That much is fine if you have the time to can and preserve," Swanson said, adding that excess produce can also be donated to local food banks or churches. "Otherwise, one plant per person is enough for the family."

To avoid overwatering, use drip irrigation and check the soil moisture regularly.

People without backyards don't despair: You too have the chance to grow your own food, even in a small space.

"They have the ability to garden, and that's in containers, (either) edibles or ornamentals," Swanson said.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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Miniature garden workshops

What: Presentation by Arlena Schott from the "Garden Wise" television show

When: 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, May 12

Where: Bushnell Gardens Nursery, 5255 Douglas Blvd. in Granite Bay

Cost: Free

Info: www.bushnellgardens.com or call (916) 791-0756