Garden center employees have thoughts about the customers who show up on the first warm days of spring.
These are the folks who want to buy tomato, pepper and geranium plants and want to know why there isn’t any basil. Garden centers love them, because they are as excited about spring as the customers are. But excited customers can be hard to convince that it’s too early to plant those plants.
What garden center staffers say to themselves is “sure, you can buy that plant and in a couple of weeks, we’ll sell you another one because the one you buy today will have been killed by a frost or freeze.”
One garden center I know used to post signs amid the tomato plants this time of year, telling customers that it wasn’t warm enough to plant them. It’s not just the ambient temperature, it’s also the temperature of the soil. Mother’s Day is the traditional go-ahead-and-plant day in central Indiana.
If the soil has not warmed up, heat-loving tomatoes and peppers sit there with cold roots. This can set them back. In fact, it’s better to plant peppers a couple of weeks later, so the soil is even warmer, something they will appreciate.
Why are they there?
So, customers ask, why do you have these plants in April if we can’t plant them until May? Because people what them.
Some gardeners say they buy the plants early with plans to stow them in the garage, on the porch or in the house, moving them out during the day and in at night. You can do that, but it seems like a lot of work, especially since that Big Boy tomato or red geranium, will still be available well into May. Buy the tomato then and you can plant it right away, which is always better than trying to hold it for weeks. Let the garden centers baby the plants, not you.
Plants ready for the season
Of course, there are lots of plants you can plant now. Almost any perennial, tree or shrub you find at a garden center can be planted, as long as you can work the soil. Working wet soil destroys its structure, which affects plant health.
In fact in April and May, garden centers are loaded with great selection of perennials in quart-size pots. Quarts are smart buys because the plants will bloom this year, just like the same ones sold in a gallon-size pot for twice the price. And quart-size pots are a fairly inexpensive way to try a new perennial in your garden.
By this time of year, pansies and violas may still be available, but not always. Garden centers will have other spring annuals, such as snapdragons and dianthus, always good choices to satisfy the planting itch.
I think the notion that gardening teaches us patience speaks to this time of year. Sometimes we just have to wait.