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April Showers Bring May Flowers

by Vince Bushell

“When should I plant?” is a common question for Wisconsin gardeners. Often gardeners wait until Memorial Day to plant, but that means they are missing a chance to plant flowers and vegetables that actually perform better in cool weather. Of course you could have planted bulbs last fall and you would already have a host of color in your yard by May. The last frost in the Milwaukee area, on average, is in the first week of May. We can have weeks of cold weather after that, and it does not make much sense to plant warm weather crops, like peppers and tomatoes, until the soil warms up. You can plant cool weather crops as soon as you can work the soil in spring. These include lettuce, spinach, onions, radishes, cabbage, and peas as well as some hardy flowers, like Centaurea, Dianthus, Dusty Miller, Flowering Kale, Pansy, Petunia, Snapdragon and Viola and Sweet Peas. If you wish to rush the season on warm weather crops and you are willing to do a little extra work, there are some techniques that can help you attain bragging rights to the first ripe tomato on your block. Cover your garden soil for a week or so of sunny days with plastic to raise the soil temperature. Plant your tomatoes and peppers inside a wire plant frame available at the garden center and on cold days and in the evening cover them with a cloche, a plastic bag or cover that allows light in on cold days and keeps the warmth in on cold nights. You must open or remove the cloche on warm sunny days to avoid toasting your plants. There are commercially available row covers if you are planting a big garden. Remove the cloche entirely in June when evening temperatures are rising. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 5 – May 2003
by Vince Bushell