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Let Soil Temperature Guide You When Planting Vegetables

In thinking about preparing my garden for spring and itching to get out in my yard, I came across this article written by Kym Pokorny from OSU.

We are getting our much needed rain to help us get out of the drought that we have been experiencing – but this article helped to remind me of some very important points regarding this year’s gardening.

“Weeks of cold temperatures and rain have unsettled the gardening season. You may be raring to get your garden planted – but hold on. Sowing seed or planting seedlings at the wrong time will bring nothing but heartache.”

‘One of the biggest mistakes people make is to plant too early,’ said Weston Miller, a former horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service. ‘They get excited when it’s sunny for a few days, put plants in the ground and think they will grow. But the seeds either rot from damping off fungus or germinate very slowly. At the very least, they’ll be stressed for the rest of the season and never catch up.’

Usually, we are able to plant many different vegetable seeds in the ground. We need to pay attention to the soil temperature.

“This year, however, paying attention to soil temperature is the best way to go. An inexpensive soil thermometer helps keep planting time in perspective.”

Fifty degrees is a good benchmark for cool-season crops,’ Weston said. ‘And the soil should be 60 degrees or more for warm-weather plants like tomatoes, peppers and basil. In fact, for tomatoes it should ideally be 65 to 70.’

“If you can’t resist the urge to plant warm-season vegetables before the soil warms sufficiently, Miller recommends using some sort of protection from the chill, such as a floating row cover, individual glass or plastic cloches or even milk jugs or soda bottles with the top cut out and turned upside down over plants. For directions on building a large, greenhouse-type cloche with PVC pipe and plastic, check out the OSU Extension guide on “How to Build Your Own Raised Bed Cloche.”

‘Gardening depends on the weather, which is unpredictable,’ Miller said. ‘But it pays to wait.’

Check out Weston Miller’s top five tips for a successful vegetable gardening —

  • Prepare the soil
  • In addition to adding complete fertilizer to the soil, use a soluble fertilizer like fish emulsion for transplants
  • Use transplants when possible
  • Control weeds early in the growth cycle of your veggies 
  • Monitor and control slugs and other insect pests often.


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