Time to start thinking about the garden
Being familiar with the average dates of the last frost and the first frost in your area is a key indicator of when to plant your plants. The U.S. Department of Agriculture gives about a month’s range of dates for frost. Of course this varies from year to year — it all depends on the weather!
Typically the last frost in southeast Iowa occurs in late April. Central Iowa begins to thaw a week later, and northern Iowa a week after that.
Vegetable planting time is not an exact science! Folk vision says to “plant when the leaves of the lilac bushes are as big as a mouse’s ear” according to the Iowa Garden Website. I haven’t measured a mouse’s ear lately but I think you get the idea!
I’m sure many of you have already started some of your vegetable seeds indoors. Starting the seeds indoors while it is still winter gives the plants a head start on growing. You can cut the lids off egg cartons, punch a small hole in each cell and fill with potting soil. Put two seeds per cell and a small amount of water. It is easy to pop the plants out when it comes time to transplant them into the garden!
February is a good time to start tomato seeds indoors. This allows the seed to grow into a sturdy plant that can handle the shock of transplanting. Tomato seeds sown outdoors may or may not germinate or grow as strong. Use a 2-liter soda bottle to grow tomato plants (or any other vegetable/flower). Cut the bottle in half, discard the cap, fill with potting soil and plant your seeds or seedlings in the top half. Then set the top half in the bottom half. Any excess water will drip through the opening into the bottom half of the bottle. This is a great way to recycle and save money!
Plant cold-weather vegetables like lettuce, radishes, carrots, peas and onions directly in the garden as soon as the ground is workable, usually late March or early April. These vegetables can withstand a little bit of frost and need to be finished producing by the time summer’s heat comes around. Planting vegetables too late in the season also puts them in a vulnerable position, risking the chance of frost before the fruits ripen. It’s all in the timing!
April is a busy month for gardeners planting seeds. Turnips, radishes, beets, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage can all be planted directly in the soil about the middle of April. By doing this you can avoid premature development in soil temperatures of less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The soil needs to be completely warm for other vegetables including corn, beans, potatoes and okra. This usually occurs in May. When planting vegetables like peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers, you will want to wait until late May in southeast Iowa, when there is no chance of a freeze. These vegetables need the long, hot summer to produce.
Julie Wetrich, a Master Gardener, states sources for this article include ehow.com and Birds and Blooms magazine.