Why Madison gardeners should wait to plant

Despite the unseasonably warm temperatures, experts say gardeners should wait longer before planting for the upcoming spring season.

“I think it’s way too early, especially given the history of the region,” said Dahlia Susel, a greenhouse grower for Felly’s Flowers and Garden Center. “We typically tell customers not to plant things until after that last frost day in May.”

Tiffany Olson, owner of The Madison Greenhouse Store on Williamson Street, said that while many of her customers are suspicious that the warm temperatures may just be a “fake spring,” there is more excitement for gardening than she usually sees this time of year.

Madison Green House Store- winter gardening

Employee John Zydowicz pots a plant for a customer at The Madison Greenhouse Store.

“We’re definitely having one of the best Februarys that we’ve ever had for gardening supplies,” Olson said.

Lisa Johnson, horticulture educator for Extension Dane County, agrees with Susel that it is too early for people to start planting.

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“The earliest that we recommend is about the middle of April for planting cold hardy crops like peas and a lot of the cold crops like Swiss chard, broccoli, any of those cold season crops and also planting potatoes,” she said.

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However, she added that it’s not a bad idea to water evergreen plants or any trees or shrubs that have been planted in the last year. Now may be a good time for local gardeners to start tilling or incorporating compost into their soil.

One of the best ways to know when it might be ready to plant is to purchase and use a soil thermometer, Johnson said.

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“A thermometer can tell you whether the soil is ready because even if we have warmer temperatures, that doesn’t mean that the soil is necessarily at the same temperature,” she said. “If you plant a seed too early, it will just sit there and sulk.”

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Because of the warmth, some plants will likely have buds that bloom earlier than usual due to the warmer temperatures, but it’s unlikely that the overall health of those existing plants will be affected.

However, Johnson noted that the lack of snowfall this winter, along with the wide range in temperature variation, could have a noticeable effect on plant growth.

“We really had a triple whammy because we went in with dry soil, it got very cold and now it’s very warm,” Johnson said. “So the poor plants are likely to have a difficult time adjusting to all that.”

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