Hold Your Horses!

Yes, daffodils are poking out their sunny heads. Yes, the forsythia and flowering plums are blooming. Yes, there are some beautiful warm days. However, it’s still too early for planting tomatoes or peppers, cucumbers, squash, beans and many others. It never fails, when the first lovely spring days arrive, people new to the area want to know if they can plant their tomatoes. Hold your horses! Or, maybe I should say “Hold your plants.”

The last average frost date for much of the area is May 15. Note the operative word here – average. Last year we had a killer freeze after that. Most gardeners lost their fruit buds, lilac flowers and iris buds. In Washoe Valley where I live, I wait until June 1 to plant, because I know we are colder than most areas. Many of the other outer valleys stay colder longer than we do in town, and they freeze more readily.

Here’s some good advice to gardening newbies, become a weather watcher. Know the weather and the microclimates around your house and neighborhood. Track the last and first frost dates, not only for your area, but for your home. However, even that may or may not do you any good in avoiding frosts; after all, we all had a late freeze last year after June 1, even in town.

Of course, there are cold-hardy plants that can be planted now such as peas, kale, chard and other leafy crops. For the less frost-tolerant plants such as tomatoes and others listed above, start them indoors about six weeks prior to planting outside. That means now for those of you with a May 15 last frost date. But know you will still want to watch the weather and protect those tender new plants if and when a cold snap comes through. Some folks are bold and stronger cold warriors than others. They plant the less cold hardy plants outside way before the last freeze, but they use season extenders such as cold frames, low tunnels, cloches and walls of water to protect the plants. They spend their days watching the weather, and their nights covering their plants. Though they battle mightily, they also risk losing everything if a very hard freeze or snowstorm happens.

This is Nevada. Any good Nevadan worth their weight in compost knows “Wait five minutes and the weather will change.” Weather watching is a Nevadan sport. Battling the weather is what I think the state slogan “Battle Born” is all about. I even knew of one man who used to hang metal coffee cans of hot coals in his fruit tree to get peaches. He would stay up all night adding more hot charcoal. Now that’s a battle born Nevadan.