Plan for the last frost

The initiation of your outdoor garden activity is always dependent on the frost date. Gardeners naturally become more religious about watching the calendar in February, as they eagerly wait for the last frost to come and go for another season.

The “actual last frost” date is the last day in the spring that frost could appear. The “average last frost” date is the date on which, in half of the previous years, the last frost had already occurred.

The date of the “actual last frost” changes from year-to-year. It can be much earlier than the average or much later. This is especially important if you want to grow tender plants that can be killed by a frost.

Early spring activity

Once the frost danger has passed in your area, it is time to shake off the winter doldrums. Watering, feeding, cleaning and weed prevention are key issues.

Here are some activities you can begin after the last frost date in your area:

  • Remove all leaves from grassy areas.
  • Give the lawn a good watering as soon as possible, especially if winter has been dry.
  • Plant summer/fall flowering bulbs: begonias, caladium, calla lily, canna, colchicum, fall crocus, dahlia, gladiolus and lillies.
  • Plant trees of all kinds: balled/burlapped, container and bare root trees.
  • Plant grass seed.
  • Aerate, dethatch lawns prior to applying a combination fertilizer & crabgrass preventer.
  • Plant bare-root perennial vegetables.
  • Plant vegetable seedlings.
  • Plant container and bare root roses.
  • Check to see that the garden drains well.
  • Amend soil with an enriched garden soil.
  • Apply a granular, garden weed control product according to label directions.
  • Learn the sun and shade requirements of any flowers you plant and be sure to plant according to height, color matching. Plan the rest of your garden accordingly.

Can’t wait for spring?

Indoor seed starting is a great way to get ready for spring, and brighten up the last few remaining days of your winter hibernation.

Generally, you should start transplants indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost date for your area. Be sure to check the average last frost date in your area and count back to determine the estimated time you should start seeds indoors.

You will ultimately save time and money, and extend the growing season if you make indoor seed starting work for you. You also stand a better chance at being the first on your block to reap a harvest!

Indoor Seed Starting in February and March

  • Perennial herbs–Indoor favorites are Greek oregano, sage, parsely rosemary, lavender, and thyme. These grow slowly when started from seed. Start them now and they will be ready for planting into the garden in spring.
  • Vegetables–favorites that start well indoors include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.
  • Flowering annuals–These can all be started from seed now if you have the time, the room and the proper lighting: aster, baby’s breath, bachelor button, calendula, celosia, cosmos, dianthus, flowering kale, flowering cabbage, geranium, larkspur, marigold, morning glory, moss rose, nasturtium, pansy, petunia, poppy, salvia, snapdragon, statice, strawflower, verbena, zinnia.
  • Lettuce, leeks, onions, and chives can be started indoors now and planted outdoors before the last frost date. However, they need special care due to their intolerance of indoor heating.
  1. Keep them trimmed to 3-inches tall to prevent the tips from turning brown.
  2. Harden them off for one week (daytime outdoors, indoors at night) and transplant outside about a month before the last frost date for your area.
  3. Water them every day for a week after planting outdoors. They may become limp after a late snowfall, but will spring back in mild weather.
  • Garlic cloves or bulbs can be planted outdoors on any day that the soil is warm enough.

Indoor Planting Tips

  • Growing medium can be pasteurized garden soil, a professional soilless mix, or a combination of regular soil and the soilless mix with some rich compost. This growing medium should be heavy enough to hold water, and light enough to drain well.
  • Containers can be just about any kind, as long as they are sterile, can hold the mix and drain well. To sterilize containers: soak them in a 10% bleach solution, or boil them. Rubbing alcohol, vinegar or ammonia will also sterilize containers.
  • Seed depth: planting too deep is a common mistake. Keep seeds closer to the surface.
  • Temperature: keep seedlings warm, but not hot!
  • Water often enough to keep the soil moist. Use lukewarm water.
  • Light becomes important once you see sprouting. Divide the day into 12 hours of bright light and 12 hours of darkness.
  • Feed according to label directions once the seedlings start to show leaves.