Published on 03/24/97

Spring Planting Fever -- Don't Catch it Yet

Spring fever is going around. Don't catch it yet.

Temperatures in the 70s in early March are enough to lure any red-blooded gardener into the yard, but your plants could pay the price. Remember the March blizzard of 1993?

"Our last frost date in the Athens area is about April 10," said Wayne McLaurin, a University of Georgia Extension Service horticulturist. "We still have a chance of frost for the next two to three weeks."

The last frost date is calculated by using long-term data to develop an average. The last frost date could be later than that.

"Another problem gardeners face is the soil isn't warm yet," McLaurin said. "It's going to take some 85-degree days to get the soil warmed so the roots will grow."

If the soil isn't warm enough to encourage root growth, the plant will just sit. Then it becomes vulnerable to root rot and other root-damaging diseases.

Some plants are safe to put in the ground now if you just can't wait for warmer weather.

"You can plant potatoes now, or lettuce, cabbage or any of the cole crops," McLaurin said. "They will withstand a lot more cold that tomatoes, peppers or other vegetables."

For almost everything else, it's smart to wait until mid-April to early-May to plant.

"You can plant the first of April," he said, "but you're still facing the risk of one last frost. So check the long-range weather forecast."

There is still plenty for gardeners to do outside to take advantage of warm spring days.

"You can start to get the soil worked up," McLaurin said. "You can sharpen tools, make sure all your equipment is running smoothly, buy fertilizer and starting checking out where the good plants and seeds are available."

One good outdoor activity for the preplanting season is to ready the mower.

"Check your lawn mower and make sure it's ready for the mowing season," McLaurin said. "If your grass is growing now, it's not too early to start mowing."

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.