It has been unseasonably cold here in the Northeastern USA. Sure we hit 70 degrees a couple of times, but those days were just spring teases. That brings us to the importance of this posting.
On a recent trip to a local “big box” home improvement store we saw rows of tomato and pepper plants sitting outside in the cold and very windy weather. The plants looked strong and healthy. The temptation was there to buy them and plant them in our empty edible garden beds. Oh how we long for the first tasty cherry tomatoes of the season. We could imagine their bright acidic, yet sweet flavor. The way they burst in our mouths as we bite down…
WAIT a minute! That is not the way it would play out. We fell for this early planting trick last season and struggled all year to coax a decent harvest.
Tomatoes, peppers and many other fruits and vegetables demand warm weather before going into the ground. If they are planted too soon they may face a season long struggle to grow. It seems a quick snap of cold weather can stunt a plant’s growth and potentially reduce the yield come harvest time (if it ever comes). This is exactly what happened to the pepper plants we put in the ground last May. It was early May and colder than normal. Our local pepper expert warned us not to plant, but we did anyway. Those plants never caught up and yielded much fewer peppers than the pepper plants we planted in late May.
Our advice is to buy from local garden centers. These places are not under the same constraints and “buying schedules” as the big box stores. That being said, even local garden centers may feature tomatoes and peppers too soon. They tell us customers demand these plants and if they do not carry them they will lose the sales. We always ask the garden center to tell us exactly when the plants came in and to ensure us the plants came from a greenhouse. Asking such questions to a big box store may prove frustrating because the employees are often not well-informed on such matters.
Growing your own plants is not foolproof either. You will still be tempted to put them outside too soon. However, at least you know the growing history of the plants.
Either way, the temptation to plant too soon will be there. Resist the urge young grasshopper! Wait for mother nature to open her arms to your plants (or ask you trusted local garden center) before planting those warm weather edible garden plants.