By Nikki Honosky, WVSU Extension Associate
It’s that time of year again where people begin to start up their gardens. Plenty of people have probably started planting a few weeks ago, but there are tips you can follow every year on when to plant. Once winter is over, most wonder when exactly can they starting putting out their gardens. The exact timing can alter from year to year on when the weather will cooperate long enough to not kill your plants. Even as the weather continues to warm up, there is still a chance that some late frost can cause a setback.
Even after a couple of months into spring, there is still a danger of frost. Frost can be a huge danger to your garden and many of your less hardy plants won’t survive it by themselves. You have a couple of different options available to you. If you want to take a gamble, you can go ahead and plant your garden a bit early. There is a risk involved doing this though and if a frost occurs, you could lose what you’ve planted. You can try to prevent his by covering up your plants whenever the temperature is supposed to drastically drop. Cover cloths can protect your plants as long as it completely covers it. The cloth will get covered in the frost and ensures that it doesn’t touch the plant itself. Just make sure to uncover it during the day and recover the plant with the cover at night to prevent plant loss.
Another option available to you is to wait until later to plant. Most people wait until May before planting because that is considered to be the latest frost will usually happen on average. Most often the date accepted for planting by most gardeners is May 11th and an easy way to remember this date is to remember Mother’s Day. Waiting until after Mother’s Day to plant is good if you don’t want to worry as much about the frost.
If you want to put in a bit more effort, you may be interested in constructing a low tunnel. A low tunnel is basically a mini greenhouse that you can construct to grow plants in and this method can extend growing seasons if you want to start when the weather is a bit colder. You can make your own low tunnels relatively easily. When you construct a low tunnel, you start off with rebar and PVC pipe. You will be making hoops out of the PVC and it doesn’t have to be PVC pipe that you use. You can use other material, but you then have to get some tools that will enable you to bend it into the hoops you’d need. The rebar will be placed in the ground spaced out and have about six inches above the ground. You can also tie twine or something similar in small loops near the halfway point, so that they rest on the ground. The twine will serve as anchors for your plastic later. The hoops that you created should be slid over the rebar and each hoop should have about five feet of space between them. You can make your low tunnel as long as you want to make it. You will do the same thing to the hoops as you did the rebar and tie twine to the middle of each hoop. This will link together your hoops and support the covering once placed.
You will need greenhouse plastic for the nest step and it is something you can check for from gardening centers. You will be laying the plastic over your hoops, while making sure that all sides are even. It will need to be a bit longer on the ends and about even to the ground on the sides. You will need two more pieces of rebar to finish constructing your low tunnel. You want to place one at each end about two feet from your last hoop. The extra length of your plastic covering will be wrapped around the rebar and tied into place with twine. Do this on both ends and you should have yourself a basic low tunnel.
Low tunnels are small enough that they require some crouching to tend to, but it’s easy to reach inside to take care of your plants. The covering will keep it warm enough inside for any plants to survive. If you plan to use a low tunnel for gardening, it’s advisable to get it set up at least a few weeks before you’re ready to start planting. You can also set it up in the fall, so that later in the year when it’s time to plant, you’re already prepared.
These are just a few of the more common options available to you when you start planting in the spring. By now, most people will have already started their gardens for the year or are getting a late start. These tips are useful for every year and may give you some ideas for how you may want to get started next year.
You can easily learn more about this by doing research on the Internet or by asking experienced planters. If you have any questions, you can contact me at the WVSU Extension Office at the Welch Armory. I am available Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment. Feel free to give me a call at (304) 320-5446.
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