The question for gardeners is, should I or shouldn't I? It's time for April garden roulette, when we decide when and where to plant. One day it looks and feels like spring, the next it is more like summer. Then the next day it snows and soil is wet and muddy again. While I cannot predict the weather, I can sympathize with the frustration of those trying to get their spring crops into the ground.
Don't give up hope. Remember that our average last frost date at the Salt Lake Airport is May 7. We still have plenty of time to plant flowers and vegetables. I am amazed how many gardeners want to throw in the trowel prematurely. Resist the urge and make appropriate plans to get gardens in.Hardy and semi-hardy vegetables are able to withstand some frost, so they can be planted now without worrying whether they will freeze. In fact the bio-fix that is usually given as the planting time for semi-hardy vegetables is when the apple trees bloom. That time is here, so you can plant if your soil is ready.
Start with members of the cabbage family. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi and brussels sprouts all are part of the crucifer family. These are best planted early so that they will mature in the cooler part of the season. Those that mature when the weather is too hot are likely to become tough and bitter. Find quality transplants and get them in the soil so they will grow before the weather turns hot.
Some gardeners think that if their peas are not planted by St. Patrick's Day there is no point in trying to grow them. That is pure Irish blarney. Besides traditional shelled garden peas, look for varieties with edible pods for fresh eating or for stir-fry.
Add root crops to those that you can plant now. Carrots, beets, parsnips, radishes and turnips are tolerant of the cool weather. These are wonderful crops because they grow well. Except for the parsnips, they can be planted now and throughout the season. Plant seed onions right away, as they are day-length sensitive and will not produce large bulbs unless planted early. Onion sets are popular but do not produce the size or quality of bulbs that are grown from seed.
Look for other salad crops to add to early-season gardens. Lettuce is a common vegetable that is the basis for most salads. Most of us are familiar with the iceberg head types, but these are the hardest to grow in your garden. Many of the leaf types are more colorful and can be harvested over a long period.
Swiss chard is another salad or green crop. It is colorful and will keep producing through much of the summer. Look for the All-American Selection called "Bright Lights" for the most colorful selection in the garden. Spinach is also in this category. The plant can be cooked as greens or eaten fresh in salads.
Celery needs to go in soon. Utah used to be a major celery production area, but most gardeners no longer grow it. It needs to be planted before the weather gets too hot but celery cannot freeze too often or it will bolt and go to seed.
Don't overlook the chance to plant a couple of perennial vegetables. These can be started throughout the year, though bare-root plants are available now and are less expensive than canned stock available later on. Rhubarb is easy to grow and nice to look at. The large green leaves and reddish stalks make it as attractive as many ornamentals. Asparagus is also a popular vegetable. Be patient with this plant because it needs three years to start producing full crops. Some all-male types are more productive because male plants produce more and larger spears.
Never give up hope. The challenges of planting between rain and snowstorms, or for some of us the frustration of not being able to work the soil because it is too wet, are more than we want to deal with. Patience is a gardening virtue that is hard to develop but easy to lose.
Nature reminds us that we do not set the seasons or control the weather, but we can adapt our gardening to fit the seasonal patterns.
- THE TAYLORSVILLE Community Garden Club will hold a spring gardening workshop from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the City Council Chambers, 2520 W. 4700 South. Admission is free.
Guest speakers will discuss garden flower arranging, patio and container gardening, tree selection and flowerbed design. Booths will offer information, displays and demonstrations on gardening techniques, soils, mulching, trees, annual and perennial flowers, roses, vegetables and landscape design. Master gardeners from the Salt Lake County office of the Utah State University Extension Service will be on hand to answer questions.