Cold winter months often send even die-hard gardeners into hibernation.
Many think they'll go crazy after spending a few months eagerly waiting to get their hands back into the soil.
Betty Crowther can resist the urge to grow something only until the seed and plant catalogs arrive in January, when she begins sowing hundreds of seeds indoors.
"It is challenging," the Evans resident said of the meticulous work required to rear plants from seeds. It requires a regular schedule of misting, tracking light requirements for each seed and tracking planting and germination dates.
Recent swings in area temperatures may have fooled people with green thumbs into an early start on the planting season.
But Charles Phillips, director for the University of Georgia Extension Service office in Columbia County, recommends waiting until after the frost threat has passed before planting any warm season ornamentals or vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans and eggplant.
According to the 100-year average, the last frost is near March 25, Phillips said. A surprise frost is a threat until early April.
"Some people jumped the gun," Phillips said of homeowners ambushing garden centers during last weekend's 80-degree temperatures. Many who planted early will use a wall of water or other coverings to protect fragile seedlings.
Crowther opts to gradually harden off her seedlings a few hours at a time on the screened patio before following the same procedure to slowly move them outside.
"I usually try to do my container plants first because those, at least, I can move inside if we get a late frost so they don't get zapped," Crowther said.
In addition to a converted back-porch greenhouse, Betty Crowther grows seedlings in heated, covered containers under lights in a spare bedroom in her home. Crowther will gradually move the plants outside as the weather warms.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Like Crowther, who admittedly cannot pass a nursery without stopping in, the warm sun lured many gardeners into their gardens and local garden centers.
Gardeners are anxiously hovering, and business is picking up, said Jenny Addie, the nursery manager and horticulturist at Green Thumb West.
"Last weekend, when it was sunny, everybody was out trying to get into the garden," Addie said. "They said they had cabin fever, and they needed to get out into the garden and get some garden therapy."
Because it is still a little too early to plant spring vegetables, Addie said the staff has separated the tomatoes so people don't buy and plant them too early.
Addie, Phillips and Crowther all agreed that there is a lot to do in the garden before planting begins.
Crowther is catching up on maintenance work such as shredding yard debris, pruning and relocating her fish pond.
She found out it doesn't take long for her labor-intensive yard to grow into wilderness after she detoured much attention from the garden last year when her daughter got married.
"The thing is people in my garden club have offered to come and help," Crowther said. "That is a labor of love. I enjoy that. What I want is someone to say, 'I'll do all your grocery shopping and house work and laundry and you take care of the garden. You take care of the garden, and I'll take care of the inside."'
Now is the time, Addie said, to finish pruning everything from shrubbery to trees including roses and crepe myrtles.
Phillips said fruit trees and pecan trees can be fertilized now, but fertilizing shrubbery and other plants should wait until April.
"The main thing they can be doing is adding compost, adding organic matter, into the garden site, getting it tilled in," Phillips said.
Digging holes, a hard part of planting, needs to be done before seedlings are put in the ground anyway, so why not get it out of the way now, Addie said.
If the urge to plant is overwhelming, try planting shrubs and trees such as azaleas and dogwoods, Addie said.
"For shrubbery (and trees), it is absolutely the perfect time for planting because things can get their roots established before summer," she said.
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