Skip to main content

Susquehanna Life

Now's the Time to Think Spring Veggies and Flowers

Mar 05, 2016 05:00PM ● By Susan Ryder

Around March each year it begins.  This nudging, the desire, the compulsion to plant something!   I enjoy growing things, and receive a certain satisfaction in the ability to walk outside my door and pluck a tomato for tacos, pull a few onions for soup, or pinch a healthy colander of lettuce to create salad.

Most vegetables won’t thrive outside until at least May because, the soil is too soggy, the air too cold, and the sun to infrequent. A few however, will grow in such inhospitable conditions—cold crops.

Cold crops include greens such as lettuce, kale, arugula and spinach; some but not all root crops like onions, beets and carrots; and all varieties of peas.

I find it difficult to decide the perfect time to plant these crops but Erica Shaffer, nursery manager at Highland Gardens, Camp Hill, Pa., gave me an easy guide.   Shaffer said as soon as the spring has its first 70 degree day, begin planting.  For many parts of Pennsylvania, that will happen this week (March 7). More Northern regions will have to wait a bit longer.

I know what some fellow gardeners are thinking, “It’s too wet to plant!”  Shaffer addressed that problem this way, “There’s a difference between moist and soggy.”  If you squeeze a handful of soil and water flows out, you have a drainage problem.  You can handle that poor drainage a couple of ways. Amend your soil with compounds such as compost, dried leaves or vermiculite so that it drains better or create a raised bed garden in areas that are situated low and chronically soppy. But if the soil holds moisture and is simply wet, that’s perfect for spring planting.

New gardeners may want to try spring planting on a smaller scale. Pots serve as a great introduction.  One caveat however, pots dry out quicker than beds, so consistent watering will be necessary if the spring is dry. 

To have a successful spring planting Shaffer madeIt a few suggestions about depths of seed planting that often cause folks problems.  For lettuce, she broadcasts the seed over a prepared area, no rows here, and gently taps the seed into the soil with her hand.  That’s it.  For spinach, which requires a bit more depth, she follows the same procedure except uses the head of her rake to press down the seeds a bit further.

Onions are simple to plant and come in sets, which resemble tiny onions. I plant plenty in my garden but also sow them in flower pots. The pots of yummy green onions will be harvested long before most flowers fill them.

Speaking of flowers, bloom lovers don’t need to wait to enjoy some color.  Pansies, sweet alyssum, dianthus and more appreciate the cooler weather.

A few cautions for the spring gardener.  Many vegetables simply will not grow, or worse will rot in the ground, until the soil warms. They include green beans, corn, tomatoes and peppers.  And retailers often jump ahead of planting time, so a plant showing up on the retails shelves does not necessarily mean that it’s prime planting time for that plant.

Consult with a local nursery for information on optimal planting times and for great advice about how to make your garden grow. Folks like Shaffer, who has 27 years of experience, want to share their gardening knowledge and will save the novice, as well as advance gardener, much frustration.

Send me some pictures of your plants, your harvest, or send me a question. At the very least we can celebrate or commiserate, and I might be able to give you some helpful advice or find an answer for you.


photo credit: Green">">Green peas via photopin">">photopin (license)">">(license)

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Susquehanna Life's free newsletter to stay informed