Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

Can you believe we actually had a whole day with the temperature reaching nearly 70 degrees? I was astounded by the amount of work that needed to be done in my yard, and of course one day is not long enough to get it all done. The main tasks for now include weeding beds, dividing perennials, and adding some compost into the beds once the weeding is complete. I spent some time trimming back the forsythia that has gone wild and planting a few new plants that I acquired from the garden center. Many gardeners are itching to get out to the nurseries and purchase annuals and vegetable starts to put into their gardens. Today, I would like to discuss hardening off of new plants.

If you purchase annuals or perennials in pots from a local garden center, they are probably already hardened off, inquire if you are not sure. If you have been growing your own plants indoors under lights, you will need to harden off your plants before you can transplant them.

Hardening off involves slowly exposing plants to outside conditions for increasing periods of time over several days. Harden off gradually, so that seedlings become accustomed to strong sunlight, cool nights and less-frequent watering over a seven to 10 day period. On a mild day, start with two to three hours of sun in a sheltered location. Protect seedlings from strong sun, wind, hard rain and cool temperatures.

Increase exposure to sunlight a few hours at a time and gradually reduce frequency of watering, but do not allow seedlings to wilt. Avoid fertilizing. Keep an eye on the weather and listen to the low temperature prediction. A thermometer that records minimum and maximum temperatures is invaluable for this. If temperatures below the crop's minimum are forecast, bring the plants indoors or close the cold frame and cover it with a blanket or other insulation. Know the relative hardiness of various crops. Onions and brassicas are hardy and can take temperatures in the 40's. After they are well hardened off, light frosts won't hurt them. Warm-season crops such as eggplants, melons and cucumbers prefer warm nights, at least 60° F. They can't stand below-freezing temperatures, even after hardening off. Gradually increase exposure to cold.

This may be the year to plan to plant many cool season crops, such as lettuce, spinach, radishes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cabbage, onions, leeks, and parsley. At least these plants should grow in our cool weather and give the gardener a feeling of accomplishment. When deciding where to grow tomatoes this year, consider the place in your garden that gets the most sun. You may want to locate the plants near a sunny south face wall of a building, or plant them in containers to warm up the roots quicker. I grow my tomatoes in old tires, stacked one upon another, which seems to work quite well. Remember to remove and replace soil in planters that have been through a couple seasons of plant growth.

Many varieties of tomatoes that have been proven to do well in our county along with vegetables, perennials, and gifts for mom will be available at the WSU Master Gardener Plant Sale from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 7 at Mason County Recreation Park at 2100 East John's Prairie Rd. The proceeds from the sale funds all the projects Master Gardeners accomplish throughout the year. For more information about the program, or answers to your gardening questions contact the Master Gardeners on Mondays, between noon and 3 p.m. at the WSU Extension office, 427-9670 Ext. 687.

Copyright 2011 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.
Read Full Article at County Journal&pid=40&catid=31&catname=Natural Resources