Time to Plant the Garden?

I’ve started receiving some of those emails I get each April and May.  They go something like this…“hey Mark, is it time to plant my beans, tomatoes, and corn?  Are we done with morning frost?”

The short answer is:  I wouldn’t plant the “warm weather” veggies just yet.  Definitely not if you live outside of the main urban parts of Portland.  We are probably done with frost in the warmest parts of the metro area (Portland, Gresham, Beaverton & Oregon City).  And by the way, “warm weather veggies” don’t include peas, cabbage, potatoes, carrots etc…  Those can handle our cool spring weather from here on out just fine.

But as an experienced gardener (at least for the past 15 years), I’ve found the far bigger problem is a period of consistently cool AND wet weather, not just a single frost.   Any warm weather plant needs warm soil and will sometimes just rot during a 10 day long wet spell.  So I like to wait until mid-May at the earliest, then see what the 10-14 day maps are showing.  In the years where they’ve shown a pretty decent stretch of weather for the 2nd half of May, I’ve gone ahead and planted (gambled).  I’ve been burned by early June cold/wet spells occasionally.  Or last year…well, let’s not go there.

So what do we see on the long range maps?  I see a mix.  Pleasant weather through the end of this week, but then a cold trough with showery and cool weather Saturday-Monday (maybe beyond).  After that models are mixed.  I don’t see an extended period of warm and dry weather, at least not shown by several different models.  And we’re still in a “La Nina Spring”, which means the chance for a warm May is pretty low.  Another reason to hold off. 

Give it another 10 days, this probably isn’t the year to take a risk planting early.  Of course part of the fun of growing stuff is “pushing the season” a bit, meaning you can alter the climate around your plants with plastic, water etc…

Note how little rain we had today…last Thursday and Friday it was obvious that this week would be mainly dry and it appears it’ll stay that way through Friday. 

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

18 Responses to Time to Plant the Garden?

  1. jssmiley says:

    Mark, is it kosher to communicate with you by email, outside this blog, regarding candidates on the OR AMS ballot? If so, would we use the KPTV email or is there one just for you?

  2. W7ENK says:

    Mark, I just got a chance to listen to your podcasts…

    The first one:Northwest Weather Podcast: Episode 1
    [audio src="http://nwweatherpodcast.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/podcast-number-1-final.mp3" /]

    @10:06 = Awesome!!! 😆

    Other than the mic overmodulating a bit at times, nice work!

  3. Not too bad out today (or yesterday for that matter). 52 right now with the sun breaking through. Just 0.02″ yesterday and another 0.02″ so far today.

  4. bgb41 says:

    Astoria went nearly 7 years (1995-2002) without hitting 90. Since 2002 they have hit 90 every year. I found that rather interesting. Astoria averages 0.6 days above 90 annually. You could never pay me enough money to live there. There have only been 17 days that have reached 90 in the last 30 years. See chart

    1981-2001 (21 years) 6 days
    2002-2010 (9 Years) 11 days

    Mark my words…Based on 30 years of record, Astoria has nearly a 0% chance of hitting 90 this year since they have done it 8 consecutive summers.

  5. chiefWright says:

    Good general advice, Mark! I agree with others that these cold damp springs require a lot of “manipulation” in order to get things to work. I’d be reluctant to stick any seeds in the ground, unless they’re in an area that’s well drained, protected, and good sun exposure (like against the south face of a building). This is a raised bed / cold frame spring, for sure!

    • umpire says:

      As a very lazy gardener, I find that dumping a bag or two of planting compost on top of my garden bed, which is on the south side of the house, then planting seeds/plants, works well. Conditions the soil, and the compost seems to warm up nicely. Of course, last year, I didn’t put tomatoes in until Memorial Day – might do the same this year. Let the nurseries take care of them during this cold weather!

  6. Katy Skinner says:

    Thank you, Mark, for the garden advice! I do a garden and chickens, too, so this is helpful.

    What about planting *seeds?* Such as annual and perennial flower seeds, sunflower seeds, and even pumpkin and zucchini seeds?

    Thanks! ~~~Katy S.

  7. bgb41 says:

    Portland averages 25.5 days of 60+ deg days in May. If we happen to get only 22 days over 60 this month then we set another record. See chart.

    • Jesse-Orchards says:

      9 sub-60 degree days seem pretty doable looking at the models.

      Today should be one.

  8. Debbie - East Vancouver says:

    Planted some seeds a few weeks ago before I went out of town and right now I have lettuce, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, carrots, and radishes all sprouting. Last year was my 1st year veggie gardening (been doing flowers for years tho) and didn’t do too bad only because I procrastinated too long and nothing went in the ground till end of May. Procrastination actually worked in my favor for once!

  9. bgb41 says:

    5/2/2011 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:74 at LAKE OWYHEE AND O(2400 ft)
    Low: 50 at DW2682 Portland(213 ft) & DW6132 Portland(272 ft) & Glen Jackson Bri(180 ft)

    High:38 at Timberline Lodge(7001 ft) & HOWARD Mt Howard(8150 ft)
    Low: 21 at Mount Hood Meado (6601 ft ) & Timberline Lodge (7001 ft ) & HOWARD Mt Howard (8150 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 38 degrees
    Ontario Municipa (71/33) (2188 ft)
    RED BUTTE (66/28) (4460 ft)

    Heaviest Rainfall:
    0.43″ at KE7QYU-13 La Gra(2795ft)

  10. Karl Bonner says:

    Definitely no tomatoes planned for me just yet. Not even in The Dalles.

    I do think that during May we will start to see temps here get more of a lead over temps in Portland, etc. So we might be able to start warm veggies a bit sooner here than there. However I’d be surprised if the difference is more than 1-2 weeks.

  11. W7ENK says:

    [Milwaukie] – APRIL 2011
    57.3°F Mean High
    39.6°F Mean Low

    48.4°F Mean temp

    5.28″ Total Rainfall

    ● Mean temperature stayed flat until the last week.
    ● Mean temperature only rose 1.0 degree over March.
    ● Mean Low temperature 1.0 degree cooler than March.
    ● High and Low temps virtually mirrored, interesting.
    ● Third wettest April on record for Portland.

  12. Garron near Wash. Sq. says:

    I started my tomatoes 3 weeks ago. In years past I did between 30 and 40 plants, this year only 10. Plastic wrapped, and all, they’ve sustained quite well thus far. The raspberry bushes are filling out nicely, will wait and see how adventurous I feel later this month before I plant too much more after last years stunner of a growing season.

  13. W7ENK says:

    That’s exactly what’s on my agenda for this Saturday!

    • W7ENK says:

      … a full month behind last year, by the way.

    • Garron near Wash. Sq. says:

      Same here! I think I’ll buy those soil heaters for next year. I hate waiting to get outside and work in the garden, so I push the laws of gardening to the edge sometimes…Keeps me from getting depressed when mother nature decides to stretch the winter dulldrums into mid June.

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