by Connie Oswald Stofko
Spring is so unpredictable in Western New York. In early May, we had temperatures in the 80s, and it was tempting to get our tender annuals and vegetables in our garden beds.
But last week we had frost warnings. That’s why it’s a good idea to follow the rule of thumb and wait until Memorial Day to plant anything that might be damaged by frost.
Some people are even more conservative and wait until the end of May. The 10-day forecast calls for nighttime temperatures to dip into the high 30s, but it’s not calling for frost at this point.
Now that it seems the danger of frost is behind us, Western New York gardeners rush out to buy plants. Here are four tips to make the most of your plant shopping.
Buy plant tags
Don’t depend on the plastic plant tags that come with your six-pack.
First of all, you generally get only one tag in a six-pack. If you locate the plants in a couple different areas of your garden, you will have only one cluster of plants that is labeled.
Second, the tags often don’t make it through the winter, so they often don’t work well for perennials. If the tag came out of the soil and blew around, in the spring, will you know which plant is the one you purchased the previous year and which are weeds?
To find a particular plant, contact garden centers directly
I often get emails and phone calls from readers looking for a particular plant.
I feel bad, but I can’t help them. I have no way of keeping track of the inventory of all the garden centers in Western New York.
Each garden center has its own specialties. Their stock varies from year to year. And of course, while they may have dozens of specimens of a particular plant on hand one week, the next week they could be sold out.
If you’re looking for a particular plant, you should contact garden centers directly. To find contact information, click on the ads in the right column on this page, go to Garden Resources or browse our Gardening Directory.
Water your plants
Whether you plant your purchases right away, and especially if you don’t, make sure you water those plants once you get them home.
Even if it’s clouding up as you get the last plants in the ground, water them before you go in the house; the rain may pass you by.
I’ve made this mistake: In the morning I hear that there’s a 60 percent chance of rain, so I cross watering off my list of things to do. But a 60 percent chance of rain doesn’t mean there will be enough rain to irrigate my garden. It might rain somewhere in Western New York, but not in my garden. Or it might rain in my garden, but not rain enough.
I depend on this tip I got from a gardener: Water when it rains and water when it doesn’t.
And if you can’t get the plants in the ground right away, make sure you keep them watered. The small containers will dry out faster than a garden bed will.
Don’t make this the only week you shop
Memorial Day isn’t a gardening deadline; it’s more of a starting point. You can still plant tomatoes in June. You’ll find healthy, flowering perennials at garden centers in July. In August and September, look for different kinds of annuals than you’ll find in spring.
Visit garden centers throughout the summer– and autumn– to see what’s new.