Plant growers shouldn’t be fooled by early warm temperatures

Garden Centers, scientists warn that warm February days don’t mean success for plant roots in cold winter ground

Early February days with warm temperatures and Boonshoft’s Walnut the hedgehog predicting an early spring doesn’t mean Ohio’s growing season will be earlier this year.

Area horticulturists and educators say this time of year when daytime temperatures rise, they often get calls from amateur plant enthusiasts or people anxious to get outside and get their hands dirty.

“Now is not the time to panic or start (the planting process) early,” said Pete Kossoudji, owner of North Dayton Garden Center.

The first 12 days of February saw high temperatures hit at least 45 degrees every day, and twice surpassed 60. Some plants like daffodils and tulips may be pushing up dirt as they sprout.

Later this week, temperatures are expected to drop just a bit due to a low pressure system that is moving in from the northeast. At one point, it was expected to bring some snow, but the National Weather Service in Wilmington is no longer calling for any snow accumulation the bulk of this week.

Professional landscapers are putting orders in now for trees, shrubs and plants, but Kossoudji says people should not get fooled by daytime temperatures or a “fool’s spring.”

“I always suggest to people to leaving any plantings of trees or shrubs during this time of year to professionals. Anytime after April 1 is a good time to start thinking about planting,” Kossoudji said.

Kossoudji should know. The 88-year-old has been in the plant and tree-growing business for more than 60 years. He and his wife started the business known for its catchy advertising jingle on a two-acre lot at 1915 Troy St. in 1963 and moved to its current location, 1309 Brandt Pike, in 1984.

Pam Bennett, an Ohio State University professor, said people should not worry about cold temperatures failing to return.

“We always have a spell like this. Homeowners usually panic this time of year, but I can tell you this is pretty typical of Ohio weather,” Bennett said.

Night-time temperatures are what people interested in growing plants should pay attention to. Many people pay attention to warm temperatures during the day, she said, but forget about temperatures dipping into the 20s, as they’re projected to do many nights in the next week or so.

The biggest concern is temperatures fluctuating dramatically in late February or early March and causing problems for early flowers or fruit trees growing apples, pears or peaches.

“You might have a day of 50s and then it drops to the lows 20s in the coming days. This is what causes the most trouble,” Bennett said.

She suggests letting nature take its course, and when early flowers make their appearance, make the tough decision to cut and enjoy them or be at risk of some winter damage.

High air temperatures in February will not change soil temperatures, and this is what growers should pay attention to until May, when it’s the safest to start growing most plants in Ohio. Soil temperatures four to six inches below the ground remain cool until early to late April, Bennett said.

So what’s recommended to plant growers this time of year?

Starting a hot house or green house with seedlings is good in February. Bennett warns growers to pay attention to the temperatures inside their green houses, because they can reach up to 90 degrees if they’re not ventilated well.

“Those plant houses facing south this time of the year are of most concern,” she said.

And always the salesman, Kossoudji suggests taking a visit to your local nursery if you have the itch.

“We’re open all year around. We have thousand of plants and trees for people to look at this time of the year. I encourage people to give us a visit,” said Koosoudji, who specializes in growing bonsai trees at his Dayton location.

Four tips you can do now to help your garden

  • Decide where to place your garden (location, location, location). The best garden spot is in full sun, which is usually in a south-facing location. You can grow your fruits and veggies directly in the ground, in a raised bed, or in a variety of containers.
  • Get your garden supplies now. We’re talking seeds, cell packs, soil and/or soilless mix, tools, gloves, sun hat. Some favorite seed varieties can be hard to find, so it pays to start searching for your seed early.
  • Test your soil for existing and needed fertilizer. Getting test results from a professional lab helps you get the soil prepped for ideal growing conditions.
  • Think about starting seed indoors while the weather is still iffy outside. Lettuce, broccoli, onions, kale, and radishes are all good veggies to get started inside. When it’s time to take your seeds and seedlings outside, plant according to soil temperature, not air temperature, because the soil surrounding the seeds directly impacts germination and plant growth rate.

Source: Ohio State University Extension Office

About the Author