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Climate and Environment

What You Need To Know About Planting Your Garden During This Cold, Rainy Spring

A close up image of a pepper plant with two stems.
A pepper plant waiting for warmer weather to arrive.
(Jacob Margolis
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If you feel like your garden is lagging behind where it’d normally be by this time of year, just know that your feelings are valid.

This exceptionally cold and wet winter has the pros hurting, too. And, just like us home gardeners, they're waiting for soil temperatures to warm up so their crops can take off.

For instance: In Oxnard and Ventura, where they grow lots of strawberries, peak production is usually in April or May. This year it’s been delayed by about three to four weeks.

“Whenever you have a rain event, you’ll need several days for the berries to dry out and once again flourish,” said Jeff Cardinale with the California Strawberry Commission.

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“Because of the consistent amount of rain that the Oxnard and Ventura area has received in combination with not a lot of sun and cooler temperatures," he said, "the berries are coming out a little slower.”

Looking ahead, Cardinale anticipates the incoming warm weather to pick things back up.

Which also means that you should get ready to get your hands dirty, because the perfect time to plant spring crops is nearly upon us.

It’s almost time to plant your big spring crops

This is the perfect year for all of us garden procrastinators, because we still have a little bit of time to go out and buy tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants and peppers.

I’d usually have mine in by mid-March, but night time temperatures have been way too low.

“The critical part is the root temperature. If it gets to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it should be fine,” said Amrita Mukherjee, a urban agriculture advisor with the U.C. Cooperative Extension.

That means you should wait until nighttime temperatures reach a consistent 50 degrees before sticking any of the aforementioned warm weather crops in the ground.

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I’ve been shuffling mine in and out of the garage, waiting for the last chance of frost to pass.

If you have to plant them ASAP, Mukherjee recommends covering them in thick plastic, a hoop house, or even a camping tent to protect them from the cold.

Now, if saturated soils and runoff are your main issues, try adding a whole bunch of mulch to absorb the water and protect from erosion.

Don’t love your trees too hard

Three potted lemon trees with ripe fruits, decorating house exterior.
Lemon trees
(Studio Light and Shade/Getty Images

Some fruit trees, including citrus, have been lagging behind a bit too.

You still have a chance to fertilize them if the’ve yet to blossom, though, you need to remember that soils are still quite wet and will remain so for some time. If you start watering your fruit trees right now, you could risk waterlogging their roots and killing them.

Citrus grower Mike George recommends waiting a bit, possibly until late April or early May, depending on your location, the weather and soil type.

“The top of the soil will look dry at some point, but 6 inches down it could still be sopping wet,” said George.

So dig up a hunk of soil from 4 to 6 inches deep from around your citrus tree and squeeze it.

“If there’s a bunch of free water coming out of the soil, and it’s staining your hand with wetness…you probably have too much water there,” he said.

In that case, wait.

Even as the top layer dries out, don’t go full force with the water right away. Start with a dribble, or just enough to fill the six inches.

Ramp the water up as things heat up. Citrus trees tend to hit their max water use between June and August.

You can still plant citrus trees if you’d like. Though, you should avoid pruning them until later in the year.

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Jacob Margolis helps Southern Californians understand the science shaping our imperfect paradise and gets us prepared for what’s next.

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