JoAnne Skelly: Early warmth can deceive, but don't start on your garden just yet

Nevada weather is teasing us again with a few sunny, warm days followed by days of freezing temperatures. The warm days make me want to get my garden started, and I think, "Surely, it's time to plant kale, chard and other greens." I have to tell myself, "Wait!"

St. Patrick's Day (March 17) is the traditional start date for cool-season gardens in Northern Nevada. Very hardy crops such as English peas, snow peas, sugar snap peas, cabbage, kale, broccoli, lettuce, spinach and turnips can be planted from seed mid-March through May 1. Onion seeds, plants or sets can go in, too.

Semi-hardy vegetables are planted April 1 to May 1 and include cauliflower, parsnips, radishes, Swiss chard, broccoli plants, Brussels sprouts plants and cabbage plants. Beets and carrots can be planted through June. Potato seed pieces also can go in the ground during this time.

A word of caution about suggested planting dates: Pay attention to the weather forecast each day. If you have lived here a while, you know that we get surprise freezes almost any time of the year. If freezing temperatures are reported, put a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch or straw over the tops of any emerging plants to protect them from frost damage. Many of the very hardy and semi-hardy plants can survive a freeze, but their growth might be slowed as they recover from the shock.

For those of you new to the area, don't be seduced by periods of warm weather. We will still have random freezes and cold spells that can damage plants, even though we say that the average last frost date is May 15. Don't think you can plant your frost tender (corn, green beans) or cold-sensitive (cucumber, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash) plants before the last freeze, unless you protect them with some kind of season-extension devices.

Season extenders include floating row covers or frost blankets, hot caps, low tunnels covered in plastic, hoop houses, walls-of-water or plastic covers such as old plastic liter bottles or milk cartons with the bottoms cut out; even upside trash cans. Of course, trash cans and other light impermeable covers have to be removed daily after the day warms up to let the sun in and put back on at night as long as it is freezing.

If you plan on a 90- to 120-day growing season, watch the weather and cover plants when needed, and your vegetables should yield a bountiful harvest.

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or 775-887-2252.


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