JoAnne Skelly: It’s warm, but resist the urge to plant this early

I’m quite impressed with our recent spring weather. It is such a delight in the middle of winter. The ice has finally melted at my house. My entry walk is no longer a hazardous skating rink. As I was heading back to work after lunch today, I found myself wondering when the first call would come in asking, “Is it too early to plant tomatoes?” While this may sound absurd to many gardeners conditioned to the crazy climate of Northern Nevada, there always seems to be a new person or two who think this mild weather is normal for winter here.

To our newbies in town, all those of us who have lived here for decades can say is “Wait!” While I don’t think there is any such thing as normal Nevada weather, I know that I can count on it to be instantly changeable and often likely to freeze into June. It can catch an unsuspecting person completely unaware any time of the year. And, before any newcomers feel insulted, let me say that almost every longtime gardener in Nevada has been lured into planting too early by an unseasonal warm spell that makes them wishfully believe spring has sprung. Although I do admit, most people know January is too early to plant outdoors.

However, while planting veggies outside might be on hold for a bit, there are other things you can do. Clean up any perennials that need attention. For example, remove all the dead leaves on red hot pokers and iris. Clean and sharpen your tools. Order seeds. Rake leaves. Water your roses, shrubs and trees. You could even plant spring flowering bulbs, if you can dig the soil. Toward the end of January and into February, you can prune fruit trees and many shade trees.

Besides not planting veggies now, you shouldn’t do a few other things. Don’t prune roses, lilacs or forsythia. Roses are pruned around April 15. Pruning them now encourages canker disease. If you prune lilacs and other spring-flowering shrubs now, you will cut off all the blossom buds, leaving you with mere green leaves come spring. Don’t prune maples, birches, beeches, poplars, elms or willows. These are pruned in late summer, early fall.

Curb your planting urges or expend that energy on perusing catalogs. Soon you will be able to start the cold-tolerant crops indoors, and pea-planting time is just around the corner.

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


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