About this time of year, gardeners’ fingers start to get itchy.
The weekend warm-up in the forecast all but dares people to pick up their trowels and commence the big spring dig. It’s easy to forget the cruelest April Fool’s joke: The season’s last frost is likely several weeks away, meaning it’s far too early to put most plants in the ground.
Mid-to-late May is the safest bet for planting the majority of annuals, as well as edibles such as tomato, pepper and squash seedlings.
Still, there’s enough maintenance and prep work, both for floral and vegetable gardens, to keep hands busy.
Recommended tasks include: picking up debris left over from the fall and winter*; replenishing mulch; deadheading spring bloomers when they’ve finished flowering; dividing summer- and fall-blooming perennials when they’ve reached 4 to 6 inches; and preparing planting beds by working in compost and other organic matter.
For intrepid cool weather gardeners, some annuals can tolerate a light frost. According to the Chicago Botanic Garden, these include snapdragons, sweet peas, forget-me-nots and pansies, among others. Crops that don't mind the cold include asparagus, spinach, peas and radish. In general, these “cold-hardy” plants can go in the ground two to four weeks before the expected final frost, which in Chicago means mid-April at the earliest.
Seedlings grown indoors or a greenhouse should be “hardened” — gradually exposed to the outdoors — before being transplanted.