To seed or not to seed: Horticultural expert shares gardening tips for May long weekend

While May long weekend is arguably the unofficial kickoff to summer, it’s also the first weekend that many Albertans consider it safe to start putting plants in the ground.

This year it’s a bit chilly, but not all hope is lost for those looking to get a jump start on the growing season. 

Joanna Tschudy is the community garden co-ordinator with the Calgary Horticultural Society. (Submitted by Joanna Tschudy)

Joanna Tschudy, community garden co-ordinator with the Calgary Horticultural Society, shared her tips for those looking to dig into their gardens this weekend on CBC’s The Homestretch.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Question: What do you make of people starting their outdoor planting on May long weekend? 

Answer: It’s a rule of thumb that we’ve come to know as our guide. It’s like the green light to get outside. But I look at the weather, we also know that we in Calgary get pretty bummer weather usually on this weekend. 

I just keep my eyes on the weather forecast and different plants can go out now just fine, and others you might want to keep inside.

Q: What do we need to keep in mind when we decide we do want to do some planting outside? 

A: You want to look at the varieties that you’re planting. So I just came back from the garden centre, this is my favourite pastime on a cold, rainy/snowy day. Go plant shopping — the lines are pretty short. I picked up some pansies and I got some snapdragons and petunias. Those are OK to start easing outside a little bit more every day, until temperatures become a little warmer and then they can stay out full time.

Q: What should we be holding off on planting outside this weekend? 

A: Your tropical varieties, the tomatoes and peppers, they just do not tolerate low temperatures at all. They don’t like this cold wind. 

The warm season plants really need some protection until we can predict better weather more consistently. But, you know, Alberta is a strong and resilient place for its gardeners. And we know about a lot of plants that can be out. 

I’ve already got my garlic that’s about 10 inches tall now that went in the ground last fall. Spinach, leafy greens, root crops, those can all be seeded right now without any problem or any danger, because they’re going to be under that soil and protected and they’ll get that jump start on the growing season. 

Q: What should we know when it comes to trees and shrubs right now? 

A: With trees and shrubs, I wouldn’t fuss too much, but a good drink, you know, low, slow soak into the drip line, which is where the outermost branches reach. If you sort of drop a straight line down to the ground from there, that’s where they’re going to really take up the most water, that’s where the root hairs are. 

That’s what drinks and receives the nutrients the most, those outermost thin routes. So get your water out there. Sort of think like a leaky faucet, kind of drip off the end of a regular garden hose and move it around a circle under your tree, or shrub, or a soaker hose or invest in some timed irrigation. 

And if you haven’t already, mulch the base of the bed that your trees and shrubs are in or give them a nice tree well, make sure the mulch doesn’t go too far up the base of the trunk. 

We want to water them and then conserve the water. That’s the best bet for trees and shrubs right now. 

Q: I imagine a lot of people are really tempted right now to grab a rake or something and clean out the garden. Is this a good time to be doing that? 

A: Right now we’re approaching that sort of borderline where it’s OK. 

But still, if you think about it, a lot of our beneficial insects are still overwintering. They can’t get out and fly around on a cold day, so they need somewhere to tuck in and stay protected. We’ve been seeing bumblebees, huge bumblebees coming to some of our flowering shrubs. 

But on a day like this, they got a hide away, they’re not out pollinating. As well, all that leaf litter and last year’s growth that might be still on your plants, it is basically acting like mulch for the root zone. So whether it’s perennials or your trees and shrubs, just leave it for a bit longer. I would say in the next couple of weeks we can start to pull some of that away if you do at all. A lot of folks just leave it and let the new growth come through. 

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