As gardening activities are starting, two factors are crucial: topsoil and weather.
To estimate if there’s enough moisture in the soil, you already have a good testing device available. Just stick your index finger into the ground. If it feels moist at the tip, the plants should be happy. A dry feel throughout means that watering is probably in order.
And if the soil is too tough to insert a finger, it needs loosening up. In that case, the best way to improve the soil texture is to add compost. The leaf litter from last fall also helps. So do vegetable scraps from the kitchen, but don’t add meat scraps.
Prudent gardeners don’t put delicate flower seedlings into the ground just yet. The average date of the last nighttime freeze in Gainesville is between April 11 and April 20. After the 20th of this month, it’s safe to plant.
Exceptions occur, of course. Records from the National Climatic Data Center show no frost in Gainesville after April 20 during the 1990s and early 2000’s. The closest we came was a low of 37 on April 29, 1992. Last frost dates move to a later 10-day period for locations north of Gainesville.
In and beyond Lula and Clermont, the safe period doesn’t start until April 30. Tall ridges near Cornelia and Mount Airy again make it advisable to wait with planting until the first week of May. Between Cleveland and Clarkesville, the proximity of the Georgia mountains pushes the last frost date as late as May 10. Interactive maps showing these relationships and other factors can be found at www.plantmaps.com.
Official weather forecasts have become quite reliable in recent years. Still, it’s good to be able to judge weather conditions for yourself. First, find out where north, south, east and west are in relation to the garden. A wall of dark clouds approaching from north or northwest suggests a cold front, and rain is likely within the next 24 hours. Cirrus (“wispy, feathery”) clouds approaching from the south signal a warm front, and rain may occur off and on during the next two days.
The least reliable rain bringers are summertime thunderstorms. But if the dark clouds form to the west of us, and a rumble of thunder is heard, there’s a chance for rain because most of our storms move from west to east, or northwest to southeast.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University.