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Skaggs: Don't let spring fever tempt you to plant
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Spring fever has hit at the Extension office.

The warm weather of this past weekend has gardeners across North Georgia champing at the bit to get started! This week, we’ve been flooded with calls from anxious gardeners ready to get started on their spring projects. But when it comes to veggies, you’ll prevent future problems if you’ll fight the urge to start too early.

When you receive as much rain as we have lately, it’s advisable to stay out of the garden. Soils with lots of clay, as most North Georgia soils have, can hold moisture a long time. To be sure it’s ready to till, try the old-fashioned ball test.

Grab a handful of your garden soil and squeeze. When you open your hand, you should have a clump that’s firm but crumbles easily. It shouldn’t be firm or look glossy. Tilling wet clay soil will result in brick-like clods.

Even if the soil moisture is fine, don’t rush to plant. There’s something else you need to monitor: temperature. Simply stick an outdoor thermometer into the soil. Or click here and enter your ZIP code for the latest conditions.

As I am writing this column, I just checked the soil temperature for the Gainesville area, and it was a cool 43.4 F at four inches deep. Way too cold for summer veggies.

For vegetables like squash, tomatoes, peppers and okra, avoid planting until the soil is 60 F at the four-inch depth. Seeds won’t germinate and transplants will just sit there if the soil’s too cool. If it isn’t warm enough to encourage root growth, plants won’t grow. Then they become vulnerable to root rot and other diseases.

If the soil is dry enough to work but still too cool for summer vegetables, there are some crops you can put in now, such as potatoes, carrots, lettuce and onions.

And while you want to plant summer crops, there are other things you can do. The most important is to take a soil sample. Find out your soil’s needs, especially its pH. Most summer vegetables need a soil pH around 6.0 to 6.5. If your soil test shows you need to add lime, till it into your soil if it’s dry enough to work. If your garden site is dry enough, till it now, which can help control nematodes and other pathogens by exposing them to the sun.

You can ease your spring fever, too, by sharpening tools, making sure your equipment is running smoothly and buying fertilizer and supplies. It’s a good time to start seeds of summer vegetables indoors. Many companies offer seed terrariums that make it easy.
Just be sure the place where you start your seeds indoors has plenty of light. It doesn’t require much light to initiate germination, but the seedlings need bright light to get off to a good start.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.