March in Georgia is always a roller coaster of ups and downs with warm weather at the first of the week and then a cold rain for the weekend. We all get to the point in late winter that we just wish for warmer weather and the emergence of a few flower buds and leaves only feeds the fire.
With the streaks of warmer weather here and there, planting gardens and sowing lawns become a weekend priority for many. Relying on warmer weather as a guide to planting is generally not the best way to go.
"In Georgia, we may have a warm front come in one day and a cold front a few days later," said Bob Westerfield, a consumer horticulturist with UGA Cooperative Extension. "It may hit 75 degrees outside, but the air temperature isn’t important when it comes to gardening — the soil temperature is."
Westerfield has been tracking the soil temperature in his research plots on the UGA campus in Griffin. Last week, he recorded a soil temperature of 48 degrees. Here in Hall County, soil temperatures are averaging around 51 degrees for the past few days.
"That soil’s not ready for tomatoes. Summer crops need from 60 to 65 degrees," he said.
Green beans can handle temperatures of about 55 degrees, but it is still not quite warm enough for them. If gardeners ignore his advice and seed their gardens, he says the seeds won’t germinate.
Earlier this month, soil temperatures were around 56 degrees when we had a few days of warm weather. See what I mean about a roller coaster? Soil temperatures vary just like air temperatures.
However, gardeners who cannot resist the temptation can still plant cold season crops like asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, collards, kale, lettuce, mustard, onions, peas, potatoes, radish, spinach and turnips.
There are a couple of different ways to track soil temperatures. You can do it directly by using a meat thermometer to test your garden soil, or you can use UGA’s Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network at www.georgiaweather.net.
Hall County has two such stations, which is rare. One is on the north end of the county on Clarks Bridge Road. The other is on the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus.
Soil temperatures "creep up slowly" and Georgia soils should be ready to sow in seed by early-to-mid April.
For more information on vegetable gardening in Georgia, see the UGA Extension publication, "Vegetable Gardening in Georgia" on the Web site www.caes.uga.edu/publications.
Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.