Pratt County Extension Master Gardener offers early-season gardening advice.
One of the most neglected tools for vegetable gardeners is a soil thermometer. Soil temperature is a much better measure of when to plant than air temperature or the calendar. Planting when soil is too cool can cause seeds to rot and transplants to sit there.
A number of vegetables can germinate and grow at cool temperatures. For example, peas will germinate and grow well at a soil temperature of 40 F. Though lettuce, parsnips, and spinach can sprout at a soil temperature of 35 F, they prefer at least 45 F for best germination and growth. Radishes also do well at a soil temperature of 45 F. Warm-season crops such as tomatoes, sweet corn and beans prefer at least 55 F for germination (or transplanting), but others such as peppers, cucumbers, melons and sweet potatoes need it even warmer, about 60 F.
Taking soil temperature accurately is a bit of a science. First, use a metal soil thermometer, which is sold in many garden, auto parts and hardware stores. Take temperature 2.5 inches deep at about 10 to 11 a.m. Temperature variations throughout the day and night affect soil temperature, with lowest readings after dawn and warmest around mid-afternoon. The late-morning reading gives a good average temperature. If taking the soil temperature at this time is not practical, take a reading before you leave for work and a second when you return home and use the average. Also be sure to get a consistent reading for four to five days in a row before planting, and make sure a cold snap is not predicted.
An excellent guide sheet on this subject is published by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and is titled “Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination.” It can be found at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1061/ANR-1061.pdf
It’s Not Too Late for Dormant Overseeding of Turfgrass
As mentioned in a companion article in this newsletter, the best time to overseed cool-season grasses such as tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass is September because the turf has more time to mature before crabgrass germination in the spring and the heat stress of summer. However, dormant seeding of turfgrass is sometimes used to help fill in bare spots of lawns that weren’t overseeded in the fall. Dormant seeding is normally not used to seed large areas because of the possibility of erosion before the seed emerges and becomes mature enough to hold the soil.
Dormant overseeding is usually done during the winter (December through February) when it is too cold for germination to take place. Spring seedings done in March can be just as successful as dormant seeding, but spring rains may delay plantings. As with any seeding program, it is vital that good seed-soil contact is achieved. There are several methods that are commonly used in dormant seeding.
One method is to seed when there has been a light snowfall of up to an inch over unfrozen soil. This is shallow enough that bare spots can still be seen. Spread seed by hand on areas that need thickening up. As the snow melts it brings the seed into good contact with the soil where it will germinate in the spring.
Another method is dependent on the surface of the soil being moist followed by some freezing weather. As moist soil freezes and thaws, small pockets are formed on the wet, bare soil, these are perfect for catching and holding seed. As the soil dries, the pockets collapse and cover the seed. Slit seeding can also be used as long as the soil is unfrozen.
With any of the above methods, seed germinates in the spring as early as possible. There will be limitations on what herbicides can be used for weed control. Tupersan (siduron) can be used as a crabgrass preventer on new seedings even before they have come up. Also dithiopyr, found in Hi-Yield Turf and Ornamental Weed and Grass Stopper, can be used on tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass two weeks after germination. Dithiopyr is longer lasting and more effective than siduron. Other preemergence herbicides available to homeowners require that the turf be well established before application.
Adapted from the Kansas State Horticulture Newsletter.