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Monday, September 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Never underestimate Spokane’s fickle spring weather

Soil temperatures are still cool. To warm up the soil, place  black plastic sheets over your garden beds a couple of weeks before you plant. This will raise the temperature as much as 10 degrees. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)
Soil temperatures are still cool. To warm up the soil, place black plastic sheets over your garden beds a couple of weeks before you plant. This will raise the temperature as much as 10 degrees. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)

I am going to start this with a disclaimer. I have no special connections that give me insight into what to expect for the rest of the spring. All I have is 42 years of experience dealing with our often fickle spring weather. I’ve been burned a few times and a few times I made an “educated” SWAG and won. Here are a few things I have learned in the hope it improves your odds this year.

Local gardening lore tells us that we shouldn’t plant warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants and melons until the snow is off Mica Peak. That’s the 5,205-foot peak with all the radar equipment on top of it southeast of Spokane. Some people think it’s Mount Spokane, which has an elevation of 5,885 and is northeast of Spokane. The snow seems to disappear from Mica Peak about the end of May, which coincides with Memorial Day. Some years if you wait until the snow is off Mount Spokane you would be way too late to get anything in before the fall frosts show up.

Speaking of frosts, don’t let last weekend’s 80-degree weather fool you. We had some freezing temperatures a couple of weeks ago and we could get more as late as early June. So, plant if you want but keep the sheets and tarps ready in the garden and listen to the weather forecasts. If they predict the low 40s or high 30s, cover things up. Where I live, my garden is influenced by cold air draining off the Palouse and I can easily get 5 to 10 degrees colder than the forecast.

The air may be warm, but the ground is still cold, and a lot of the warm season vegetables don’t like it. The cold stunts their growth enough that they can’t recover in time to produce. Ground temperatures right now are in the mid- to high 50s. Warm season plants like it about the mid-60s. Corn and basil are particularly affected by cold soils. Basil can be stunted, and corn seed can rot before it comes up. To warm soil up, lay black plastic over your beds a couple of weeks before planting. The plastic absorbs heat enough to raise the soil temperature 10 degrees, which is enough to give plants a good start.

I’m not encouraged by the lack of rain we are experiencing. The soil in my garden was dry a couple of inches down already last weekend, and the rain prediction for the next few days isn’t very strong. So get your sprinklers turned on and tuned up.

Lastly, as you are doing your spring garden work, clear out some of the brush and small trees close to your house. Fire season has already started and clearing flammable stuff out now while you have time just might save your house when any fires hit close to home. Better yet, have a neighborhood brush-clearing party so everyone can rest a little easier later this summer.

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