To sow or not to sow: a horticulture expert shares gardening tips for the May long weekend

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While the May long weekend is arguably the unofficial kickoff to summer, it’s also the first weekend that many Albertans consider it safe to start planting plants in floor.

It’s a little chilly this year, but all hope is not lost for those looking to get the growing season started.

Joanna Tschudy is the Community Gardens Coordinator for the Calgary Horticultural Society. (Submitted by Joanna Tschudy)

Joanna Tschudy, community garden coordinator for the Calgary Horticultural Society, shared her tips for those looking to dig in their gardens this weekend on CBC’s Homestretch.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.


Question: What do you think of people starting their outdoor planting the May long weekend?

Answer: It is a rule of thumb that we have come to know as our guide. It’s like the green light to get out. But I look at the weather, we also know that in Calgary we usually have pretty gloomy weather this weekend.

I’m just keeping my eyes on the weather forecast and different plants may come out just fine now, and some you may want to keep indoors.

Q: What should we keep in mind when deciding to plant outdoors?

A: You want to watch the varieties you plant. So I just got back from gardening, it’s my favorite pastime on a cold, rainy, snowy day. Go buy some plants – the queues are quite short. I picked pansies and got snapdragons and petunias. These are OK to start relaxing outside a bit more each day, until the temperatures get a bit warmer and then they can be outside full time.

Q: What should we expect to plant outdoors this weekend?

A: Your tropical varieties, tomatoes and peppers, simply do not tolerate low temperatures at all. They don’t like this cold wind.

Warm season plants really need some protection until we can predict better weather more consistently. But, you know, Alberta is a strong and resilient place for its gardeners. And we know a lot of plants that can be taken out.

I already have my garlic about 10 inches tall now that went into the ground last fall. Spinach, leafy greens, root crops, all of these can be planted right now without any problem or danger, because they’ll be under that ground and protected and they’ll have that great start to the growing season.

Q: What should we know about trees and shrubs right now?

A: With trees and shrubs, I wouldn’t bother too much, but a good drink, you know, a low, slow dip in the drip line, where the outermost branches reach. If you kind of go down a straight line to the ground from there, that’s where they’re really going to absorb the most water, that’s where the root hairs are.

That’s what drinks and receives the most nutrients, those thin outermost pathways. So get your water out. In a way, think like a leaky faucet, pull out the end of a regular garden hose and move it around in a circle under your tree, or shrub, or a dripping hose or invest in timed irrigation .

And if you haven’t already, mulch the base of the bed your trees and shrubs are in or give them a nice tree well, make sure the mulch doesn’t come up too far at the base of the trunk.

We want to water them and then conserve the water. It’s the best bet for trees and shrubs right now.

Q: I imagine a lot of people are really tempted right now to take a rake or something and clean up the garden. Is this the right time to do this?

A: Right now, we’re approaching that kind of limit where everything is fine.

But still, if you think about it, many of our beneficial insects still overwinter. They cannot go out and fly in cold weather, so they need a place to hide and stay protected. We saw bumblebees, huge bumblebees coming over some of our flowering shrubs.

But on a day like this, they’re hiding, they’re not pollinating. Plus, all that leaf litter and last year’s growth that might still be on your plants essentially acts as mulch for the root zone. So whether it’s perennials or your trees and shrubs, leave it a little longer. I would say in the next couple of weeks we can start pulling some of that out if you do it at all. Many people leave it and let the new growth pass.

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