Heirloom Expert: How Early Can You Start Planting?

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If it's still too cold to plant, you can get ahead of the game by getting your tools and supplies ready in the meantime.

I’ve got cabin fever and want to get started in the garden. How early can I start planting?

I’m in zone 5/6 here in Pennsylvania and always start my peas on St. Patrick’s Day. That might mean planting the seeds in the garden or in peat pots until the snow melts. Usually the biggest roadblock to planting is wet soil. If the soil sticks to the shovel, it’s too wet to turn over. That’s the mantra I’ve been repeating for 30 years, and it’s as true today as it was then. The worst thing you can do is turn the soil over too soon, but if temperatures are cooperating there’s another way to plant. Adding a thick layer of compost to the bed makes it ready for planting. I like to add about six inches over a good garden bed and then plant cold-loving plants like peas, beets, radishes, lettuce and more towards the end of March if the weather cooperates.

If it’s too cold to plant, get your tools in shape. Shovels, hoes, pruners, and any other tool with a metal edge should be sharpened. There are lots of different ways to get the edges sharp. A good mill file works. There are also commercially sold sharpeners that work well, too. I garden with my grandparents’ tools and want to keep those old ash handles in good shape. Rubbing the handles with boiled linseed oil a couple times a season will help make them last long enough for the next generation to use.

Doug Oster, contributing editor

Mother Earth Gardener
Mother Earth Gardener
Expert advice on all aspects of growing.