May means it’s time to plant.

If you are an avid gardener, you have probably been busy sowing lettuce, spinach, peas and other cool weather vegetables. Perhaps you also have started seeds indoors — and by this time those seedlings are popping.

We are all chomping at the bit to get those plants and additional seeds in the ground so we can begin to see the fruits (and veggies) of our labor.

Here are a few tips for the next steps in the planting process for May:

• Don’t be in a hurry to put out the warmer weather plants such as tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers. Northeast Pennsylvania weather, categorized as USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 and 6, is fickle during May. Generally, use May 15 as a guide to frost-free planting but don’t be surprised if you get a night or two after then that are below freezing. Last year, May 15, 16 and 20 were below freezing. Watch your local weather forecast.

• If you have not yet planted lettuce, peas, spinach and other cool weather crops, do not worry. There is still have plenty of time because May weather is cool enough for these vegetables to thrive. Cool season crops have good frost tolerance and will germinate and mature quickly.

• The seedlings that were started indoors need to be prepared for transplanting outdoors. This requires something called hardening that prepares the coddled small plants for the harshness of the outdoors. Seedlings should first be placed outdoors in an area that is protected from wind and is slightly shaded. Sun exposure should be limited to an hour or two to start and increased each day. This will cause less stress to your seedlings when they are finally transplanted. By the end of the two weeks, the seedlings should be able to spend 24 hours outside.

After the garden has been planned, the soil prepared, seeds and seedlings readied, and the weather forecast checked for no frost, it is time to get outside and plant the warmer weather vegetables.

Here are a few more tips to complete your vegetable garden:

• Give the soil a chance to warm up before rushing out to plant. The air temperature may be 75°F, but if it has been cold the soil will take a bit longer to warm up. Ideal soil temperature for warm weather crops will vary but 60 to 70°F is a good range. Also, be ready to cover warm weather plants just in case of an unexpected cold night.

• Once hardened, seedlings are ready to go outside in the ground. Dig a hole in the prepared soil that is large enough for the seedling. Gently remove the entire plant from the pot by pushing from the bottom. Be sure to keep the entire root ball intact when placing it into the hole. Press down firmly and cover the entire root system with the prepared soil. Water thoroughly but gently, so as not to wash away the soil around the plant. Check plants on a daily basis. You may see slight wilting due to transplant shock because, in general, plants hate to be moved. In a few days, the plants should be upright and healthy. Keep the soil moist as drying out will cause stress and weaken the plant.

• When planting seeds, read the packet or refer to online sources to determine correct spacing and depth. The time for seeds to germinate varies for each vegetable. The information on the packet will provide a good guideline. Vegetables such as radishes give instant gratification and can emerge in three days, while others such as beans and squash may take a week or longer. Germination is also dependent on soil conditions and temperature. Be patient. As seedlings emerge you may need to thin them to provide proper spacing to ensure strong healthy plants.

• How are weeds controlled? There are several options. Place a weed barrier in the garden prior to planting. Mulching may also help reduce weeds. The most effective and safest method is mechanical weed control. Pulling them out, roots and all. This is good exercise in the fresh air!

• Last, but not least, keep a close eye on seedlings and transplants for their first few weeks. If there are a few spots where seeds did not germinate, just sow a few more. There is plenty of time to get seeds in the ground. Keep everything moist but do not overwater. Watering in the early morning is recommended. Water the soil, not the foliage. Aim for an inch of water per week if rainfall is not sufficient.

The Master Gardeners of Lackawanna County are available to answer your questions. You can submit questions to lackawannamg@psu.edu, or call and leave a message at 570-963-6842. In the meantime, stay healthy, safe, and have a great time growing your crops.

Penn State Extension is dedicated to delivering science-based information to people, businesses and communities. They partner with and are funded by federal, state and county governments. For more information on what they’re doing in Lackawanna County, visit extension.psu.edu/lackawanna-county.

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