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By Molly Jackson-Nielson
San Juan County Master Gardener 


Tips to surviving spring gardening fever


Contributions by Bonnie Hopkins, Ag Agent

Spring is upon us in northwest New Mexico! The apricots and plums are blossoming, the birds are chirping, and cool season crops are going in. Wait! What?!? You haven’t planted your cool season vegetables yet? Too late! No, just kidding. You haven’t missed the Official Planting Date for Hardy Crops (hint: there isn’t one). But seriously, people; it’s April. Get those seeds in the ground.

If you’ve lived in San Juan County long enough, you know that a late frost is no rarity, but the warm spring days have all of us itching to get our hands dirty. Planting or transplanting too early can be a death sentence for warmth loving New Mexico staples like chili, tomatoes, beans, and corn. Good news! There are dozens of frost-tolerant greens and spicy tubers who are begging to be sown – today – in the cool, moist, workable earth. Cool hardy crops like peas and spinach don’t mind a little frost nipping at their noses. What’s more, they don’t really like the New Mexico heat. At the peak of summer they wilt, turn tough and bitter, and start to go to seed (also called bolting). Early spring is the perfect time to plant cool season crops.

We know you don’t have much time to waste, but let’s briefly talk schedule. According to the NMSU’s vegetable production specialist, Dr. Stephanie Walker, frost-tolerant crops could have gone in last month, especially onions, peas, and spinach. But it’s not too late. Give ‘em some shade and mulch ‘em up good. Once you’re done with those, start on the turnips, broccoli, radishes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustard, collards, kale, and kohlrabi. All these guys are cool with frost. Then take a breather.

There’s a bit of time before your half-hardy crops go in, according to Dr. Walker. Crops like cauliflower, lettuce, beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and Swiss chard prefer the cool weather, but can be superficially damaged by frost or freezing temperatures. In San Juan County, our last frost usually comes sometime in mid-May. Plant half-hardy crops around that time. They don’t mind a little frost while they’re germinating, but, as is the case with Vanilla Ice, frosted tips on adults are best avoided altogether.

We’ve been talking a lot about frost tolerance. But frost isn’t the only reason that planting dates are different between cool season and warm season crops. “Cool season” and “warm season” refer, in the truest sense, to the conditions under which a crop thrives. As we discussed earlier, cool season crops can turn tough and bitter in the hot New Mexican summer. Conversely, warm season crops that are planted too early may not start growing until temperatures are warm enough. If you’re feeling impatient about harvesting heat-loving veggies like okra and eggplant, look for fast-maturing varieties instead. Rather than focus on the earliest date to get plants in the ground, do a little research on harvest maturity dates. A tomato with a 55-day window to maturity (like early girl tomatoes) will yield fruit long before an 80-day tomato (such as the Cherokee Purple) despite being planted on the same day. A little time hitting the books and selecting the best varieties for San Juan County will give you much better results than planting early and crossing your fingers that you’ve missed the frost.

Stop by the San Juan County Extension office to pick up your copies of Dr. Walker’s Gardening publications, at 213-A South Oliver Drive in Aztec, or call 334-9496 for more information.

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