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Urban Farmer: Have no failures to launch when Mother’s Day (aka the gardeners’ holiday) arrives


By Ginger Dawson
NKyTribune’s Intrepid Urban Farmer

Mother’s Day. The traditional last frost date in zone six. It is almost here. Now, with all due respect to all mothers out there, and not to say that we don’t honor your efforts and sacrifices to nurture and civilize us; gardeners are more focused on getting the outside garden on the road. It is the date we wait for all year. Well, that and Independence Day, because some overly competitive old coot in the past insisted that he had harvested his first ripe tomatoes on the Fourth of July.

Every seed company known to man, ever since, has developed and pushed an early variety with the accompanying appropriate name: Early Girl, Summer Girl, Ultimate Opener… the list goes on.

I have never yet had ripe tomatoes by the fourth of July. Now, I follow a traditional time-line without the season-jumping assistance of a greenhouse. That may have to change, however. Greenhouses are starting to look very appealing to me. I want one. Some people want a private jet; I want a greenhouse.


But now, back to the matter at hand.

In past columns I have touted my philosophy of nurturing a consistent, steady growth cycle for your plants. This is an idea gleaned from The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith.

Among many other great ideas from this book, I find this to be the most valuable and common-sensical line of thinking. Its logic is infallible. The results validate it.

Your little seedlings are started in a medium with consistent moisture and heat. As they mature, you remove the also-rans with a clip of the scissors, rather than pulling them out by the roots. This will not disturb the root system of the chosen one in each pot.

Keep your plants supplied with consistent moisture. No overwatering. Plants need to breathe too. And also, no dousing after a dry spell. It takes discipline to maintain this. Well, I should say it takes ME discipline to maintain this. Feed the plants once a week with a suitable, dilute plant food.

After about a month, it will be time to perform that necessary, yet harrowing, task known as “hardening off.” This is a process of introducing your tender little wards to the vicissitudes of the real world. Cold Temperatures. Wind. Too much Sun.

What is needed is a gradual introduction to these harsh realities.


First off, though, your plants need to be provided with more dirt to expand their little root systems into. If you have used Cowpots, just drop them into larger containers with more soil. This perpetuates the even, consistent growth that we are aiming for. Root-bound plants are not happy plants.

About a week or two before you intend to plant everything in the garden, slowly introduce the plants to the sun. About an hour or so in the sun on the first day, and increasingly more on succeeding days is a good plan. Do not do as I have done in the past and just put everything out there and go off to work. Sun scald is like the “heart-break of psoriasis” to a gardener. I’ve had my heart broken. Incredibly, a couple of times.

Sun scald literally bleaches the color right out of the leaves. Gradual introduction prevents this. The plants come up to speed pretty quickly being outdoors and in full sun all day, but this must be done slowly in the beginning, for at least a week. If you’ve pushed your luck and there is a little damage, the plants will recover… mercifully.

Also during this hardening-off period, monitor the night temperatures. If the mercury is going to dip a little too close to the freezing point, I recommend bringing everything in for the night. Or, if you have a cold frame or greenhouse (my envy is increasing), you can just lower the lid or close the vents.

Once the final frost date is here (Happy Mother’s Day), we can get on with the business of setting out the plants in the garden. If you have done your job and parented your plants in a responsible, caring, yet tough-love way, there should not be a single one exhibiting “failure to launch.”


Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington, Kentucky since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed a very eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it.

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