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Plant Seeds When the Time is Right

M. Grabowski, UMN Extension

Warm sunny days inspire gardeners to work outdoors. Although everyone is anxious for fresh vegetables from the garden, it is important to be patient and wait for the correct time to plant. Spring soils can be cold and wet. Some vegetables like peas and many leafy greens easily tolerate these conditions and can be planted in the garden as soon as the soil thaws and can be worked.

Cucumber seedlings killed by damping off. M. Grabowski, UMN
Members of the cucurbit family, including cucumber, zucchini, summer squash, melon, winter squash, and pumpkin need warmer soils to grow. These plants originate from tropical climates. Other tropical plants like tomato, eggplant and pepper are often started indoors and transplanted to the garden when weather conditions are right. Unfortunately, although cucurbits can be transplanted with care, they have delicate root systems and often do better when direct seeded into the garden. Winter squash and pumpkin seeds can be planted when soils reach 65 F at a 2 inch depth. Zucchini, summer squash, and cucumber need soils that have warmed to 70 F at 2 inch depth. Melons prefer to wait until soils are between 70 and 90 F. Soil thermometers are available at many garden centers.

If planted too early, seeds will not grow or will grow very slowly. Sitting in cold wet soil, seeds are very susceptible to several root rotting pathogens that cause a disease known as damping off. Damping off is rarely a problem for vigorously growing seedlings in warm soil that is moist but not soggy. Under cool wet conditions, however, damping off can kill every seedling.

To learn more about how to grow vegetables in Minnesota, visit the UMN Extension Garden web page for vegetables in the home garden.

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