By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
Generations of Mississippi gardeners and farmers have planted on Good Friday.
That tradition may serve well when the somber day falls in mid-April or later, but this year the odds are against the gardener.
Union County Extension Director Stanley Wise remembers advising an Alcorn County farmer years back against planting three acres of tomatoes on March 29.
“It turned cold, and he got about half covered,” Wise said. “The other half bit the dust.”
“If you plant (today), we still have at least a 90-percent chance of frost. It drops to 50 percent by April 15, and then by April 30 it drops to 10 percent,” he said.
Wise admits even experts don’t always think far enough ahead. Two weeks ago he’d bought some transplants and set them on the ground in an unheated greenhouse when the weather turned cold again.
“Lost every plant,” he said.
Lisa Gathright of Oxford said a former boss, whom she declined to name, was obsessive about planting early.
“He used to plant tomatoes in March anytime there was a warm spell. It was a running joke at work about how many times he had to replant,” she said.
Nevertheless, Gathright said, the man “always had the most beautiful garden at the end of the summer.”
John O’Haver of Abbeville thought he was being abundantly cautious a few years ago when 720 tender vegetable plants were under plastic cover in late April. When a freeze hit on April 30, he said, “I lost 500 of them.”
Will Reed of Native Son Farm in Tupelo was trying to stave off disaster earlier this week by covering his blooming strawberries against temperatures in the mid-20s.
“It’s a big job, and it’s expensive, but luckily we did it, or I would have a real disaster story,” he said.
Not all garden disasters, little or big, involve cold weather.
Suzanne Shaddix Cox of Abbeville had read that agricultural lime would soften soil. Having hard clay in her yard, she said used so much of the amendment that the soil turned too alkaline for most vegetables.
Reed once planted in a winter rye-and-vetch cover crop over the next year’s intended tomato field. The spring was so wet that he couldn’t get a tractor in to mow the crop down.
When Rodney Holley lived in New Albany some eight years ago, his backyard was too steep to mow, so he sought advice. He now figures his neighbor meant for him to spray the slope with herbicide and, if it hadn’t killed the vegetation in a few weeks, to start a controlled burn. That wasn’t Holley’s initial interpretation of “use some Roundup and diesel.”
“I went full strength – just opened the quart of Roundup and slung it, then I took the gallon of diesel and slung that and threw a match on it,” Holley said. He reported hearing a ‘whoosh’ and saw him running.
“That slope still doesn’t grow grass.”
Union County Master Gardener Tim Burress used to think growing up on a farm had taught him everything he needed to know about growing plants, until he killed most of 100 new azaleas with the wrong soil amendments and deep planting.
“That’s what prompted me to take the master gardener training,” Burress said.