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Minter: It's time to get cool-loving foods, colour plants in the ground

The weather is forecast to be cool for a while yet, but there is still so much we can do for early colour and food gardening, writes master gardener Brian Minter.

It’s been one of the longest, coldest, wettest late winter/early springs I can remember and it’s put a hold on much of our early planting.

Many of us are anxious to get some of our food gardens going and we all need a bit of colour outside to lift our spirits too.

A number of garden centres and outlets already have late spring annuals ready to go, but please avoid the temptation!

You will also see some heat-loving tomatoes and peppers out there, but again, unless you have a small greenhouse in which to "grow them on," please wait until our weather patterns improve and we consistently get both our day and night temperatures up to at least 10C.

There certainly are lots of cool-loving food and colour plants which can go out safely now, but two things must happen before you set them out.

The most important factor is our soil condition. Cold, heavy, wet soils do not provide the best growing opportunities for even the most resilient plants. Lighten and loosen up heavy clay soils with fine fir or hemlock (not cedar) bark mulch or sawdust to improve the texture and remedy drainage issues. Open, more porous soils provide a great start, allowing roots to easily spread so new plants can quickly become established.

Adding organic matter, like SeaSoil, and composted manures will greatly enhance all these plants’ growth and also hold in moisture when we do get hot weather.

The other key item is making sure everything you set out early has been properly acclimatized to outdoor conditions. This "hardening off" process simply means that plants need to be kept in a protected, but cold, area until they become tolerant of the cooler night temperatures, wind and rain.

We’re still not out of our night frost period, so that’s a concern as well.

As for early edibles, strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish and Jerusalem artichokes can be planted now. All our small fruits like raspberries, currants, blueberries and the dozens of other berries, including grapes, can also go in now.

It’s the ideal time to plant fruit trees now, and remember, by training them along fence lines and trellises, instead of growing them as a tree, will create a whole new opportunity to enjoy fruits you never thought would be possible to grow in your own garden.

Regarding colour, all our early flowering perennials like arabis, iberis, aubrieta, euphorbias and so many more, love this weather.

Pansies and violas are great cool weather candidates, and they will last well into summer. Flowering currants, which attract hummingbirds, yellow kerria japonica, flowering quince (chaenomeles), deutzia and forsythia are ready to add early colour too. Magnolias, ornamental flowering cherries, crabapples and plums, Redbuds (cercis canadensis) and many dogwoods are just some of the many species that thrive here and offer incredible spring colour.

The weather is forecast to be cool for a while yet, but there is still so much we can do for early colour and food gardening. It’s definitely time to get going in the garden!