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Warmer weather signals time for spring planting

The next month may be the most important of the gardener’s year.

There is much to be accomplished in flower gardens and vegetable beds. Rush ahead with some things and you risk disappointment. Delay other tasks and the window of opportunity slams shut.

At the moment, people who don’t even think of themselves as gardeners get wrapped up in selecting tomato plants, debating the merits of one variety over another and making precise plants for the layout of their flower beds and vegetable gardens.

Even if you aren’t that gung-ho, there is much to be accomplished in the next four or five weeks.

So let’s get organized for prime time in the garden this spring. We’ve waited long enough.

An easy way to do this is to create three distinct time zones, each suited for accomplishing important tasks.

Time Zone 1

Mid-April, when the soil and air are still cool, but the threat of freezing weather is usually over.

Vegetables: It’s final call for sowing seeds or setting out plants of certain cool-season crops that must get in the ground now. These include beets, broccoli, leaf lettuce, cabbage and cauliflower. All tolerate, even thrive in, cool air and soil.

Flowers: All kinds of perennials can go into the ground and should grow rapidly. Do not fear setting out potted perennials or plants such as hostas or Shasta daisies divided and shared by friends. They will get going fast, even in cool soil.

Bedding plants such as petunias, marigolds, million bells, pentas, periwinkle, verbena, geraniums, angelonia can also go into the ground or in pots. But don’t think the ship has sailed on the plants if you have to wait a few weeks for spring flowers to play out and be removed from beds and pots.

Shrubs: Take advantage of the beautiful flowers on many kinds of shrubs to cut stems for vases indoors. This can double as a pruning exercise. Choose the stems most in need of pruning plants to the right size and shape.

Time Zone 2

Late April, prime time for flower and vegetable gardening because the air and soil are warm.

Vegetables: It’s tomato time, which means the world to many people. But other easy-to-grow crops such as green beans, cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, yellow squash and zucchini can go into the ground as seeds or plants.

Start planting herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley.

Flowers: Plant your containers for porch, patio or deck with dramatic things such as tropical hibiscus or bright geraniums. Decorate the mailbox post with a vining mandevilla. Fill the hanging baskets with trailing petunias or million bells.

Determine your hottest, sunniest spot in flower beds and make a safe choice: tough but beautiful lantana, scarlet sage or sunflowers. Keep planting the annuals you started working with earlier this month, aiming for variety in bloom season, color and texture.

Shrubs: As the spring flowers fade, do any pruning needed to bring azaleas, pieris, forsythia, viburnums and other spring-flowering shrubs to the right size and shape.

Time Zone 3

Early to mid-May, now that the air and soil are really warm.

Vegetables: Plants that demand warm soil and settled weather such as cantaloupe, eggplant, okra, sweet potato, lima beans, sweet and hot peppers can go in now. In the herb garden, basil should take off.

Flowers: Caladiums and elephant ears also require the warm soil for good root development and top growth. Some gardeners plant them in individual pots in early April but keep them in a warm spot indoors until mid-May. Zinnia seeds, which also prosper in warm weather, can go into bare spots left by pansies. So can beautiful scarlet sage plants.

Shrubs: While the best time for planting shrubs is past, there will be roses, hydrangeas and viburnums, popular choices for Mother’s Day, to set out as soon as possible.

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