Kathy’s Home & Garden Tips – Picking Out Plants for the Flower and Vegetable Gardens


The weather this spring has definitely been up and down. We have had wonderful sunny days in the 70s, then the next day? Cold and rainy. We cannot always wait for the perfect day to choose our plants at the garden store. Hopefully, you have already planned your vegetable and flower needs and have your list at hand. No matter what, now is the time to get your plants. My husband and I went out this past Sunday in a driving 45 rain but we scored some awesome plants. Don’t wait till it’s 70 and the entire world is out looking for plants and all you find are picked over, sickly ones. The supplies and varieties out there now are as good as it gets. Wait too long and you’ll miss out on those healthy early girl tomatoes and slicing cucumbers.

You don’t need to wait until the day you plant to choose your plants. If you do, you’re likely to miss out on the best ones. In our area in Chicago, safe planting time is not till May 15th. This is when it is relatively safe from frost, although of course it happens occasionally. If there are frost warnings after planting, you need to cover all your plants to protect them from freezing. As little protection as a brown paper bag will keep the plants warm enough. Many flowers will survive a slight frost, especially those close to the house. If there is a more severe frost, you can move hanging baskets and small pots to the garage and cover the rest. I like to wait a few days past the May 15th date. I keep all my plants in the house near a sunny window. This way you can plant whenever you want. I’ve been told you need to harden off plants when moving from house to garden, but I’ve never had trouble. I wait until the weather promises two or three warm days and nights that are not too chilly. If you wish, you can harden off plants by leaving them out for several hours for a few days before planting.

Picking out your plants need not be a daunting task. Stick to your list. It is important to make your plan before plant shopping, especially if you are a novice. If you are doing tomatoes, you will see several different harvesting windows. Early growers, such as early girls, will produce fruit in as little as 50 days. Medium crop will produce in 65-70 days and big beefsteak in 70+. We plant all three to have a long harvesting season. Check the labels of all your plants. They are a fount of information, including sun needs, plant spacing, and size at maturity. With tomatoes, don’t always go for the tallest plants. Choose plants with a sturdy stem and healthy thick growing top. Ignore the lower leaves, as they will likely fall off or be buried when planting. With flowers, the same rules apply. Choose sturdy looking plants with few or no blooms. People think more flowers are better, which is not so. These flowers are often forced to bloom early. The picture on the label shows the blooms. Right now, you are looking for healthy foliage.

Next time, we’ll chat about planting! Happy picking!