JoAnne Skelly: Don’t jump the gardening gun

With all the nice weather we have been having, gardeners’ fingers itch to plant and prune. Any gardener who has been here for a number of years, knows this is a false spring. Although people new to the area may be wooed into thinking planting time is here, I caution, “Let the gardener beware.”

We will see the return of cold weather and freezing temperatures. For example, I lost all my apple and lilac blossoms last year with one short overnight freeze in April. I, for one, hope the cold weather returns in time to keep the apple, other fruit trees and lilacs dormant for a while longer, so I get fruit and flowers this year.

The average last frost date in Carson City is around May 15. However, I don’t plant my cold-sensitive veggies such as tomatoes and cucumbers until June 1, because at 5,000 feet elevation, in addition to a cold sink of mountain air that settles on our lot, we freeze later. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you can’t plant some things. Planting dates depend upon the plant’s cold-hardiness. Some vegetables are very hardy and can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional start to cool-season gardens. It is a good time to plant English peas, snow peas, sugar snap peas, sweet peas and spinach. You also can plant broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, parsley, onions and turnips.

Let’s discuss another “don’t jump the gun” topic — rose pruning. You may be tired of looking at scraggly rose bushes. The warm weather may lure you into pruning. Don’t; it’s too early.

Roses in Northern Nevada generally succumb to a winter canker disease caused by freeze damage and environmental stress. We suggest pruning around tax time — April 15. Pruning encourages new growth and if done too early, that new growth will freeze, damaging the tender new shoots. Canker will advance down from those shoots into the shortened canes and may progress into the bud union of the rose. By waiting a month or so longer, any early or late season canker damage can be pruned out, leaving enough healthy cane for strong plant development and no damage to the bud union.

If you have itchy gardening fingers, prepare your soil for planting as soon as it can be worked. Select your seeds. Then, celebrate St. Paddy’s Day with a planting frenzy.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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