Beat the storm and be early?

tulsacowboyFebruary 23, 2013


I am brand new posting here, but I have been reading for months. I have devoured every shred of information I can about vegetable and herb gardening, and hope to be as successful as you all are.

I have had a 8' x 16' raised be for a couple of years, growing tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, and chives mostly. I just started composting and amending my soil "correctly" after years of so-so harvests. I bought Edward C. Smith's book, and it has inspired me to get serious about improving my results.

So my question for you all is... should I plant my 3 week old onion transplants, radish seed, lettuce seed, and carrot seed to beat the snow? I would use row covers on the onions (pic attached). Of course I can wait a week or so on the seeds, more if needed. I would mulch everything in with a couple inches of leaf mulch if that helps.

It looks like Tulsa will have sub-freezing overnight lows for a few weeks, so I'll probably put the black plastic down tomorrow since I took the top winter mulch layers off in anticipation of planting.

Thanks for any advice, this is a great place to learn, and the people seem to be so nice.


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Chris, welcome to the forum. This is my first year to try starting bulbing onions from seed. I planted seed on 1-16 and transplanted some at 3 weeks, and weeks of age. I checked them today after we have had ice, sleet, and snow. I have a few that have survived from the 3 week planting, I found none from the 4 week planting alive. So far all of my purchased plants look like they will survive, but we have more bad weather headed our way. I now wish I had waited. The cover may give you all the protection you need but I doubt you will gain anything by planting now. All I can tell that I gained by planting early is damaged plants.


    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 10:18PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Chris,

Welcome to the forum. I hope you have a wonderful garden this year.

Mr. Smith's book is one of my favorite books. I already was using the methods he discusses in his book long before the book came out, but his was the first book I read that actually discussed gardening using the methods I used. You could find some of them mentioned in other books, but not necessarily all together, except for in John Jeavons' book, which seemed too complicated for me when I was starting out here. I use a lot of John Jeavons' methods now, but still don't double dig the beds every year as he recommends and likely never will.

Let's talk about the 3-week-old onions first. If you mean that you grew them from seed and they have been emerged from the soil and growing for 3 weeks, then I would not put them in the ground this close to the approaching snowstorm. I'd keep them inside (if that is where you've been raising them) and sheltered and warm. If they are getting too tall and are flopping over, you can use scissors to give them a trim and it will not hurt them at all. If the onions are transplants purchased in bundles that you've had for 3 weeks and would like to plant, the answer I'd give you is more ifffy. Down here in southern OK, I could go ahead and plant them today without much worry, assuming the soil isn't waterlogged. However, you're significantly farther north and your soil likely is wetter than mine. You also could have several inches of snow in Tulsa. Because of that, I'd be more likely to wait and plant them sometime after the snowstorm passes. If your onions had been in the ground for a couple of weeks and then it snowed, they likely would be fine. However, if they've been sitting in the house or garage and have been pretty warm and happy, they might not be happy to suddenly find themselves in the cold, wet ground with snow piled on top of them.

Also, if you have raised the onion from seed indoors, you must harden them off to outdoor wind and light by giving them one hour of sunlight/wind exposure the first day, two hours the second day, three hours the third day, etc. Otherwise, they likely will die of sunburn and windburn if transplanted directly outdoors without a period of hardening off. That is true of anything raised indoors under lights.

I don't know what weight your floating row cover is, but if too much snow falls on it, it could collapse. The floating row cover fiber, by its very nature, is very lightweight and while rain penetrates it well, sleet, snow and hail tend to pile up on top of it. I have floating row cover in three weights and only 1 of them will tolerate much of a snow, sleet or hail load when suspended over hoops or any sort of frame and it is an ultra-heavy row cover that doesn't allow good light penetration so I don't use it a lot.

This is one of those cases where I think that, if your soil is well-drained and is not water-logged nor likely to become waterlogged in the next 2-3 days, then your onion plants likely would survive just fine if you planted them today. So, if you want to go ahead and do it, i think they'd be okay, under your current forecast. However, if the storm gets significantly colder or drops significantly more snow than is currently forecast, they might be set back pretty hard by the excess moisture or cold.

What I have found, in general, from several decades of gardening, is that any time I rush and hurry to put some plants in the ground in advance of an approaching winter storm system, I almost always regret it. It seems like the plants either freeze, start rotting in soil that it too cold and too wet for too long, or the plants stall and sit there and stare at me like "how could you do this to me" and then they don't show a bit of growth for 2 or 3 weeks. I'm always happier (and so are the plants) if I show a little restraint and plant after the winter storm has departed and the snow has melted and the ground has dried out for a couple of days. So, my experiences have me in total agreement with Larry that while anything planted now likely would survive this week's storm, you also wouldn't gain anything by planting ahead of the storm instead of after it.

With all the seeds you mentioned, all I do is check my soil temps with a thermometer and plant the seeds when the soil is in the range I want. With some seeds, like carrot and beet seed, the seeds will sprout in very cold soil but it can take a long time and there's a risk the seeds will wash away, blow away or rot in wet soil before they can sprout. I don't know what your soil temperatures are like there, but mine here are still a wee bit cold for the seeds I intend to plant. I had good soil temps in the mid-50s a few weeks ago, but significantly cooler weather has cooled them down quite a bit now. I won't put many seeds in soil below 50-55 degrees, but I also don't wait until soil temps hit the 70s for anything except the real heat-lovers like southern peas and pumpkins.

I'm going to link Tom Clothier's data base that shows the correlation between seed germination and soil temperatures. For each vegetable listed, the entry in red shows the soil temperature at which the highest percentage of seeds will germinate in the shortest time period. i don't necessarily wait until my soil temps are at that exact level every time, but I do base seed sowing on my soil temps.I rarely will sow seed if the temps are low enough that germination is going to be very slow. I'll wait until the soil is warmer and sow the seeds when they'll be able to germinate fairly quickly. I think lettuce seed would germinate quickly in current soil temperatures, but carrots might not.


Here is a link that might be useful: Soil Temperature's Effect on Seed Germination

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 10:24AM
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I made the mistake of rushing to plant too early, since I have planted too late the last couple of years and didn't get a very good harvest due to early onset of hot weather. Soil temps were in the 40s, so last Sunday and Monday, I planted my entire garden (100 square feet of raised beds). I put in potatoes (planted at least 6" deep), a whole bundle of those dried up little onions you buy at places like TLC, and lots of sugar snap peas, beets, lettuce, spinach, and kale seeds. The next day it got cold and snowed, and its been cold ever since. Now we are expecting a couple more inches of snow and more cold weather!

I realize that I planted too soon and haven't gained any benefit from it, but, what now? Will I need to replant everything? Or will it just sit there till things warm up again?

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 12:15PM
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I will comment again on my onions that I have planted early. I just checked them again a few minutes ago. Part of my problem is planting too shallow. Under normal conditions I think they would have been fine, but the freezing and thawing of the soil has push the onions up, then the heavy rain has washed the soil off of them. The seeded onions were so small that they became dehydrated. The purchased onions still have enough mass to them that I may be able to save by pushing them down into the soil. I will get a board and place on the soil so I wont sink, and replant the ones that are lying on the soil surface.

I still have some onions in the house that I started from seed, I will wait for the weather to stabilize a bit before I plant them. They are about 5 weeks old now.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 2:06PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


It all depends on how well your beds drain. If they are raised above grade level. then everything you planted should be fine.

The potatoes will be fine, in terms of temperatures, and your soil would have to be really waterlogged in order for them to rot. If the soil doesn't drain well, all bets are off. Even in my dense heavy clay, though, I've missed small potatoes when digging and they survived all fall and all winter and sprouted in spring, and they weren't even in well-drained soil.

Onions can survive temperatures around 20 degrees if in well-drained soil. They're fairly tough. In dense, slow-draining clay soil, they can tolerate a week or two of pretty wet soil but not weeks and weeks of that sort of weather if they aren't in raised beds that keeps them drier than the surrounding area.

All the seeds you planted should be fine and will sprout when the soil reaches the point that allows them to germinate. The only trouble you might have is with the snap pea seed. Once again, it gets back to drainage. If they are in well-drained soil, they should be fine but if in poorly-drained soil, they could rot before they sprout. I always like to pre-sprout my pea seeds indoors before planting them out. That lessens the risk they'll rot before sprouting since they're already sprouted.

Are your temperatures supposed to go lower than 20 degrees this week? If so, the peas may be in trouble.

On the other hand, if you have well drained sandy soil or sandy loam, everything ought to be fine because your soil temps will insulate the seeds well enough that they can tolerate the wet ground and snow.

This time of year, I feel like planting is always a 50-50 kind of thing and it is hard to guess if planting today, for example, would be okay or if it would be better to wait until next week.

Much depends on whether your soil stays above freeezing or if it too goes down to freezing. Above freezing, the pea seeds will be fine even if in wet soil. Below freezing at the same depth as the seeds could hurt them but it would have to stay that cold a while.

I've linked the Mesonet Soil Temperature Map that shows 3-day average soil temperatures at 2" below bare soil. Even in most places that had snow a few days ago, the soil temperatures are staying (barely, in some cases) above freezing.

Larry, Well, since onions are supposed to be planted shallowly, I don't think you did anything wrong. It is just that the weather turned much colder and your onions and soil are chilly.

My ground rarely freezes here so we rarely have frost heave. Those young onions are proving to be quite a challenge, aren't they?


Here is a link that might be useful: 3-day average soil temps 2

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 3:43PM
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Dawn, yes the onions have been a pain, but am still happy at this point. I will have some losses, but I should have all the onions I need.

We are supposed to have another front move through Monday and Friday with a chance of more snow and ice. I dont need anymore moisture. If it does not quit raining I will have to plaint my potatoes in hanging baskets.

I have to deal with frost heave every year. If the plants are established it is no problem.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 8:54PM
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As a follow up, I decided to not plant anything at all in the ground, but did satisfy my need to do something by planting more lettuce/kale/mustard greens/spinach in flats in my greenhouse.

I also see I wasn't very clear on my onion transplants; they are Dixondale 1015Y and Candy Red I bought on Feb 4th. I went and bought three more bunches of 30 today, because I am afraid by the time I plant (next week earliest, could be as long as 2 weeks) that the ones I had would be beyond recovery.

My spring senses are tingling and it is driving me nuts!

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 10:45PM
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Chris, you are hanging wth the wrong croud, my wife says that I have an obsessve culmpulsive disorder along with ADD. She says that every time start playing in the dirt I go nuts.


    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 1:49AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Chris, The older onions likely still would be fine. You know, you always could plant the older ones close together to use as green onions/scallions and use the fresher ones you just purchased for your bulbing crop.

Yesterday I was looking at (a) the mostly empty vegetable garden which only has some reseeding flowers and herbs sprouting in it along with a few leftover fall greens and (b) the greenhouse full of flats of young plants, and I told my husband "but I do have my spring garden is just that all of it is planted in flats in the greenhouse". That was a slightl exaggeration, but not much of one. My onion plants from Dixondale arrived two weeks ago today and I thought I'd have them in the ground already, but recurring rounds of rain and the threat of snow have prevented that. I'm going to plant them on Wednesday unless something drastic happens to prevent me from planting them that day and I don't care if I am standing ankle deep in mud in the pathways to plant them in the raised beds----I'm gonna git it done.

We are so far south that the snow will totally or almost totally miss us. We haven't had much snow in the forecast all along, and if we get any at all now, it is supposed to be less than an inch. All we really have down here south of Marietta is lots of gray, gloomy skies, wind and the tiniest amount of light rain.

Last year I was so much farther along than I am now, garden-wise, but last year we had winter in December and part of January and then it was more or less over. This year is backward. We had little cold spells in December and January, but then February turned quite a bit colder and snowier, and now I wonder if March will continue the trend. I kinda think it will.

I'm afraid we'll all be planting around recurring rain and snow storms in March and just hoping that there is not another big snowstorm. This is not feeling like a year where we plant as early as we like and feel good about is feeling like a year when we'll be out protecting the plantings from late cold weather.

Larrry, Isn't it always that way? There's something about a sunny, mild winter day that makes gardeners just lose their minds.

And speaking of losing its mind....the Methley plum tree has been right on the verge of blooming for 2 weeks but ever since the weather turned back colder after those days we had with highs in the 70s, the blooms had stalled and not progressed, and I was relieved. I was hoping maybe the stall would last until the end of February at least. Nope. This morning, with cold wet weather and a chance of snow in the forecast, the whole dang tree burst out into bloom. Once a plum tree decides that it is time to bloom, you surely cannot stop it.

If we get any snow here at all, it won't be the first time I've had a plum tree sitting out there with snow piled on top of its blooms, but the bad part of it is that the bees which could be out flying around pollinating those flowers are nowhere to be found today. Who can blame them? I wouldn't be out there flying around in a cold, windy rainstorm.


    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 2:01PM
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Larry, I actually think I am with the *right* crowd now hehe.

Dawn, many thanks for the any and all advice and experiences passed along. I do intend to plant the older bunched as well and see how they do as scallions, I just have to find spots for them all, containers or otherwise.

Stay safe everyone!


This post was edited by TulsaCowboy on Mon, Feb 25, 13 at 21:54

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 8:49PM
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Thanks so much, Dawn. Hopefully my garden won't be a total loss. So far here in OKC we are getting mostly rain, so maybe it won't be too bad. I do have raised beds, and after working a lot of peat moss and compost into the soil it is better draining now than it used to be.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 9:01PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

We got mostly rain too, Shelly, and not much of it. I think that if I had gone ahead and planted onions and potatoes last week, they would have been fine. I was so worried that the storm might shift 100 miles or so south and we'd have ice and snow that I didn't plant them. (In 2010 the forecasted blizzard did shift much farther south and we got at least 8" during Super Bowl week instead of the 1-2" that had been forecasted, while some parts of Texas to our south had 12-14" that really wasn't even forecasted for them until a couple of hours before it started falling) I'll be planting my onions today or tomorrow, and likely the potatoes as well.

It is almost March and I am going to be doing a great deal of my cool-season planting in the next 3 to 5 days. Then I'll have more space in the greenhouse to start transplants of warm season crops.

I do feel for the folks who got hit hard by this blizzard. Some of the photos are incredible.

In my head, spring is here because the plum tree and daffodils are in full bloom, and if that doesn't scream spring (or, ok, late winter), then nothing does.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 11:23AM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

This cold weather is a good sign in my opinion that this summer may be normal. Last year it was warm early and I would have been tempted to plant things early again but we have had two winter storms to knock some sense into me. We were in Pittsburg Kansas Sunday and Home Depot there had lettuce and some other plants in their icy garden area. The spinach was fine but the lettuce was frozen. I have too much lettuce under lights and have only put a few trial plants in my "cold frame" which is just a box I made. It has been so cold I have kept the plants inside under lights. Those plants in HD told me I was right in doing so. I don't mind waiting if we can have a normal summer with occasional rain please.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 2:10AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Helen, I think it is a good sign too. While I always am quick to take advantage of an early warmup so I can get a good harvest before the heat sets in, I'd rather not have it get as hot in March and April as it has the last 2 years.

Last year, I planted as early as I could and had great harvests from most things. Sugar Snap peas were disappointing, but that was weather-related. It just got too hot too early for them. I hope it stays cooler later into spring for the sake of the cool-season crops. At the same time, I'd like to see the nights stay a bit warmer than they are now so we can at least put our warm-season crops into the ground on time.

The last two years, even though I started planting tomato plants very early to beat the heat, we went from too cold at night for the tomato plants to too hot for good fruit set in a shockingly short period of time. I remember that even before I finished putting all those tomato plants in the ground, we were having some daytime highs around 90...and I was transplanting tomatoes really early. It made me glad I hadn't waited until the recommended time.

This year, I only started my tomato seeds about 4 or 5 days earlier than usual, so I won't be tempted to rush them into the ground too early since they'll still be relatively small. Last year I started the seed several weeks earlier than usual, and that worked out well because of the early warm-up, but I don't feel like it will warm up as early this year and stay warm.

We are plenty warm down here for cool-season crops so I think most people in my area will start putting transplants into the ground this week if they haven't already. We are unlikely to have cold-enough temperatures at this point to kill any cool-season plantings. I've had lettuce outside all winter, just covering it up on colder nights. We have had maybe 3 to 5 lettuce plants suffer freeze damage on the nights our low temp went down to 9, 10 or 11 degrees, but I always plant far too much lettuce precisely so we can afford to lose some of it on cold nights. My spring lettuce transplants are in the greenhouse and are large enough to transplant, so I soon will transplant them, but likely not until I already have put the onions and potatoes into the ground.

I'd love to have a normal summer, but as far south as we are, even a normal summer is brutal and not fit for man, beast or garden for pretty much all of July and August in all but the coolest, mildest and wettest summers. Our last "good" summer in that regard likely was 2004 or even the first 6 weeks of the summer of 2007. I've just about forgotten what a normal summer is like. A normal summer would be nice and a cooler-than-average one would be awesome.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 9:33AM
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I am a newbie, this is my first forum post, and I hope my question is not too obvious and simple. I planted onion sets from Burpee about 6 days ago. Of course, my luck, May 1st, it is snowing (zone 4). I don't expect temperatures to get much below 30, and I have well-draining raised beds. How will I be able to tell if they survive? They all have the 4-6 inch "stems" that are visible above the soil, would they quickly wilt/brown/die? WI just has such a short window of summer weather that I don't want to find out in 2-3 weeks they are non-viable. What do any of you think? Thanks in advance!!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2013 at 10:23PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I assume when you say the temperatures won't get much below 30 degrees that you are referring to the air temperatures? Do you have any idea what your soil temperatures are?

With onions that just went into the ground, it can be hard to tell if they are damaged by the cold. Before the snow arrived, did the onions have any green on them at all? If they did and that green turns brown, that would be a bad sign. Usually if onions freeze, the neck turns mushy and soft and flops over. Sometimes with plants that just went into the ground, you really cannot tell for a couple of weeks if they are going to make it or not. Sometimes they seem to come through it fine, but then they bolt (send up a seed stalk). I think this is going to be one of those wait-and-see occasions. If the onions were smaller than the diameter of a No. 2 pencil when you planted them, they should be fine...or if they were so small they had less than 5 leaves. Once they are a little larger or older, a prolonged period of cold can make them it is good to get the late cold and snow out of the way while the plants are still tiny. That is one factor in your favor.

Hope this helps,


    Bookmark   May 1, 2013 at 10:36PM
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