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Spring time tips for central Oregon gardeners

With changing weather, comes the desire to get out there in the garden. Master Gardener, John Say offers tips for local gardeners.
By John "Norm" Say
   Master Gardener
   This time of year after long, cold nights, dreary weeks, and days getting longer and somewhat warmer, gardening hobbyists feel anxiety. After spending the winter sorting through catalogs, planning the spring garden and visualizing healthy tomato plants and fresh garden greens, the urge to get the hands in the soil becomes an obsession. So let's take some action!
   The challenging climate of central Oregon reminds us constantly that temperatures below freezing can occur any night of the year, but chances of that happening are reduced each day as we approach the planting season. Our growing season, the days between killing frosts, varies, depending upon where you live. Since we have so many varied topographical features, rivers and lakes, altitude variations and limited cloud cover, there is no absolute "growing season." Within a few blocks or a half-mile the season can vary from 45 to 120 days. The norm is considered to be about 90 days for selecting the type of vegetables that have the best chance to reach maturity.
   The planting of cold weather crops such as peas, arugula, kale, lettuce, and radishes, can occur when the soil temperature reaches 40 degrees. This won't happen for a few more weeks. Most flowers or vegetable seeds require at least a 40-degree soil temperature and prefer 50 to 60 degrees to germinate. If planted too soon, the seeds will likely rot or simply lay there until the soil temperature is right. There are several procedures to extend the growing season such as plastic to warm the soil and materials and techniques to cover the seeds or plants to help prevent frost kill.
   Usually, seeds that are sold locally will germinate if you follow labeled directions. The same warning with transplants from nurseries. Your success will improve if you wait until after the middle of May or Memorial Day weekend before transplanting. But if you want to get your hands dirty now, read on!
   It is best at this time of year to work on improving your planting area. If you can grab a handful of soil, open your fist and the clump breaks up with gentle force, the soil can be worked. If the clump remains solid, feels wet, and you can see your fingerprints in it, wait and check again in a few days. A great tip is to pull any weeds or invasive grass if the soil is loose enough. Those rascals will really be large by planting time
   Providing the soil is ready to work, add organic material such as sawdust, compost, and leaves from last fall's cleanup by shoveling it in or use a tiller to mix it to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. As the sun moves further north, and that area kept slightly moist, by the middle of May most of that material will have become part of the soil and providing important nutrients for your plants. It is recommended to wait approximately 30 days after adding organic material before planting.
   If you are interested in learning new or refreshing reliable gardening techniques to increase your chances of success, the Spring Gardening Seminar 2001, will be presented by the Central Oregon Chapter of OSU Master Gardeners in conjunction with OSU Extension Service on Saturday, April 21. The location of the Seminar will be at the COCC North Campus Redmond.
   Classes on growing herbs, greenhouse design, xeriscape gardening, edible flowers, organic gardening and composing, constructing wood trellis structures, information on growing roses, container gardening, how to prepare pressed flowers and other subjects will be offered.
   More information is available by calling Callene Weatherson at 416-1532 before 8 PM, or writing to COMGA SEMINAR, POBox 894, Prineville, Ore. 97754.