Pay attention to the weather forecast. This is the week we walk the line between frost and not-frost. In the city, we've already gotten the all-clear, but out in the 'burbs . . . hold off on planting transplants of tomatoes, peppers, and basil until the nighttime temps are in the mid-50s. (Refer to last week's column for best ways to test soil warmth.) Lots of people have jumped the gun on this, and the results are not pretty. In the meantime, feel free to plant seeds of any of your warm-season vegetables such as beans, squash, and cukes. Just don't expect them to pop out of the ground until the soil gets warmer. You can boost the temperature by covering the ground with plastic for a few days, then removing it to plant the seeds.
Mow the lawn. Nothing makes more of a visible impact on your garden than giving the grass a quick haircut. Your personal stylist recommends the following for the first cut of the season: 1. Set your mower to about 3 inches. This gets more sunlight down toward the roots without damaging the crown of the plant; 2. Hold off on fertilizing until around Memorial Day, when the grass actually needs it and can better utilize that boost of energy; 3. Look at where the bare spots are, and figure out why that happened. Not enough light? Low spots where water sits? High spots that get chopped too short routinely by the mower? Compacted soil in high-traffic areas? Fix the problem before you reseed, or you'll have to do it again and again.
Pinch flowers off transplants. This is soooo hard to do, but it makes such a difference in the health of the plant. Impulse buyers in garden centers on warm days are thicker than aphids on broccoli, and they're going for all that color! Enjoy the flowers, give them as gifts, trade with your neighbors; but when you're ready to put them in the ground, pick the flowers off. And the flower buds. This gives the plant a signal to concentrate on growing roots first instead of using all its energy on flowers. If you are planting flowering perennials or small flowering shrubs, wait until after Mother's Day. They're just too much of a temptation to passersby to pick a bouquet to take home to mom.
Sally McCabe is senior manager of community education at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (phsonline.org) and a co-owner of Cobblestone Krautery (www.cobblestonekrautery.com).