“Plant your peas on St. Patrick’s Day,” my grandfather Tony Dorazio always instructed me.
A lifelong gardener and founder of Wayside Acres Hardware and Garden Center in Scotia, that guy knew his stuff. But with St. Patty’s Day at hand, my garden is still buried under a pile of snow.
Three days before the vernal equinox, winter is still holding strong and local gardeners are getting restless.
Jenny Hudman, grower-educator for Schenectady-based Roots and Wisdom, won’t start planting in the plastic high houses in Central Park until the ground is bare, because she fears melting snow will flood the structures.
Last year at this time, the crew for the youth agriculture and community service program had already been working in the high houses for a month. Hudman had a bunch of hardy carrots in the ground, too.
“I wish the snow would melt, because you can start peas,” she said wistfully.
Hudman is also anxious to see how the spinach in the organization’s Fehr Avenue garden overwintered, tucked carefully beneath straw and a row cover.
“Spinach can actually freeze in the ground but you have to let it thaw in order to harvest it, so I’m hoping that we’ll have a really early season of spinach, and it tastes so much better after a good, hard winter,” she said.
Onions, leeks and Tuscan kale are sprouting in the glassed-in Central Park greenhouses, but the water hasn’t been turned on there yet, for fear the pipes could still freeze.
Until the weather warms up a bit, the crew will lug water in by the bucketful for the seedlings.
“I’ve had lots of people asking to volunteer and I have to tell everyone, ‘We can’t do anything until the snow melts, unfortunately,’ ” Hudman said.
She has also cautioned her new crew, which starts this week, that work will be slow until there’s no more snow.
The lingering winter weather does bring some good news for gardeners, Hudman conceded.
“I’m glad that there’s snow because that means the soil is going to be wet,” she said. “That was the biggest problem the year that we didn’t get any snow. That year, we didn’t have a real winter and that summer was the driest on record and it was really hard to get things growing.”
A slow emergence from dormancy is much better for perennials and fruit trees than a quick jump in temperature, noted Randy Herrington, nursery manager at Faddegon’s Nursery in Latham.
Seeds and bulbs are selling briskly at Faddegon’s, but Herrington is counseling gardeners to be patient.
There are some outdoor gardening chores that can be done despite the snow, he noted.
It’s a great time to prune bushes that didn’t get cut back in the fall, provided they’re not spring bloomers.
Forsythia, lilacs, rhododendrons and azaleas are on the spring “do not prune” list, but spireas, rose of Sharon bushes, and hydrangeas that bloom on new wood can all be pruned right now, he said.
To give perennials a nutritional boost as they come out of dormancy, slow-release fertilizer can be spread on top of the snow.
“With the rain that’s coming and the melting snow, that’s going to get it down into the ground and it will be there when [plants] need it,” Herrington explained.
He recommended Espoma products like Plant-tone and Holly-tone.
Ned Chapman, owner of Sunnyside Gardens in Saratoga Springs, said the gardeners he’s talked to are very anxious to get started.
“We had a customer in [Tuesday] and they were just talking about how they had prepared all of their beds and everything by this time last year,” he recounted.
Chapman praised the snow for its insulating quality, which can help perennials weather the winter.
His advice to antsy gardeners: “Go skiing.”
If that idea doesn’t sit well, he also suggested attending the Capital District Garden and Flower Show from Friday through Sunday at Hudson Valley Community College. The show will feature more than 17,000 square feet of landscape exhibits full of live shrubs, mature trees, blooming flowers and water features. There will also be a floral design competition, 150 garden-themed exhibits, and professionals who will share their expertise on garden-related topics. Chapman will be a featured speaker at the event.
Once the snow does melt, early outdoor crops like peas can go in the ground as soon as the soil is workable, Herrington advised.
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the best dates for planting peas outdoors in the Capital Region are March 21 through April 11.
Who knows? The snow might be gone by April 11.