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Any hint of spring weather makes us anxious to shed clothing and get outside. For many of us, we’re excited to get our fingers in the soil, sow some seeds, beautify our yards and grow something good to eat. Spring weather is an average, not a definite. A shift from a southerly wind over several days to a northerly wind for several days flips our Gulf Coast weather.
“When is it safe to plant my garden?” That’s the question from those who fear the freeze. I’m only a sometimes gardener but I know the answer relates to what you are trying to grow. Every plant has a different tolerance for a freeze and even just long periods of cold. You have to check the seedling freeze tolerance of whatever you plan to raise.
There are old rules on the Gulf Coast that say you shouldn’t think about planting in the ground before Good Friday or Easter. These are not based on any spiritual meaning. They come from climate history, which shows those holidays coincidentally occur about the time the risk of a freeze goes way down. If you take the last 20 years of temperature data and average out when the last freeze was recorded in Mobile, the date was Feb. 26. However, the range of final freezes in those two decades was from as early as Jan. 9 in 2017, to as late as March 31 in 2003. Search NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) NOWdata online for other locations.
Past averages and records don’t dictate future conditions. The weekly weather patterns control when we freeze, but we can’t reliably look more than 10 days ahead for a trend, let alone an exact low-temperature forecast.
For some tender plants, you also have to account for the damage frost can do. Frost depends on air temperature, humidity and wind, along with things like tree cover. Frost may form when the nighttime temperature stays in the mid- or upper 30s.
So, when is a good time to get the garden going? What’s your level of risk and how much effort are you willing to put into covering or moving young plants? Also, account for how far north of the Gulf you are. The average and latest last freeze dates for communities that are an hour’s drive north of Mobile are easily two weeks later than in Mobile. On the other hand, locations at the beaches have average and last freeze dates a couple of weeks earlier than in Mobile.
Have patience or risk wasted effort in starting an outdoor garden. Even with the rule of thumb of waiting until Easter, you still need to keep up with the daily forecast. Account for the average temperature where you live, since it may be far different from that in Mobile. If it makes you feel any better, the average last freeze in Indianapolis, Indiana, is in mid-April and the latest recorded freeze there is in mid-May.
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