By Elizabeth Warburton-Smith
March can be a wonderful month for planting out your spring garden. The first of March is historically the last frost date in early spring for Tucson. But Vail and Rita Ranch are a bit higher in elevation, so it can be colder here. Will this month be the best time to plant out tomatoes? No one can say for sure, but some gardeners plan for early plantings, hoping for early harvests. Others wait until the end of April, just to be sure they don’t lose any plants to last minute frosts or freezes. Still other gardeners will plant a few seedlings out now and then have some backups ready in the green house (or at the garden nursery) for replacing anything if needed. We have gotten snow in April and even May, so who’s to say what the weather is in store.
If you do decide to plant early, there are some techniques that can help protect your small seedlings from incliment weather. Cloches are glass or plastic covers for individual plants to protect them from the cold, just like small greenhouses. You can make them by cutting out the bottom of two-liter soda bottles and then placing them over your plants. Water walls are plastic cones with individula tubes that you fill with water and they surround your plants, creating a protective barrier from wind and cold. Make your own by filling plastic jugs with water and arranging them around your plants.
Another method is mulching your young, tender plants. Use straw, not hay, or you will be inadvertantly planting hay seeds. Place the straw around young plants, covering them right up to their top leaves.
Use frost cloth or old bed sheets to cover several plants at once or entire rows of plants. You can use PVC hoops or stakes to attach the cloth to so it doesn’t sag onto your plants. Some gardeners use cold frames, which can be as basic as a glass window frame placed over a garden bed.
Keep an eye on the weather during the day and uncover your plants if it gets hot to prevent your little individual greenhouses from cooking your plants.
When you do decide to plant your spring garden, check out this planting calendar to see your options for March plantings: https://www.communitygardensoftucson.org/planting-guide/