What you need to know BEFORE getting the garden going this spring


Spring has literally been “busting out all over” the Rochester area thanks to quite the combination of prolonged unseasonable warmth, and a sudden abundance of rainfall that slowly soaked into the ground. One look at this picture of our Flower City’s famed Highland Park really says it all about the status of our flowering trees and shrubs.

Image courtesy of Brandon Sprung, @brandonsprung Twitter

And this level of bloom is happening across most of our area. In Buffalo, Todd Santos, Chief Meteorologist at our sister station WIVB-TV, noted the sudden burst of the city’s famous cherry trees via Twitter. The picture in the tweet is from April 12th. That caliber of bloom is well in advance of the traditional timing that coincides with the city’s festival which is on April 26th. That’s two weeks ahead of schedule!

So, with all of this in mind, you may be wondering about what you can do with your own garden and what kind of planting may be able to be done now to get that garden to “go and grow”!

Now, before you run off to your favorite nursery or gardening store and start getting your hands in the dirt with all that digging and planting, you should know something about getting it ready.

Just don’t. At least not just yet.

Despite the temptation that surrounds us from all those colorful blooms that have suddenly burst forth so far this season, there is still danger “waiting in the wings”.

And the culprit: Jack Frost himself!

Image courtesy of NERCC, Northeast Regional Climate Center, Ithaca, NY

According to the National Weather Service in Buffalo, the last frosts in the Rochester area usually occur by April 30 near Lake Ontario, but can happen as late as mid-May south of the Thruway away from the modifying influence of the lake water. This is why so many long time Rochesterians advocate to just hold off from planting until after Mother’s Day!

That being said, the “when” of that planting is just as important as the “what” of that planting. You need to know exactly what it is that’s suitable to go into the ground. This is why you need to know what your “growth zone” is, and then, find it on the map. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the USDA “growth zone” represents the appropriate plant hardiness for your locality. This is important to determine before you start any plantings.

How is that growth zone calculated? That’s a great question as well!

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map determines what plants can thrive at a location based on the average minimum winter temperature. This is then divided into 10-degree Fahrenheit zones.

Basically, this will tell you whether or not what you’re looking to put into the ground is hardy enough to endure the climate where you live. It’s even searchable….by zip code! You can take a look at that map here.


You should also take advantage of the FREE services offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County. They have been around for more than one hundred years. Their team of Master Gardeners offer free advice every weekday morning via their Gardening Helpline. They can be reached at (585) 753-2555, or via e-mail at monroemg@cornell.edu. What a great resource to answer your specific questions! They even have a free website to access full of fact sheets, and so much more.

With a little “know-how”, and a “green thumb”, there’s no reason why you can’t have a great garden this spring.

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