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The Coastal Gardener: Mother Nature just can't be fooled

February 04, 2011|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • Pansies and violas enjoy the short days and cool nights of February. Don't try to fool Mother Nature by defying her rules. She'll catch you and she'll always prevail.
Pansies and violas enjoy the short days and cool nights… (Courtesy Ron Vanderhoff,…)

It seems that mothers can always tell when their children are telling a fib. Maybe it's the child's mannerisms, their eyes, or the sound of their voice when a child is not being honest and forthcoming. However the method, a mother knows what's true and what's not.

Perhaps gardeners should take a lesson from their maternal relationship. Like the mischievous child, when a gardener tries to fool Mother Nature, they almost always fail. Mother Nature always knows the truth, and, in the end, Mother Nature will always impart her will. Like children, gardeners also needn't attempt to fool mother.

Saturday's sunlight will last 10 hours and 29 minutes, Friday's was one minute less and Sunday's will be one minute more. Saturday's low temperature will be 51 degrees and the soil, six inches beneath the surface where the roots are, will stay at a rather even 61 degrees. At its highest point Saturday, the sun will rise 33 degrees above the horizon.

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Day length and temperature statistics are at best a curiosity to humans. However, plants are utterly controlled by such factors. Plants respond to temperature, day length and sunlight in extremely precise and predictable ways. Plants are utterly indifferent to the wants and whims of their landlord gardeners. Instead, the plants in our gardens are ruled in a totalitarian, uncompromising regime of strict codes, reinforced through millennia of experience.

Like a young child who hasn't yet tested their mother's instincts, beginning gardeners may challenge nature's steadfast rules, perhaps by planting at the wrong season or attempting to make a plant behave in a way that only suits the gardener. In battles of nature versus the gardener, Mother Nature will prevail. Understanding nature's signals, then embracing them, rather than denying them, is the sign of a mature, experienced and wise gardener.

February is ripe with opportunity and is an active time for a local gardener. However, understanding a few of nature's timing subtleties will make your experience more successful.

In the vegetable garden it is almost time to set out tomato transplants — but not yet. The soil is still too cool. Tomatoes set out now won't produce fruit any sooner than the same plant set out a month or two from now. Tomatoes don't set fruit until nighttime temperatures stay above 55°f for at least two nights in a row. In the meantime, a crop of lettuce would be a good idea. You'll harvest the lettuce just in time for perfect tomato planting season.

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