The Washington Post

Summer in spring? Head for the hoses...

Spring gardening tips from a horticultural meteorologist...

March temperature departures compared to normal (Great Plains Regional Climate Center)

Our unseasonably warm readings have pushed soil temperatures in much of the area into the 50s; warm enough to plant both seeds and seedlings. At the rate we are going, my pansies and cabbages are going to succumb to the heat before you know it.

That’s probably an overstatement but it does worry me when readings start inching into the 80s so soon. The best thing I can do is a little sprinkling in the afternoon to thwart the heat on my cool weather loving plants.

Given this warmth, do we dare to start planting seeds and seedlings of tender plants outside?

I am a daredevil myself and probably will start planting some seeds that will germinate in about a week to 10 days. So what is my risk of getting burned or, should I say, frozen? One of my favorite web sites - (no relation to me) features a handy guide on the odds of a frost at a certain date.

I put in my zip code and, voila, it returns the closest matches. For my zip, it returns one for D.C, on the west side of town (Dale Carlia Reservoir), that will suffice. Assuming I plant this weekend and expect emergence 10 days later, my plants would be vulnerable to frost through around April 2. The table the website supplies indicates there is an 80% chance of a 32 F reading after April 2 but only a 50% chance of 28 F - doomsday for these plants.

Given the way things have gone this season and my risk tolerance, I intend to plant nasturtium seeds this weekend but probably not chili peppers, yet. You can look at the table supplied at, determine your own comfort level, and plan(t) accordingly.

Percent normal precipitation year-to-date (Great Plains Regional Climate Center)

1) There has been no snowmelt to boost soil moisture this spring in most of the area.

2) Unseasonably high evaporation rates resulting from plants putting on new foliage and the drawdown in the limited soil moisture reserves

European model rain forecast for this weekend (

I am sad to see the accelerated bloom cycle, but at least we get some snow. That is, a blizzard of cherry and magnolia blooms carpeting the area! Many of the early blooming bulbs are already fading away but that only means that there is a whole host of new blooms to see.

Late blooming daffodils are a sight to behold at the National Arboretum if you get a chance go. I have already seen some of the early azaleas starting to bloom in the city - it makes my head spin.

Are you seeing any crazy early blooming already? Let’s hear about it.

I hope you have had time to get out in your garden and enjoy this special and comfortable time of year. I managed to put down over 5 tons of compost, my plants are happy but my back isn’t. I’ll have more on that next time.

Capital Weather Gang meteorologist David Streit is also an active gardener. He earned a certificate in landscape design from the USDA Graduate School and volunteered many years at the National Arboretum.

David Streit grew up on a farm/ranch in Nebraska. Witness to severe weather of all varieties focused his career path. Degrees from the universities of Nebraska and Wisconsin prepared him to be a forecaster for Capital Weather Gang as well as his day job as COO of Commodity Weather Group.


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