How gardeners can navigate Saskatchewan's wild weather switchups this spring

·5 min read
'If you can dig, if it's nice, get out there and do it,' said professional gardener and author Lyndon Penner.  (J.A. Laporte Flowers and Nursery - image credit)
'If you can dig, if it's nice, get out there and do it,' said professional gardener and author Lyndon Penner. (J.A. Laporte Flowers and Nursery - image credit)

The long weekend is traditionally the planting weekend for most gardeners. But the extreme dryness — followed by a dusting of snow and then a total downpour — has led some to wonder if it's time to break tradition.

But Lyndon Penner, a professional gardener and author, says there is no perfect time to plant.

"People have this bizarre idea that the May long weekend is this magical date and that by planting at this time, everything is safe and that this is how we know when it's good. But really, the best gauge is the weather. And the weather on the prairies is unpredictable."

Penner says Saskatchewan residents should get most seeds into the garden as early as possible.

"If you can dig, if it's nice, get out there and do it," Penner said.

"Some years you are going to get a snow, or a late frost or an early frost. We've had snow in June some years, which is ridiculous. But it happens. And if you plant everything as early as possible, sometimes you fail. But I have gained more by planting early than I have ever lost."

Lyndon Penner, a professional gardener and author, says there is no perfect time to plant. 
Lyndon Penner, a professional gardener and author, says there is no perfect time to plant. (Lyndon Penner)

Penner suggests having some extra seeds around just in case.

"So that if you lose a row to a frost, you can write a sad poem in your journal ... you can move on with your life. You can phone your gardening support group friends and say, 'I just feel so bad about losing the peppers.' And they'll say, 'It's okay, we lost ours too, there there.' And you can hand each other Kleenex and it'll all be OK."

If a plant goes from looking lush, vibrant and healthy to looking like a "limp dishrag," that's often an indication that it did not withstand the frost, Penner says. Some plants have a much greater cold tolerance than others, like kale and cauliflower.

But plants like eggplant and tomatoes have low tolerance to cold weather. Penner suggests only putting tomatoes outside when your area is consistently into double digits temperature-wise.

Tomatoes have low tolerance to cold weather.
Tomatoes have low tolerance to cold weather. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

May long weekend downpour

Many Saskatchewan residents, including those in Saskatoon and Regina, experienced a heavy downpour of rain over the weekend. And while Monday has been looking a bit more clear outdoors, Penner suggests staying on the couch and watching a documentary instead of donning your gardening gloves and hitting the flower beds.

"It's never a good idea to be in the garden when it's pouring. Even if it's not actively raining, if it has just rained, you should let your garden dry out a little bit before you're trampling around in there," Penner said.

"If you're moving around in the garden when it's really, really wet, you can actually spread certain diseases there and certain spores and things that will stick to your feet and your boots. So let the garden dry out a little bit also so that you're not compacting the soil."

The prairies have been in drought condition for the last month, which Penner says is not normal for this time of year. So now that trees and gardens are soaking up the moisture, things are about to really bloom and pop.

"Everything is going to be just raring to go and things are going to take off. So if you planted yesterday, provided that we don't get a frost, everything is going to be absolutely just the bee's knees. It's going to turn out great."

Spring forecast

Weather experts, and no doubt farmers, in Saskatchewan are thrilled by the weekend rain.

"We have been hoping, begging and praying for these rains for so long," said Dave Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Philiips says March and April were milder than normal in Saskatchewan, and May has been about two degrees cooler than normal.

"In many ways, May has been very fickle and fitful, like normal Mays ... Often what happens here is that jet stream, that division between the warm air to the south and the cold air to the north often crosses the province at this time of the year. And that's why this is often the beginning of the wet season, because of that stormy situation meteorologically," said Phillips.

"So it goes into its winter locations ... the jet stream is south of you, and now it goes north of you. And so what we're seeing is that back and forth yo-yo kind of condition. And then we got some temperatures above 30 degrees. But what has been very common throughout the whole month is the lack of precipitation and that has been corrected today."

Environment and Climate Change Canada says camping planners should keep an eye on the sky and forecast for extreme weather conditions like lightning storms.
Environment and Climate Change Canada says camping planners should keep an eye on the sky and forecast for extreme weather conditions like lightning storms. (Submitted by Jon Durocher)

Phillips says the province would almost need a monsoon to make up for the moisture deficit caused by the drought, so any rain is very welcome. He says the rain coming at the perfect time, as it is needed to put out any wildfires or bush fires that could start due to dry lightning.

While Environment and Climate Change Canada won't release its official summer forecast until June 1, Phillips says the summer is going to be warmer and drier than usual.

To those planning camping trips and outdoor adventures, he says keep an eye on the sky and forecast for extreme weather conditions like lightning storms. He says most of the severe weather breaks out in the late afternoon and early evening.

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