April 2014
The Magic of Gardening

Good Friday for Planting?

I grew up in Alabama and all my life have heard the maxim that we should plant our garden on Good Friday. Some years this is a better idea than others depending on where you live and when Good Friday falls. Good Friday falls on varying dates from March 22 to April 25. When I researched the question, the only Old World reference found about planting on Good Friday was related to planting potatoes. It seems there was great resistance to growing potatoes as a food crop in Ireland because potatoes are not mentioned in the Bible. Due to this concern, it was decided, if they planted them on Good Friday, the potatoes would be blessed and all right to eat. The Irish soon came to depend on potatoes too heavily. This fact, combined with political oppression, led to the potato famine which in turn led to massive starvation and emigration (mostly to the United States).

People who immigrated here brought their traditions with them, but over time some of these traditions have changed. Such is the case here because in the South Easter comes too late (most years) to plant potatoes and it is closer to the time to plant other warm-season vegetables. Therefore, in the southern states, this tradition was transferred to all vegetables and it is considered good luck to plant on Good Friday.

A wiser approach to choosing a time to plant is to consider the soil temperature and the average frost-free date for your area. This year the risk for a frost after Good Friday is relatively low in most of the state because it falls on April 18.

Even though Good Friday will likely be a good date to plant this year, I would suggest you check the soil temperature. The soil temperature needed for warm-season vegetable seed germination is about 70 degrees. However, most experienced gardeners will tell you that okra requires a warmer soil than most vegetables and you may need to wait a few extra days before planting them from seed. You can purchase a soil thermometer to check soil temperatures at your local Quality Co-op store and most good garden centers.

Warm-season vegetable transplants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants can be planted before soil temperatures reach the temperature required for germination, but they usually will not grow much until the desired temperature is reached. Using a little complete liquid fertilizer may help get them off to a quicker start.

If you want to start a little early, try planting in raised beds or even on small "hills" covered with plastic several days to warm the soil. Commercial farmers use black plastic, but you can cover with clear plastic which warms the soil even more. Clear plastic covered beds often cause a flush of weed seeds to germinate which can reduce your weed problem later if you can remove them without re-tilling the soil.

For information on soil temperature needs of various vegetables, visit our Extension website at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1061/.

Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.