Spring is here – or is it summer? Forest Park Community Garden Board President Jessica Rinks has been fielding lots of phone calls from Forest Parkers with itchy green thumbs. For those gardeners who want to get a month’s jump on this summer’s vegetable crops, she has two words: “Exercise restraint.”

“I would not advise any tomatoes outside yet,” she said. “Tomatoes in April are a bad idea. People are anxious to get going, clean out their [garden] beds. But I recommend people plant cool season crops like sweet peas, spinach, lettuces, radishes, beets and carrots. Or cool weather annuals like pansies and violas. Get it out of your system.”

The Forest Park Community Garden is already greening up at the northwest corner of Harlem Avenue and I-290. Asparagus is sprouting, as well as some perennial herbs such as parsley. The garden has already donated a “huge pile” of turnip greens to the Forest Park Food Pantry.

For impatient gardeners, she advises focusing on prep work: “The good news is that the soil is not very moist. You can easily work in it. Lot of times in the spring rain will ruin soil textures. So gardeners can go in and start adding compost and mulch to their garden beds now.”

The warm weather has sped up the blooming cycles of traditional summer perennials such as hostas and day lilies, she said. Tulips are blooming at the same time as lilacs and that may mean the flowers will end sooner in the spring and summer, said Rinks.

“Usually a plant has a number of days it will bloom for,” said Rink. “When they start blooming is when you start the clock. The flowering perennials and bulbs are up a month early this year.”

The warm weather has also given a head start to weeds and bugs, Rinks said. “I saw cabbage moths in my garden already and that’s bad.” Warm soils at night have given weedy grasses and lawn weeds like crabgrass, creeping Charlie and bindweed a jump on summer, she said. “So make sure you start weeding now. It’s only going to get worse.”

Perhaps in response to veggie thefts over the years, the Community Garden has started a “giving garden” this year, where members plant produce that is free for the taking. Rinks said last week there were 12 people on the waiting list for a raised bed. “I don’t know if all those people will be able to get plots. The turnover rate is lower than the number of people waiting.” The garden is not going to expand or build any new raised beds in 2012. “The plan for this year is to maintain space we have now. We want to make sure we’ve weeded perennial beds and take care of maintenance.”

Plants are showing up at the Good Earth greenhouse on Madison Street and McAdams Nursery. Opening next week is Clover’s, (formerly in Berwyn, but now moving to the North Riverside shopping area west of Harlem near Super Tony’s). The village has already begun yardwaste and brush cleanup several weeks early, starting last Friday.

Rinks said sometimes big box garden centers start to sell warm weather plants before their optimal planting time. “Just because the garden center stocks doesn’t mean it’s a good time to plant. [Places like] Home Depot and Lowes are not able to be as precise in timing their plants.”

“Look, [if you plant early] you may regret it. Be safe. Bide your time.” She’s tempted herself, she admits.

“By May 1 I’ll probably concede and plant my warm crops.”

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...