I’ve never considered myself to be a people watcher: one of those men or women who enjoy just sitting on a bench and watching folks come and go in a public area, such as a retail store or mall. Frankly, I am usually too busy to just sit down and watch folks for fun. It’s just not my cup of tea.

But during early spring, when I am out and about picking up some items for my latest yard project or weekend chore, I tend to pay a little more attention. Not so much at the people, but what is in their shopping carts. I peek at what they are buying; then, I usually shake my head. You would be surprised at what folks will buy when they have spring fever.   

The warmer-than-normal, spring-like weather in March tends to cloud people’s judgments. Poor judgments lead to impulse buying. Impulse buying means buying lawn-and-garden-related items not needed yet, especially when it’s technically still winter.   

When people get spring fever, they are tempted to buy garden items and perform yard chores way too early in the season. Amazingly, as soon as a few warm, sunny days occur, garden centers and plant nurseries are buzzing like bees with the influx of customers. It is common to see buggies loaded down with bags of fertilizer, flats of annuals, packs of tomato plants and a single, large random flowering plant. 

Sure, it may be the weekend and the weather is mighty spring-like, but the calendar says it is still March or early April. Common offenses are buying lawn fertilizer, planting vegetables, setting out flowers and buying pretty plants without a spot for them – blame it all on spring fever.

The first tease of warm weather will indeed stimulate some home lawns to begin showing specks of green. Some of that is really weeds, but deep down amongst them may be new blades of green grass. The last thing to do in March is to spread fertilizer on the lawn. It is way too early – two months too early – to fertilize lawns. Fertilizing will encourage the lawns to green-up too soon and only set them up for potential disasters of being killed or severely damaged by a late spring frost.

For east central Alabama, the average last spring frost is usually around the first or second week of April. The weather could definitely turn cold again or back-and-forth many times before mid-April arrives. It’s best to wait until late April or early May to fertilize lawns after the chance of them getting damaged or killed by a late frost has passed.

Another word of caution: some weed and feed lawn products advertise to apply them in late winter. Don’t fall for it. Again, this is fertilizing the lawn way too early. Our Southern lawns do not need fertilizer during the winter. It may not be the appropriate time for herbicides; purchase and apply herbicides separately, if trying to control weeds.

Despite the earlier availability of vegetable transplants at retail stores, hold off buying and planting any warm season crops before April. The rule of waiting until after the last frost date has passed still applies here. All warm-season vegetables are sensitive and will die if exposed to frost and extreme cold weather. Studies have even shown that tomato plants will really not start growing until the garden soil temperature is above 60 degrees. The ideal daytime air temperatures need to be above 70 to 80 degrees with nighttime temperatures above 60 degrees. 

In fact, tomato plants set out in late April typically grow better and produce just as fast, if not sooner, as those planted weeks earlier. Trying to get a headstart in March does not produce the dividends. Odds are there will be a late spring frost; the plants will get killed; and they will have to be replanted. This means having to buy more vegetable plants and spend more money.

Buying pretty plants out of impulse could be an issue, as well. For example, a person goes to the store to pick up some lumber or milk and comes out with a flat of annuals – even harder to resist if there is a plant sale.

Honestly, I am guilty of spring fever impulse buying, and I know many Master Gardeners who have this weakness, too. I collect azaleas and will buy one if I find it in bloom or discover I don’t have that particular variety.

Spring fever could cause us to be mesmerized by a new plant on the market (‘Well, isn’t that pretty?’) or the simple season availability of plants (‘They just put these out, so it must be time to plant them.’). 

It’s sort of like falling into a trance. Customers realize they don’t need the items but find it hard to not buy them anyway. But once the plant is home; the spring fever suddenly wears off, and people often question their purchases. ‘Why did I buy that?’ ‘Now what I am I going to do with it?’ ‘Where am I going to put just one plant?’

Likely, it doesn’t even fit into the landscape. Just stick it with all the other misfit plants, over by the shed. You’ll find a place one day.   

Lastly, do not buy plants that are not recommended or adapted for Alabama. For central Alabama, only purchase and plant flowers, fruit crops, shrubs and trees that can live in plant zones 7 and 8. It is a risky investment to try plants that cannot grow well here. If interested, read up on them or ask others about specific plants before buying them.

The funny thing is, I understand the attraction and desire to buy stuff in the spring. Like many others, I get tired of Old Man Winter and the constant cold, blustery, rainy days. I, too, eagerly wait for spring and the days when I can get outside more. I’m drawn to the garden center with all the new garden products everywhere – the landscape stones, smell of mulch bags, rainbows of flowers, sound of water fountains, new lawn mowers, ‘on sale’ signs …

Snap out of it! The best advice is to be a smart shopper and not get caught up in the spring fever rush. Avoid the temptation. Be patient. Spring will officially be here soon enough.

Gotta go, just saw a new batch of azaleas come in … 

~ Shane Harris is the Tallapoosa County Extension coordinator for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, which can be found at aces.edu/Tallapoosa. Harris can be contacted at 256-825-1050.