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Don't plant those tomatoes yet

As a Master Gardener, Elah Self understands the temptation to rush home and plant, but she warns that not all plants are ready to go in the ground.

The sunny weather Saturday drew more people than usual to the annual Spring Garden Fair at the Jackson County Expo, Self said. Area gardeners loaded wagons taking their new plants and shrubs of all sizes home, but with temperatures anticipated to drop to the low 40s at night, Self warned that plants such as tomatoes, peppers and corn might not survive the cold. She suggested those summer vegetables be planted after Mother's Day.

Other vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli and peas are better suited to cold temperatures, Self said, and are fine to start planting.

"Those love cold weather," Self said.

Master Gardeners were eager to share their knowledge at the 37th annual garden fair, the Master Gardener Association's largest event of the year. At an information booth, Master Gardeners Mary Foster and Linda Holder said most fruit trees thrive in the sun and recommended shrubs in areas with lots of shade.

"In my shade gardens I have ferns and bleeding heart," Holder said.

Longtime Master Gardener Linda Croucher said tomatoes thrive particularly well in Southern Oregon.

"Any farther north and it's not easy," Croucher said.

For detailed information about what and when to plant, Foster and Holder pointed to two $18 garden guides the Master Gardeners print — one for growing vegetables, berries and melons, and the other for growing ornamental trees and shrubs. Many guides with information for Oregon growers often focus on the northern part of the state, which has a different climate, but their guides are fine-tuned for the Rogue Valley's climate. 

Soil sample testing is newly available this year at the fair. Some plants such as blueberries thrive in acidic soil, Self said, and starting with the proper soil conditions will help gardeners be successful. Soil testing is currently offered only at the garden fair, and is not yet regularly available at the OSU Extension Service.

Self said gardeners can then take their test results to soil amendments vendors such as Plan "B" Organics of Portland or Biologic Crop Solutions of Phoenix for advice on ways to adjust soil pH in natural ways.

"When you make your soil thrive you make your plants thrive," Self said. "It's a trick."

Soil that's too acidic needs more compost and other organic matter, Abraham Harris with Plan "B" Organics said, while calcium and liming agents can help soil that needs to be more acidic.

Among items at Biologic Crop Solutions' tent were bags of humus, a concentrated compost, and boksam, a beneficial bacteria that breaks down nutrients in the soil. 

"That's what we're all about, using the earth to help fix the earth," Biologic Crop Solutions sales associate Heather Jackson said.

The garden fair continues until 5 p.m. today at the Expo, and will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information call 541-776-7371 or email jcmastergardener@gmail.com.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Margot Missiaen, 9 months, of Medford, rides with a load of vegetable starts during the annual Spring Garden Fair at the Jackson County Expo on Saturday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch