Fellow DC-area garden blogger The Dirty Radish had a rant last week about tomato and basil seedlings being on sale at local farmers markets. As she wrote:
Why are people selling basil and tomatoes now? At least put a warning label on them! While the air temperature may be a balmy 75*F today, that’s not going to last and the soil temperature isn’t that warm. You plop a tomato in temperatures that are just now coaxing daffodils to bloom, the plant is going to go all “What is THIS?!?” on you. Planting before the soil and air temperatures cooperate isn’t going to give you an early harvest. If anything, it might inhibit the plant’s overall growth, according to a horticulturalist on the local news last night.
I tend to agree. There isn’t much advantage, and there is certainly some risk, to putting your tomatoes and peppers out now. I did see one vendor at the Dupont Circle farmers market selling a few heirloom tomato and hot pepper seedlings on Sunday, and I just hope that whoever buys them will know to keep them indoors for a couple more weeks.
On the other hand, I saw a lot of herbs for sale, and I think most of those (with the exception of basil) would hold up okay even if you put them out now. Herbs are pretty resilient, especially the woodier ones like oregano and rosemary. The sage and thyme and rosemary out at my garden are already bouncing back after the harsh winter. You’re still probably better off waiting, but if you find those seedlings at the market irresistible, I would go for the herbs first.