This is a tough time of year for gardeners. Weve been waiting all winter to get back in the soil and our short growing season makes every sunny day a gift. The stores are brimming with plants and seeds and we cant wait to get going. But watch out! With all the attention on global warming you may be tempted to plant earlier than usual but things seem more volatile than ever. Yes, we may have a spell of 80 degree weather in April but I wouldnt be surprised to see an equally sharp cold snap in May. Go ahead and experiment with early plantings if you like but dont gamble more than youre willing to lose. If you cant resist buying plants right now you might want to hold some of them in a protected area for another week or so before exposing them to potential frost. I often buy a new or unusual variety as soon as I see it, even if its too early to plant, rather than risk it being sold out. But I think twice before setting it in the ground. Harden off Before planting any transplants outside, its important to harden them off. Plants grown in a greenhouse are protected from wind and to varying degrees, the sun. To toughen them up for life outdoors set the plants where they will receive direct sun and a breeze, gradually increasing the length of exposure over a few days time. Wind is especially hard on greenhouse plants but they quickly develop thicker stems and cell walls if gradually exposed to harsher conditions. Watch the water carefully, youll be amazed by how quickly plants dry out in those little cell packs, especially in full sun and wind. Cloudy weather is the best for transplanting, a bright sunny day makes the adjustment very hard for your young plants. If you cant wait for clouds to return, at least do your transplanting at the end of the day so the plants have a few hours to recover before being blasted with the morning sun. You may even need to erect temporary wind blocks or shade for your new plants. Getting them off to a good start is important. Your goal is to avoid any setbacks or stresses on the plants. Time to adjust Another challenge to factor in comes with plants that have been brought here from a warmer location. This is especially true with trees and shrubs. They may be a variety that is perfectly winter hardy once established, but if they just spent the winter in a slightly warmer climate, they may have already begun to leaf out. Look around and see if our local apples have leaves, for example. If not, be careful about bringing a fully leafed out apple tree home from the nursery and plunking it in your yard. Keep it close to your house or garage for several days so you can haul it under cover if a cold snap strikes. This will give your new plant a chance to adjust to our colder nights and local conditions. If the shrub or tree hasnt leafed out yet it will be less sensitive to a cold snap. Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Cornell Cooperative Extension offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450, and Essex County, 962-4810. More information may be found on-line at http://ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or by sending an e-mail to a Master Gardener volunteer at askMG@cornell.edu.