I wish I had a motor vehicle that I could drive up and down the streets that moved slowly and no one would honk at me when I peek into your yards and gardens. I try to do this as often as possible because it allows me to see how the different plants and gardens are progressing and what is being planted and planned. What I’m seeing this year are many, many new vegetable gardens.
Some are small, but many are now using raised beds. Some of these raised gardens are only a foot or less off the ground, and people use kits for their beds. Others are more complicated and adorned with the very well-healed beds built for them to allow their domestics to grow waist-high vegetables. This makes harvesting easier. That is, until the indeterminate tomatoes are 6 to 8 feet tall and planted in a 4 foot “raised” garden.
While visiting several plant sales last weekend, I heard a usual Memorial Day weekend lament: “But isn’t it too late to plant vegetables? Absolutely not! But you can’t pretend it’s April. You can get in a quick radish harvest or two, and there’s still plenty of time to plant lettuce leaves, especially those types and mixes that are slow to germinate. Bolting is when the temperature gets too warm for vegetative growth (like foliage) and many of these plants begin to flower and attempt to set seed. This changes the taste – and not for the better.
Yes, it’s too late to grow most of our vegetables from seed (unless you’re planning a late-season garden, planting in about 30-60 days), but there are plenty of options available at local garden centers in Cells and pots that get you going fast.
As our gardens get smaller it is very important to use your space wisely. The rows radishes grow in can be used for plants enjoying the warmer weather. The plots the lettuce grows on could be used for something that spreads like zucchini and cucumber. However, keep in mind that not all Zukes and Cukes spread. If you’re short on space, the species that grow with a “bush” habit rather than sprawling vines are well-suited to both small gardens and pot culture.
Bush cukes tend to be slightly smaller than the vine varieties and mature earlier. Look for plants like Bush Champion, Spacemaster, Burpless Bush Hybrid, Cucumber Salad Bush, and Saladmore Bush. Among zucchini, look for Raven, Black Beauty, Bush Baby, and Patio Star. Some of these zukes and cukes can also be grown in containers. Also keep in mind that both cukes and zukes can grow vertically (but not the bush species). Make sure you plan, however, as these should not shade other garden plants.
You can plant tomatoes for several more weeks. The same goes for peppers, as both prefer the heat of summer. Leggy tomato plans can be planted deep, but peppers cannot. How do you know how hot a pepperoni will be? Check if the strain has a “Scoville” rating. The Scoville scale evaluates the hotness of pepper. Peppers, for example, would be valued at 0-100, Poblanos at 1,000-2,500, and at the top are Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, Infinity Chili, and a few others, coming in at 750,000-1.5 million.
Melons love the heat. Most grow on long vines and are rarely worth the space they take up in the garden unless you want to grow a common variety that isn’t available in stores. These melons are on the small side, but many pack quite a punch. Search for Alvaro, Kazakh, Sprite, Sleeping Beauty and Passport. We can’t leave out watermelons. These are great for kids to grow and take less time than, say, a Charleston Gray. Sugar Baby Bush is probably the best known and most easily found in cell packs.
Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli can still be planted, and you can even start with some seeds now. Find some plants for your fastest harvests and supplement them with plants you start from seed now that will be productive later in the fall. Many of these late starts will produce well into late September and October. Check out the varieties that do well for the fall harvest, and remember that Brussels sprouts are at their tastiest when exposed to the cool October and even November nights.
A late vegetable garden, be it in the ground, elevated or in containers, still needs your vigilance. Don’t buy plants like squashes and tomatoes that have leaves with clearly diseased leaves. These can be brown spots and other signs of viral and bacterial diseases that we may not be able to cope with.
Keep insects under control. Knowing what bugs to look for on which plants and how to deal with them. Organic products work really, really well, but not if you let aphids, beetles, and caterpillars take over. Always spray early in the morning or early in the evening to avoid killing bees. Even some of our awesome organics are highly toxic to bees and other beneficial insects.
If you tend to be forgetful, you can use a delayed release fertilizer when planting any of these plants except for the lettuce greens. For the greens, the soil should be fertilized before planting. A product like Osmocote can be added when planting most other crops. This slow-release fertilizer is not organic and only needs to be used once as it lasts for three months.
Organic fertilizers are naturally time-released. These should be used when first preparing the soil, some are added at planting time as a side dressing and then renewed by banding the rows or plants about every six weeks. Organic products are available in both liquid and granular formulations. Traditional chemical fertilizers come in different “grades” and yes, Miracle-Gro is a chemical fertilizer. Be very careful with chemical fertilizers as the soil and air will warm up. These can burn both plant leaves and roots and are released faster when it gets warmer.
Never water your vegetables by getting the foliage wet. That only promotes disease. Water the soil, not the plants. Drip or trickle irrigation for vegetables is preferred, and you can get kits to do this yourself. One important thing to remember about dripping or trickling is to keep your water lines clean. Dirt or dust in the water clogs the pores and clogs the lines. You can add filters to these systems if you use well water.
Stake long-harvested plants early or place them in cages. Keep in mind that many of the tomatoes we plant are indefinite varieties that will continue to grow and may bear fruit well into the fall. These need to be well staked, caged or trained with wires to keep them productive. And yes, red plastic mulch increases tomato plant production by up to 30 percent.
Snails and snails are out and controlling them now means fewer to deal with when their prime time hits – when it’s warm and humid. Use organic bait in the vegetable garden and your choice in the ornamental plants. Snails like to hide in mulch, so mulch sparingly. Chickens, ducks and geese love to look for snails, but not in a snail-baited garden.
A lot to do. Have fun for many months. You can save a bunch and have veggies that taste better than anything you can buy at the store. And order your garlic now for fall planting. They don’t ship out before planting time, but they seem to sell out every year. Keep growing.
Some retreat. A few weeks ago I reported that the new Spigelia (Indian Pink) ‘Little Readhead’, which has been doing so well for a number of years, did not survive the winter. In fact, two of the three plants did, but broke dormancy very late. On the other hand, I’ve lost more than half of my Totally Tangerine Geum. But I like this Geum so much that I will replant it.
Another plant that was lost this winter was Sidalcia ‘Party Girl’ which I found very strange. This plant is like a miniature hollyhock, but perennial – so I thought. All three are toast. Sidalcia ‘Candy Girl’ only grows a few feet away, but these plants are younger. Things to learn from.
Interestingly, there is a note on davesgarden.com from a few years ago that was posted by a gardener at Water Mill: “I have ‘Party Girl’. It’s a pretty plant, but it only flowers for about a week and a half. Looks great when blooming but I would prefer a little longer flowering time. When I deadhead, all I get is a single bloom here and there that’s not worth the hassle.”
I will say that it is reliable. I’ve had mine in the same sunny spot for about a dozen years and it keeps coming back.
What have you lost in your garden and landscape in winter? Please let me know. Always good to see if there are any trends.
The Horticulture Magazine May/June issue was one of the best I’ve read in years. If you can, read Thomas Christopher’s article on “The Importance of Ecotype”. I think this is an important issue that the horticultural industry needs to pay attention to. More on that in a future column, but are you familiar with these plants that are native to Oregon and North Carolina? Keep that in mind as you read Christopher’s article.
If you have grown amaryllis in your home, remember that these bulbs need a dormant period of about 10 weeks to bloom again. Dormancy is induced by retaining all water, allowing the foliage to brown, and then placing the bulbs in a dark place such as a cupboard for the allotted time. At the end of the dormant phase, they are taken out again, often repotted, watered and sunned. Six to eight weeks after the end of the dormant period, they will flower again. Use a calendar to plan flowering if you want them in the middle of winter.