Tips for Success
Memorial Day weekend has arrived! For many gardeners, this time marks the transition into the main growing season. We are past severe frosts and ready to plant. Here are a few tips to help make your season successful.
When watering, aim for the roots, rather than the leaves or stems. It is better to water thoroughly less often (once or twice per week) than a little bit every day. This encourages the roots to go deeper into the soil, which helps plants make it through dry periods. Many plants need about an inch of water per week (whether provided by you or Mother Nature). Having a rain gauge out in your garden can help with tracking how much you might need to water.
Try to avoid watering midday. The heat and sunlight will tend to evaporate much of the moisture before your plants’ roots can absorb it. If watering in the evening, aim for early evening to allow some time for the leaves to dry off before dark. This helps to prevent extended dampness which can encourage disease.
Mulch is beneficial for a number of reasons. Aside from providing a “finished” look to the garden, it can minimize weed growth by blocking light, help retain moisture by limiting evaporation, and, if you use an organic material, help improve your soil structure and fertility as it breaks down over time. To get the most benefit for the growing season, apply mulch in spring, and again in fall if needed. This can also provide protection for perennial plants over the winter.
When choosing a material for mulching, you can select from options like wood chips, stone, or even a layer of compost. When applying a mulch layer, leave a little bit of space around the base of your woody plants (trees and shrubs) to make sure nothing will rot. This step is not needed for herbaceous plants.
Water with a fertilizer solution or add compost or organic fertilizers throughout the season, especially for annual plants. They do all of their growing within one season, so they can use up nutrients quickly. Additionally, healthy plants are more resistant to diseases and pests.
If you are growing vegetables or cut flowers, make sure to keep picking the ripe produce or cutting the flowers to encourage continued production. Many of these plants are annuals, so their “job” is to produce flowers and seeds all in one season. If you keep picking and deadheading, they will not be able to produce seeds, so will keep producing flowers to try again.
An additional tip for ‘picking’ on tomato plants – some should actually be pruned. If you have “indeterminate” varieties (these are typically the bigger, constantly producing plants, but the plant tag should say), you can pinch them out. This involves removing the “side shoots” that may appear between the main stem and a leaf.
Try Successional Planting
For many of us, the goal of gardening is to have something to harvest or enjoy all season long. Succession planting, also called interval planting, helps provide a steady, ongoing supply of vegetables or flowers in the garden. After all, you may not be able to use 10 pounds of carrots all at once! Plant items that mature quickly every few weeks, or even every week, to provide a continued harvest. You can also plant a few varieties that have different “days to maturity” (for example, different types of sweet corn).
Vegetables: Think of the types where you harvest the entire plant when it’s mature, like radishes, beets, carrots, lettuces (if you are growing heads of lettuce rather than a mesclun/spring mix). You can also plant bush beans in intervals to extend the harvest, and time a late planting of peas for a fall harvest. Herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley and dill, which you may harvest a lot from at one time, can also be successively planted. This helps you have a continued supply while the first plants regrow.
Cut Flowers: Similar to the idea of harvesting veggies, some cut flowers require “harvesting” most of the growth at picking time. This could include sunflowers (if the single-stem variety), bachelor buttons, ornamental grasses, phlox, larkspur, and calendula. Many cut flower varieties will continue to produce additional blooms as you cut them (cosmos, zinnias), but if you will be cutting a lot, you may want to stagger planting times to keep adding to your supply.
Hopefully these bits of advice will have you enjoying your garden well into the autumn!