(This is part one of a two-part column.)
By Jennifer Fairfield
Have you seen any of the predictions for our summer?
Do the weather people drive you as nuts as they do me?
We have Mark Torregrossa at MLive saying he thinks it’s going to be cooler than usual this summer (based on historical weather patterns after high ice coverage on the Great Lakes), but the people at the National Weather Service say “overall, summer is expected to feature slightly wetter-than normal and slightly warmer-than normal conditions.”
Who do we believe? I guess it doesn’t matter – we’re going to get what we get, and there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it.
In the veggie garden:
If you haven’t gotten all of your veggies planted yet, get them in as soon as you can. We have a short growing season, and many of the things we all love to grow – tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, etc. – all need long growing periods to produce a good crop.
So, the sooner you can get them planted, the better. When you do transplant, be sure to mulch around the plants and put any supports in that they will need for later growth. Waiting until the plants are already growing can mean causing damage to the roots when you try to get supports in later.
Plant seeds of carrots, bush beans, dill, and cilantro every week or two through about mid-July. This way, you can be sure to have a beans-continuous harvest throughout the season. Be sure to read the package information about how long each variety you are planting needs to mature. Figuring that our first frost usually hits around Oct. 15, you can determine how late you can plant things and still hope to get a good harvest, by counting backwards from there.
Be sure to immediately and thoroughly water anything you plant, and make sure the soil is kept moist where you sow seeds. Newly transplanted plants aren’t as efficient at taking up water as those that have been in the ground for a time, and can easily get dried out. Seeds also need moisture in order to germinate, so be sure to give the whole garden a good drink whenever we aren’t getting sufficient rain.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to start spraying tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash with an organic fungicide as soon as you get the plants in the ground – and continue to do so on a regular basis throughout the season (usually weekly). The last couple of years, we have had lots of disease pressure including spot, blight, powdery mildew, and downy mildew, which can only be prevented, not cured.
Spraying on a weekly basis can help prevent the diseases from getting started, as can making sure to space your plants properly. Good airflow through the garden helps things dry out in between rains, which helps keep spores from growing. If you’re not sure what sort of fungicide to use on your plants, come talk to me – I’m happy to make recommendations.
Weeding is also an important part of keeping your plants healthy and producing, even if it’s not everyone’s favorite chore. Weeds compete for water and nutrients, and they can also be disease carriers. Doing a little weeding every time you’re in the garden can make it seem a little less tedious, and getting weeds before they get too big is so much easier than waiting until they have dug their roots in deep.
In the flower garden:
You can still direct-sow lots of annual flower seeds, and expect to get blooms this year. Some to consider include cosmos, four o’clocks, marigolds, nasturtiums, sunflowers, and zinnias.
Plant summer-blooming bulbs now if you haven’t already. This includes dahlias, gladiolus, lilies, begonias and canna lilies.
Wait to trim back the foliage of your spring blooming bulbs, such as daffodils, tulips, and alliums until the foliage has died completely. Although you may be tempted to trim them sooner to tidy up, doing that task before the leaves have died back completely can lead to a lack of blooms next year.
Early June is prime planting time for perennials and annuals, but be sure to water them in well when you plant flowers, and keep them well-watered throughout the season.
Perennials will be spending the summer putting out lots of roots so that they can be well-established when winter hits. Those roots need good watering in order to grow well, and new roots aren’t as efficient at taking up water as established roots. Annuals, on the other hand, will spend the season putting out flowers – they know they won’t make it past this season, so they concentrate on creating seeds, which generally come from flowers.
Keep spent flowers deadheaded, and your annuals will just keep on producing more flowers in an attempt to produce seeds. Just remember that all that flower production needs water.
Annuals also need to be fertilized regularly throughout the season. Producing flowers takes a lot of energy, which uses up a lot of nutrients. Perennials generally only need one application of fertilizer each spring. For both types, a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus fertilizer is best. Too much nitrogen can produce lots of foliage, but not a lot of flowers, and can cause some plants to get leggy and flop over.
The secret to keeping your container plantings blooming all summer long is also to keep them fed and watered. As containers fill up with roots, they don’t hold water very well, so be sure to check their moisture levels daily.
And, since the plants are in a container, they can’t get their nutrients from the soil around them, unless you provide it. Just be careful not to over-water or over-fertilize, especially with chemical fertilizers. Too much of a chemical fertilizer can “burn” your plants – a sure way to kill them. Too much water will drown them – also a sure way to kill them.
Always check manufacturer’s directions for how and how often to fertilize. And always check the soil in your containers before watering. If the top of the soil feels damp, wait a bit to water – just don’t wait until they are totally dried out. Letting plants dry out completely in between watering can stress them.
I’m already seeing some pests in my gardens, especially aphids. Aphid damage is often seen as curling and distortion on stem tips, leaves, and buds. While most healthy, mature plants can easily withstand a few of them, the biggest problem with aphids is that they reproduce like crazy, and they really like tender, new growth. So, the key to keeping them from causing permanent damage is to keep a close eye out for them and get them before there are so many that they overwhelm your plants.
Be sure to identify who is doing the damage before you reach for the insecticide though – different pests respond to different treatments. Also be careful about how and when you apply any insecticides – organic or conventional. All insecticides have the potential to kill bees, and we all know that we can’t afford to lose any more bees.
The best thing to do, other than not using any insecticides at all, is to target your use (only spray directly where you need to, rather than broadcast spraying), and do it in the early morning, or around sunset, when the bees are generally not active. Using organic insecticides is always best, as they do not persist as long on plants, reducing the chance of contact with bees, when applied at the ideal times of day.
Set your indoor plants outside for the summer, but make sure that they will be protected from winds, and give them some shade so they don’t get scorched by the direct sun. Keep in mind that they will dry out more quickly outdoors than in, so be sure to increase your watering schedule, and fertilize them to really help them take advantage of the growing season.
(Publisher’s note: Part 2 will publish tomorrow.)