A top-down view of a well-hedged Southampton beachfront courtyard with raised beds. Once these early crops have been harvested, pot-grown summer crops like tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplants will be installed, giving the chef a nice supply of summer produce. ANDREW MESSINGER
One morning's harvest from the Hampton Gardener’s 18-square-foot "greens" garden. From late April through the season, this small plot will produce about a pound (as seen here) of greens twice a week. ANDREW MESSINGER
Broccoli transplants from a cell pack. The roots need to be gently pulled apart or sliced vertically or teased apart before planting. This encourages new root growth, which is essential for allowing the plants to grow and thrive. ANDREW MESSINGER
Not every gardener is neat and not every raised bed garden is well thought out. The cucumbers in the blue barrel are supposed to climb out of the barrel onto the landscape fabric. However, the barrel is facing north and the vines are reluctant to explore. A western or southern exposure would have worked though. ANDREW MESSINGER
I wish I had a motor vehicle that I could drive up and down the streets that would move slowly and no one would honk their horns at me as I peer into your yards and gardens. I try to do this as often as I can because it lets me see how the various plants and gardens are progressing and what’s being planted and planned. What I see this year are lots and lots of new vegetable gardens.
Some are small but many now are using raised beds. Some of these raised gardens are only a foot or less above the ground with folks using kits for their beds. Others are more complicated and ornate with the very well-healed having beds built for them that allow their house staff to grow vegetables at waist height. This makes it easy to harvest. That is until the indeterminate tomatoes are 6 to 8 feet tall and planted in a 4-foot-tall “raised” garden.
Visiting several plant sales last weekend I heard a common Memorial Day weekend lament: “But isn’t it too late to plant vegetables? Absolutely not! But you can’t pretend that it’s April. You may get in one or two fast crops of radishes, and there’s still lots of time to plant salad greens, especially those types and mixes that are slow to bolt. Bolting is when the temperature gets too warm for vegetative grown (like leaves) and many of these plants begin to flower and try to set seed. As a result, the flavor changes — and not for the better.
Yes, it is too late for starting most of our vegetables from seed (unless you are planning a late-season garden that gets planted in about 30-60 days from now), but there are plenty of options at the local garden centers in cells and pots that will get you going quickly.
As our gardens get smaller, it’s very important to use your space wisely. The rows where radishes are growing can be used for crops that enjoy the warmer weather. The plots where the salad greens are growing might be used for something that sprawls like zucchinis and cucumber. Keep in mind, though, that not all zukes and cukes sprawl. When you’re short on space, the types that grow with a “bush” habit instead of sprawling vines are well suited to both small garden and pot culture.
Bush cukes tend to be slightly smaller than the vine types and ripen sooner. Look for plants like Bush Champion, Spacemaster, Burpless Bush Hybrid, Cucumber Salad Bush and Saladmore Bush. In zucchinis look for Raven, Black Beauty, Bush Baby and Patio Star. Some of these zukes and cukes can also be grown in containers. Keep in mind also that both cukes and zukes can be grow vertically (but not the bush types). Make sure you plan though as these should not shade other garden plants.
You can still plant tomatoes for several more weeks. The same with peppers as both of these prefer the heat of summer. Leggy tomato plans can be planted deep but peppers can’t. How do you know how hot a hot pepper will be? See if the variety has a “Scoville” rating. The Scoville scale rates the pepper’s pungency. Bell peppers, for example, would be rated 0-100, Poblanos from 1,000 to 2,500 and up at the top there are Trinidad moruga scorpion, Infinity Chili and a few others that get up to 750,000 to 1.5 million.
Melons love the heat. Most grow on long vines and are rarely worth the garden space they take up unless you want to grow an usual variety not available in the stores. These melons tend to be on the small side but many pack a whole lot of flavor. Look 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 Grey. Sugar Baby Bush is probably the most well known and easily found in cell packs.
Cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli can still be planted, and you can even start some seeds now. Find some plants for your quickest harvests and supplement these with plants you’ll 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 the varieties that might be well suited for fall harvests and keep in mind that Brussels sprouts are tastiest when they are exposed to the cool nights of October and even November.
A late vegetable garden, be it in the ground, raised or in containers, still needs your vigilance. Don’t buy plants like cukes and tomatoes that have foliage with clearly diseased leaves. These can be brown spots and other signs of virus and bacterial diseases that can be impossible for us to manage.
Keep insects under control. Know what bugs to look for on what plants and how to manage them. Organics work really, really well but not if you let aphids, beetles and caterpillars get established. Always do spraying early in the morning or early in the evening to avoid killing bees. Even some of our great organics are highly toxic to bees and other beneficials.
If you tend to be forgetful you can use a time-release fertilizer when planting any of these crops except the salad greens. For the greens, the soil should get fertilized prior to planting. A product like Osmocote can be added when planting most other crops. This time-release fertilizer is not organic but only needs to be used once as it lasts three months.
Organic fertilizers are naturally time released. These should be used as the soil is first prepared, some added as side dressings at planting time then redone every six weeks or so by banding the rows or plants. Organics are available as both liquids and in granular formulations. Traditional chemical fertilizers come in various “grades,” and yes, Miracle-Gro is a chemical fertilizer. Be very careful with chemical fertilizers as the soil and air heats up. These can burn both plant foliage and roots, and they release faster as it gets warmer.
Never water you vegetables by getting the foliage wet. This just encourages diseases. Water the soil, not the plants. Drip or trickle irrigation for vegetables is preferred, and you can get kits to do this on your own. One important thing to remember with drip or trickle is to keep your water lines clean. Dirt or dust in the water will clog the pores and clog the lines. You can add filters to these systems if you use well water.
Stake long-season crops early or cage them. Remember that many of the tomatoes we plant are the indeterminate varieties that will continue to grow and fruit possibly into the fall. These need to be well staked, cages or wire trained so they can continue to be productive. And yes, red plastic mulch does increase tomato plant production by as much as 30 percent.
Slugs and snails are out and controlling them now means fewer to deal with when their prime time happens — when it’s warm and humid. Use organic baits in the vegetable garden and your choice in the ornamentals. Slugs love to hide in mulch, so mulch sparingly. Chickens, ducks and geese love to forage for slugs but not in a garden with slug baits.
Lots to do. Plenty to enjoy for many months to come. You can save a bundle and have vegetables that taste better than anything you can buy in the store. And order your garlic now for fall planting. They won’t ship until planting time but they seem to sell out every year. Keep growing.
A bit of a retraction. A few weeks ago I reported that the new Spigelia (Indian Pink) “Little Readhead” that had done so well for a few years didn’t make it through the winter. Actually, two of the three plants did but broke dormancy very late. On the other hand, I did lose more than half of my Geum “Totally Tangerine.” I like this Geum so much, though, that I’m going to 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 more perennial — so I thought. All three are toast. Sidalcia “Candy Girl” grows just 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 posted by a gardener in Water Mill “I have ‘Party Girl.’ It’s a pretty plant, but it only blooms for about a week and a half. Looks great when it does bloom, but I’d prefer something longer blooming. When I deadhead, I only get a sporadic single bloom here and there which isn’t worth the effort.”
I’ll say this, it is reliable. I’ve had mine in the same sunny spot for about a dozen years and it always comes back.
What did you lose in your garden and landscape over the winter? Please let me know. Always good to see if there are trends.
Horticulture magazine for the May/June issue was one of the best I’ve read in years. If you can, read the piece by Thomas Christopher on “The Importance of Ecotype.” I think this is an important subject that the hort industry needs to pay attention to. Much more on this in a future column, but you know those plants that come from Oregon and North Carolina? Keep them in mind when you read Christopher’s article.
If you’ve grown any Amaryllis in your home remember that in order to rebloom these bulbs need a dormancy of about 10 weeks. Dormancy is induced by holding back on all water, allowing the foliage to brown, then putting the bulbs in a dark place like a closet for the allotted time. At the end of the dormant period they get brought back out, often repotted, watered and given sun. Six to eight weeks after breaking dormancy, they’ll reflower. Use a calendar to schedule the blooms if you want them in the middle of winter.
One fine body…