Blogger’s note: I’ve embarked on a new adventure and stepped into the world of radio. Today’s post can be heard on Public radio’s Crop to Cuisine May 18 show, hosted by the delightful Dov Hirsch:
For the good of the community and the world around us, we gardeners should have signs on our cars that are honest about our obsession. Those bumpers stickers with cheerful “honk if you love plant sales” are cute but don’t cut it. We need signs big enough to hold paragraphs with disclaimers such as “Caution: this driver makes no sense at all when approaching a plant sale,” or “keep back 50 feet unless you want leaves, petals and twigs pelting your car.”
Following one of us is risky; the car’s stuffed with foliage, we can’t see out the windows, and the trunk’s bungeed shut because it’s full of bagged compost. With streamers of plants flapping out windows and the trunk bumping open and closed, we careen down the road looking for nurseries and plant sales. When we find them, we don’t slow down; we turn into them at high speed like the car’s on rails.
We can’t help it; it’s getting into late May, and for gardeners, the season is in full swing. Every weekend is spent tilling, planting, and setting up raised beds. When those plant sales began, our fever rose to a pitch, because in those few days, thousands of plant lovers gather to elbow each other out of the way of the best bargains.
We’re seduced by hot new Echinaceas, greedy for vegetable seedlings, and lured by blooming annuals. We’re purchasing bulbs and rhizomes, water plants and seeds. There’s no reasoning with us, it’s like a weekend in Vegas, where we lose control over what we’re doing.
And then we wake up on Monday following this feast of overindulgence, to face the fruits of our actions.
There are 135 bundles of joy sitting on the patio, waiting to be planted. It’s a crowd of green staring at us when we come home from work, drooping in the sun as if resigned to life at our home. They’ve got to go in the ground before the weather gets too warm and fries them in their pots, but a plan is needed to keep the honeymoon from turning into a horror show.
There are different ways to do this – you can plant them all at once in a marathon weekend. In this case a plan is important – it gives you something to abandon once you get tired and start shoving plants wherever there’s room.
Or you can approach this with a bit of sanity, by sorting the plants into groups of vegetables, perennials and annuals, then popping them into the ground over the course of the week, one group at a time. Because I garden around a full time job, I like this approach; I don’t want to give up my weekends to hard labor.
This way, you plant with confidence, moving from bed to bed with speed. For a while you’re master of your domain, it’s now a controlled chaos, which is the best you can hope for in a garden.
Sort through your seedlings, separating vegetables from ornamentals, then break them into groups based on exposure – full sun, dappled shade, or a combination of the two. Then sort by water requirements. The tags that came with the plant should tell you what they need. After this, look at how tall they’re likely to get, grouping them by height and spread.
Then decide where they’ll go based on what they need to thrive and what you have available; you now have an idea of how many evenings you’ll need to pop all of these in the ground. Taller plants should be put where they won’t block your view of shorter ones, so give them space at the back of the border or in the center of an island bed.
Don’t be fooled when the tag says drought tolerant; this doesn’t mean from the moment you put them in the ground. You’ll still need to pay attention to watering them their first season, but don’t drown them and rot their roots.
While the plants are getting established, the easiest way to tell if they need water is to feel the soil at their base; poke your finger in the soil up to the first knuckle to test for moisture. If the ground is damp, don’t water.
Heirloom tomatoes are popular for “old fashioned” flavor many people remember from their childhood. But be warned – these plants are vigorous growers and need a lot of space, unlike their hybrid cousins. Heirlooms want to grow wild and free; they’ll quickly smother other plants in the area. Give them room before they declare manifest destiny and take over your garden.
Vines such as melons or squash should be given room to ramble in locations that won’t interfere with the walkways. These plants are fussy about having their vines moved, so put them in a sunny, out of the way area where they can creep at will. Once they get larger, if it’s a windy spot, loosely stake the vines to the ground with a few earth staples so the vines won’t roll in the breeze.
Use your plants to develop communities of comfort in the garden. Corn and other tall plants should be placed to the north of other vegetables so they don’t shade them, but if you have tender plants that need a buffer from heat and sun, nestle them up near the stalks once the corn is taller. Let pole beans climb teepees and plant lettuce, spinach and other greens underneath in their shade.
If you’re planning to mulch your vegetable garden, wait a couple of weeks for the soil to warm. If you live in the northern Front Range can find soil temperature information on the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District website. Updated daily, this handy link was sent in by blog follower Frank Pratte. People living in other areas of the country can check their soil temperatures by going to greencastonline.com.
Whether you work a little at a time or opt for the one-weekend makeover, putting your plants in the right place will ensure that your foliage is healthy and productive all season long.