By Carol Stocker
Shop for your vegetable and annual plants. Garden centers should be colorful and busy. Just remember that most annual flowers and vegetables need plenty of sun to do well. Buy impatiens, begonias or coleus if you have shade.
Tomato planting is as much a sign of summer as white shoes. You can transplant tomatoes and most other warm weather vegetables, including squashes, peppers and eggplant, outdoors now. Buy young tomato plants no more than eight inches tall and plant them two inches deeper than they are growing in their pots, as they will root along their buried stems. Don't plant tomatoes where they grew last year or you'll encourage soil borne diseases. Check varietal tags. If tomato transplants are marked "indeterminate," they will continue to grow and produce all season. Plant these 15 inches apart unless they will not be staked, in which case space them three feet apart so they can sprawl. Varieties marked "determinate" are usually early varieties that produce their fruit all at once and do not need staking. Plant these one to two feet apart. Planting basil with them will help repel tomato hornworm.
While most people buy young tomatoes plants, some vegetables are better grown from seed. These include corn, beets and carrots, as well as beans, which may be the easiest and most productive of all summer vegetables. Plant bush and pole bean seeds two inches deep and a foot apart and keep planting every two weeks until September. Pick the pods while they are young so the vines stay productive.
Though most people buy their annual flowers as young plants, you can also grow many annuals from seeds planted directly in the garden now, including cosmos, morning glory, nasturtium, marigold, and zinnia.
More people are planting their annual flowers in containers that elevate them closer to eye level instead of planting them in the ground. There are many attractive pots, baskets, urns and tubs now at nurseries as well as pre-planted containers. The biggest drawback of container gardening is that plants need more frequent watering in hot summer weather than they would growing in the garden. "Self watering" containers are worth the investment. They have water reservoirs that roots can reach in a lower section of the pot. Also, clay pots are slower to dry out than plastic ones, and larger pots need less frequent watering than smaller ones.
Buy a high quality soil-less mix, which is also called premium or professional potting mix, when you buy your flowers and containers. The light weight of such a mix make containers easier to move and allows oxygen, fertilizer and water to reach roots readily. Leave a half inch at the top of your container so it does not overflow when watered.
I like to mix a few grains of time-release fertilizer such as Osmacote into each planting hole, especially when I am planting in containers. Water well after planting and every day for the first week. After that, you can tell when to water by sticking your finger an inch deep into the soil. If it is dry at that depth, water.
September is actually the optimal month to install most slow growing investments such as trees, shrubs and perennials because they will not have to withstand summer heat and drought. So if you are planning some landscape work and can't get it done this spring, don't fret. Do it in the fall.