Ask the Gardener: What to plant now in a small community garden

Award-winning garden writer Carol Stocker also advises readers on what to do in the garden this week.

. Gempler's

What to do this week: Apply an inch of water once a week if drought conditions continue, especially to container plantings, annuals, evergreens, and young trees. As soon as the temperatures drop, start planting lawns, trees, and shrubs and divide perennials. Order spring-blooming bulbs now, too. I always stick some in the holes I dig for other plants so I get more blooms for my efforts. My favorite mail-order bulb companies for price, quality, and variety are,, For fun heirloom bulbs, go to


Q. I have been allotted my first plot in a community garden, but it is only 4 by 4 feet. I hope to get a larger one next year, but what can I plant in the meantime?


W. K., Chelsea

A. I’ve heard of tiny houses, but you’ve got a tiny bed. Don’t plant anything that spreads! Instead, try a late-season vegetable crop. Go to and its winter harvest’’ seed selection, which offers cold-hardy varieties of lettuce, kale, radishes, carrots, komatsuna, bok choy, mustard greens, chard, cilantro, arugula, and spinach that are proven performers in their fall trial gardens in Maine. Don’t worry about how big they have time to grow, because they will taste great even when immature. I also would plant a mix of early and late-blooming tulip bulbs in October for May bouquets. Tulips often bloom only once, so you won’t be throwing much money away if you move on. But if you are still in the 4-by-4 bed in May, I would plant cherry tomatoes for eating and zinnias for cutting. Maybe not so-called giant zinnias.


Q. I have what looks like a very tall evening primrose growing in a flower bed. Is it a flower or a weed?

J.L., Bridgton, Maine

A. Perhaps because of our increasing respect for wildflowers and their pollinators, more people have been asking me whether various plants are weeds instead of just pulling them out. Oenothera biennis, or common evening primrose, is a classic example. I don’t think anyone actually sells this tall, awkward plant, though it has many shorter and prettier domesticated relatives sold as Missouri or evening primrose. But apparently seeds landed in your yard and grew into this rangy 4-foot plant. Pull it or leave it? It has pretty yellow flowers that attract hummingbirds, so what’s not to like? Well … it’s a biennial, which means it dies at the end of the season like an annual, but it produces many vigorous seeds. So one evening primrose this year can become many more next year, and my definition of a weed is something that spreads too much (even if I planted it myself). I have decided to treat common evening primrose like goldenrod. I will let them bloom and feed pollinators, but also cut them back or pull them before they go to seed. It’s horticultural brinkmanship.


Generally speaking, most weeds are annuals, while most garden plants are perennials. When in doubt, pull it out. But if the roots are deep and put up a fight, give it a stay of execution, at least until it blooms. However, any new vine you didn’t plant yourself is probably an invasive that should be pulled immediately.

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