Garden Tips

There are tricks to keeping that midsummer gardening going full tilt! By now, you should have harvested some goodies. But to keep your vegetable plants healthy, finish up that harvest strong, and start new plantings for fall, here is a basic “to do” list. 

Growing a garden isn’t just about getting plants started—it also involves tending to your plants and giving them the TLC that they need to be successful and get across that finish line! Here are my tips on summer plant care . . .

Don’t Let Weeds Take Over

Weeding and thinning should be at the top of your to-do list. Plants can’t grow well if they are being crowded out, and weeds are especially tough competitors.

  • Take a half hour early each morning while it is still cool outside to pull any weeds that have invaded your garden.
  • You can attack it methodically row by row, or go for the big guys first and work your way down to the smaller offenders.
  • If you keep at it, eventually there will be few or no weeds left, at which point you can easily keep up with newly emerging ones.

Thin Out Plantings

If you started some early or mid-summer plantings of beets or carrots, it’s time to give them room to form their fat roots.

  • I usually try for a spacing of two finger-widths between plants.
  • Eat any tiny carrots that have formed. They are exceptionally sweet and good in a salad, and the beet greens are delicious and full of nutrients.

Fertilize for a Boost!

Plants, like people, need to not only drink water but also eat for nourishment! By now, their soil may be getting depleted of nutrients.

Give plants a mid-season feeding by side-dressing with compost or aged manure, or give them a drink of liquid fish emulsion fertilizer or manure tea when you water.

Watering is Critical

Watering is critical in mid- and late summer, when the heat is on high. Put out a rain gauge to determine just how much water you are getting from those thunderstorms: one to two inches a week is optimum. If you are not getting that much in rainfall, it is time to do some deep watering yourself.

  • Dig down about 6 inches and see how dry the soil is at that level. This is where most of your plants roots are and this is where the water needs to be.
  • Sprinkling the leaves is not going to be very beneficial. Soaker hoses are best; otherwise you will have to spend some time watering around each plant.
  • Water gently to allow the water to soak in and not run off.
  • To reduce the amount you need to water, consider mulching around your plants, which will help to keep down the weeds and keep soil moisture from evaporating too quickly. Straw, grass clippings, pine needles, shredded leaves, and even newspaper will help to suppress weeds.

Plant New Vegetables 

Planting a new round of crops will keep your garden productive into fall. Remove any spring crops that have gone to that big farm in the sky and plant some new vegetables in that space.

  • Pay close attention to the first fall frost date for your area if you want to replant with tender, warm-weather crops like beans or cucumbers.
  • Otherwise, stick to frost-hardy fall crops such as broccoli, kale, bok choy, carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, spinach, and peas.
  • Lettuce doesn’t like to germinate in hot soil, so start the seeds inside where it is cooler and then transplant them outside under the shade of taller plants to keep the lettuce from bolting.

Scout for Pests

Scouting for insect pests (the unwanted visitors) frequently will help you keep ahead of any population explosions of garden destroyers.

  • Be sure to check the undersides of the leaves, where most pests like to hide and lay their eggs.
  • Many bugs like to sleep in, so you can often catch them in the morning when they are still groggy.
  • Knock them into a bucket of soapy water to their sudsy demise.
  • Staking will help keep fruits up off the ground, making them less susceptible to soil-borne diseases and easier to pick.

Harvest Often!

Harvesting often will keep your plants flowering and producing more fruit.

  • Beans especially benefit from frequent picking.
  • Harvest tomatoes as they ripen for the best flavor.
  • Pick zucchini and cucumbers while they are still small to avoid dealing with huge seedy fruits.

What About Flowers and Ornamentals?

While you’re at it, don’t forget that ornamentals need some attention, too.

  • Add deadheading, weeding, staking tall floppy plants, deep watering, fertilizing, and renewing mulch in the flower beds to your to-do list. 
  • Mowing and edging around garden beds will keep the yard looking spiffy.
  • Any plants growing in containers need special care since they dry out quickly in hot weather. Frequent watering washes nutrients out of the soil so use a liquid fertilizer when you water or scratch in a slow-release fertilizer to keep your container plants growing and hanging baskets blooming.

 

Special thanks to the Farmer’s Almanac

 

Hosta is virtually carefree and comes back reliably year after year. Hardy in USDA zones 3-9, this tough plant performs well in most landscapes, even for beginning gardeners.

Foliage occurs in shades of green, blue, white, gold, chartreuse and variegated patterns. Pointed leaves are heart-shaped or elongated, with smooth, pleated or wavy texture that creates depth in the landscape. Flower scapes appear in summer, bearing clusters of trumpet-shaped blooms in hues of white, pink, lavender or purple, with some varieties being fragrant.

These versatile plants are widely useful when massed in a border or along a slope, as a foundation planting or stand-alone accent, in containers, or when combined with other woodland plants. With hundreds of varieties to choose from, you’re sure to find a hosta that suits your personal taste and style.

PLANTING & CARING FOR HOSTA
How to plant: Follow these steps to plant hosta in spring or fall, leaving enough space between plants to accommodate their mature width.

  • Loosen the soil in the planting area to a depth slightly deeper and twice as wide as the root ball.
  • Mix in compost or other rich organic matter.
  • Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball.
  • Remove the plant from the nursery pot and tease out roots if potbound.
  • Set the plant in the hole with the top of the root ball level with the surrounding soil.
  • Fill in the hole with soil and tamp down gently to remove air pockets. Water well.
  • Mulch with a layer of compost or shredded bark to retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Soil: Hosta prefers rich, well-draining soil.

For containers: Use a high-quality all-purpose potting mix. Make sure containers have drainage holes in the bottom. The container should be 4-6 inches wider and slightly deeper than the root ball.

Watering: Keep soil evenly moist, but not soggy, and don’t allow plants to completely dry out.

Fertilizing: In early spring, apply a granular all-purpose time-release fertilizer according to package instructions.

Pruning: Trim off dead or damaged foliage and spent flower stalks as needed. Allow plants to die back completely in the fall and clean up leaf debris.

Butterfly gardens provide food and sanctuary for many vibrant species of Lepidoptera. This type of garden can be planted in even the busiest urban location. Offering even a small habitat can help support the butterfly population in your area. A container garden consisting of a few carefully selected bushes and flowering plants may be all it takes to attract these winged visitors to your home. If you have more space available, you can plan a butterfly garden complete with a walking path and outdoor seating for maximum enjoyment.

Selecting & Caring For Host Plants

Indigenous plants are often the best choice for butterfly gardens. These shrubs and flowers are simple to grow since they are already compatible with the soil type, texture, and pH in your area. This means you will only have to worry about ensuring adequate sunlight, water, and drainage for your plants. You may also consider adding compost once a year to replace any lost nutrients. Don’t use pesticides.

Visit your neighborhood garden center for advice on nectar producing plants that do well in your zone. Bear in mind that some are perennials in the Southern U.S. but must be replanted each year in colder parts of the continent. Here are some frequently suggested plant/flower species (both native and imported) that grow well in many different zones:

Aster

Bee Balm

Burning Bush

Butterfly Bush

Butterfly Weed

Chrysanthemum

Clover

Columbine

Dandelion

Goldenrod

Honeysuckle

Joe-Pye Weed

Marigold

Purple Coneflower

Shasta Daisy

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Verbena

Wild Violet

Yarrow

Zinnia

Some of these plants, such as clover, double as food plants for caterpillars. You can also deliberately grow hosts for specific butterfly larvae. Use milkweed to supply a breeding ground for monarchs. Dill, parsley, and other members of the carrot family will attract female swallowtails that are ready to lay their eggs. Watching caterpillars grow and change is one of the most interesting experiences provided by a home butterfly garden.

Common Butterfly Species

Expect to see both local and migrating species of butterflies pass through your garden depending on the time of year and your location. The larger and more varied your plant selection is, the greater number and variety of Lepidoptera you will see. However, some plants (like the aptly named butterfly bush) will attract many different types of butterflies at one time. Here are some of the species that frequent North American butterfly gardens:

Alfalfas

Buckeyes

Cabbage Whites

Fritillaries

Goatweeds

Hackberries

Hairstreaks

Monarchs

Morning Cloak

Nymphs

Painted Ladies

Pearl Crescents

Question Marks

Red Admirals

Skippers

Snout Noses

Sulphurs

Swallowtails

Tawny Emperors

Viceroys

Special Considerations

This type of garden will attract much more than just butterflies. Hummingbirds are welcome visitors as well. Bees and wasps will also come to drink from your ready supply of nectar. When this happens, move slowly and remain calm. These insects are foraging far away from their home nests and unlikely to sting humans. They help pollinate flowers and are a natural feature of all butterfly gardens.

Peppers are a warm-season crop that comes in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. More good news: Most varieties resist garden pests! See our guide to planting, growing, harvesting peppers.

About Bell Peppers

Peppers have a long growing season (60 to 90 days), so most home gardeners buy starter pepper plants at the garden nursery rather than grow them from seed. However, you can start pepper seeds indoors if you want to grow your own. Northern gardeners should also warm outdoor soil by covering it with black plastic as early as possible in late winter/early spring.

Red and green peppers are good sources of vitamin C, some vitamin A, and small amounts of several minerals. They’re wonderful raw in salads or as a snack with dip or hummus. You can also stuff peppers with seasoned bread crumbs or meat and bake them.

On this page, we focus on growing sweet peppers, but much of the advice for growing hot peppers is the same. That said, we also have a growing guide for jalapeño peppers!

Planting Peppers

Grow peppers in a space with full sun and well-draining moist (but not wet) soil. A balance between sandy and loamy soil will ensure that the soil drains well and warms quickly. Mix in large amounts of organic matter (such as compost) into the soil, especially if you are working with heavy clay. Avoid planting peppers in places where you’ve recently grown other members of the nightshade family—such as tomatoes, potatoes, or eggplants—as this can expose peppers to disease.

When to Plant Peppers

  • To start peppers indoors in pots, sow seeds 8 to 10 weeks before your last spring frost date. 
  • Plant pepper starts or transplants outdoors about 2 to 3 weeks after the threat of frost has passed and the soil has reached 65°F (18°C).

How to Plant Peppers Outdoors

  • If you’re buying pepper starts, choose ones with straight, sturdy stems, 4 to 6 leaves, and no blooms or fruit. To harden off pepper plants, set plants outdoors a week or more after the frost free date or when the average daily temperatures reaches 65°F (18°C). 
  • Before transplanting in the garden, mix aged manure and/or compost into the soil about 8 to 10 inches deep and rake it several times to break up the large clods. 
  • Put transplants into the ground once the soil temperature has reached 65°F (18°C). Speed up the warming of the soil by covering it with black plastic or a dark mulch about a week before you intend to plant.
  • It is best to transplant peppers in the evening or on a cloudy day. This will keep the plants from drying too much and wilting.
  • Make the transplant holes 3 to 4 inches deep and 12 to 18 inches apart in the row. Space the rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Before planting, fill the holes with water and let it soak in. Into each planting hole, put two or three wooden matchsticks (for sulfur) and 1 teaspoon of low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus fertilizer (too much nitrogen will reduce fruit set).
  • When pulling the transplant out of its tray or pot, be gentle and leave as much soil as possible around the roots. Set the transplants about one inch deeper than they were in their original container. Fill the hole with soil and pack it loosely around the plant. Leave a slightly sunken area around each plant to hold water. 
  • Water the plants after planting.
  • Using liquid fertilizer material (manure tea or starter fertilizer) is usually beneficial at this time.
  • Stake now to avoid disturbing the roots later. If necessary, support plants with cages or stakes to prevent bending. Try commercially available cone-shaped wire tomato cages. They may not be ideal for tomatoes, but they are just the thing for peppers. Or, build your own garden supports.

Growing

  • Water regularly with 1 to 2 inches of water per week. This doesn’t mean shallow watering; peppers like a good dousing but should be left to almost dry out between waterings; they need that period of relative dry. Slow, deep watering helps the root system grow strong. Do not let pepper plants wilt because this will reduce yield and quality of the fruit. Inconsistent watering also makes pepper susceptible to blossom-end rot. 
  • In a warm or desert climate, or at the height of summer, you may need to water every day. Note that in desert regions at around 4,000 feet of elevation, sweet bell peppers often fail to develop a thick, fleshy wall.
  • Peppers are extremely heat sensitive. Blossoms may drop if plants are stressed—if it’s too hot (above 85° to 90°F in daytime) or cold (below 60°F at night) or water is inadequate. Use shade cloth or row covers to avoid heat stress or sunscald (exposure to direct rays of the sun during hot weather which will cause peppers to get papery, blister, or get papery). 
  • Mulch to maintain moisture and deter weeds. 
  • Weed carefully around plants to avoid disturbing roots.

Harvesting

  • Once the plants begin producing fruits, pick them promptly, the moment they have reached their full size and color. Regular picking encourages plants to produce more flowers and, of course, more fruits.
  • That said, the longer bell peppers stay on the plant, the more sweet they become and the greater their vitamin C content. 
  • Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut peppers clean off the plant.

How to Store Peppers

  • Peppers can be refrigerated in plastic bags for up to 10 days after harvesting.
  • Bell peppers can be frozen for later use.
  • Peppers can also be dried: Preheat oven to 140°F. Wash, core, and seed. Cut into 1/2-inch strips. Steam about 10 minutes, then spread on baking sheet. Dry in oven 4 to 6 hours; turn occasionally and switch tray positions. Cool, then store in bags or containers in a refrigerator.

Thanks to the Farmer’s Almanac

When growing tomatoes and reading about them—on our website, store signs, and plant tags—you eventually encounter a lot of tomato growing terms. Determinate and indeterminate. Hybrid and heirloom. VFNT and SWV. What does all this mean? 

Determinate and Indeterminate

When selecting tomato varieties, you must choose between plants with different types of growth habits called determinate or indeterminate. All tomatoes are either one or the other.

Determinate varieties (including bush varieties) reach a certain plant height and then stop growing. The majority of their fruit matures within a month or two and appears at the ends of the branches. These are popular with gardeners who like to can, make sauce, or have another reason for wanting most of their tomatoes at once. It might even be that you’d prefer to harvest early and leave late summer for a long vacation.

Most determinate varieties need a cage, but there are some very stocky varieties, such as Better Bush, that have a very sturdy main stems; they don’t need much support, just a stake to keep them from toppling in wind and rain. Varieties especially suited to growing in pots, such as Patio and Better Bush, are determinate. Little or no pruning is needed.

Indeterminate varieties continue to grow and produce tomatoes all along the stems throughout the growing season. Indeterminate plants need extra-tall supports of at least 5 feet. Because indeterminate varieties throw out so many shoots, gardeners often prune them for optimum-sized fruit or train them on a very tall trellis. However, if you don’t prune, no harm done! You may have seen photos of 10- or 15-foot tomato vines. These are definitely indeterminate types.

Most gardeners grow both types, determinate for large harvests for canning and freezing and indeterminate to get fruit for salads and sandwiches throughout the growing season.

A few varieties are called semi-determinate or compact indeterminate because they are somewhere in between. For best results, give them support.

Raised bed gardening is a simple technique that can improve the health and productivity of your garden. Raised beds have better soil structure and drainage, allowing the soil to warm up earlier in the season, and giving you a head start on spring.

Stubborn perennial weeds can be less of a problem in raised beds than in other gardens. You may also want to construct a raised bed to bring the soil up to a more comfortable working level. Whether for aesthetics or accessibility, modern gardeners are rediscovering the centuries-old technique of raised bed gardening for their vegetables, flowers and shrubs.

Raised Ground Beds

The simplest form of raised beds are flat-topped mounds, usually six to eight inches high. They require no materials other than additional soil.

Black and white drawing of a raised ground bed

Bring in additional soil to form the beds, or excavate three to four inches of soil from pathways between beds. If you bring in additional soil, be sure that it does not come from an area where soil borne plant pathogens or contaminants like lead and pesticides are present. Whether you dig out your pathways or not, be sure the access areas around the raised beds are at least 24 inches wide.

Decide first on the size of your raised ground bed. If you are able to reach only one side of the bed, the maximum width should be 2½ feet. If you have access from both sides, the bed can be up to five feet wide. Length and shape are entirely up to you.

To make the bed itself, add four to six inches of finished compost, peat moss or well-rotted manure to the existing area. Thoroughly till it into the underlying soil. Tillage will not be a normal practice in the raised bed. Shape the tilled soil into a flat mound about eight inches high, with sides that taper up at a 45-degree angle. Let the soil rest and settle for a week or two before planting.

Avoid stepping on the raised bed, which will compact the soil. Use a hoe to reach weeds in the middle of the bed. Similarly, lean on the hoe to harvest from the center of the garden. Try to keep the sides of the mound intact, so your raised bed does not slump out onto the pathways.

As the season progresses, the soil will settle, but the mound will remain. Once created, raised ground beds need only minor reshaping with a rake at the start of each season. Each season add organic matter to the surface as a mulch during the growing season or after harvest. Earthworms and other soil organisms will bring it down into the soil, so there is no need to till it.

Supported Raised Beds

Edging your raised bed places an important barrier between your garden and the lawn, the biggest source of perennial weeds. The frame, whether wood, stone, brick or plastic, adds a neat, finished look. Some gardeners also leave a four-inch border of bare or mulched soil around the bed to make mowing easier.

Three supported raised garden beds with vegetables and other plants

When deciding on the shape and size for a supported raised bed, keep in mind that some edging materials only allow angular corners. Prepare the soil as before, but place the frame around the bed before raking the soil into shape.

Unlike an unsupported bed, you can make a supported raised bed wider than five feet. Sturdy wooden sides can support a wide plank used as a bridge and moved from one part of the garden to another, so that you would be able to reach the center of the garden without stepping on the soil.

To make a wooden frame, cut pieces of 2″ x 6″ untreated rot resistant lumber like cedar. Railroad ties, unless extremely well weathered, are not a good choice for raised bed. Railroad ties treated with creosote are toxic to plants. Lumber treated with copper, chromium and arsenic (CCA) is also harmful to vegetable crops because some of the arsenic may leach out of the wood and into the plants.

Turn the boards “heartwood in” so that if they warp, they will curve slightly outward at the middle. Secure the corners with decking screws. Remove or add soil as needed to make sure the frame is sitting level. Once the frame is in place, spread the soil even with the top. Now you can plant right to the bed’s edge.  You will have a larger growing space than in a raised ground bed of the same area, since you do not have to maintain the sloping sides.

Containerized Raised Beds

A raised bed with 10″ to 12″ walls offers more protection to plants in high-traffic areas near sidewalks. In paved areas where reflected heat can stress plants, raising a bed to one or two feet can reduce heat. Raised beds with even higher walls maximize physical accessibility and reduce maintenance. For most wheelchair users, 27″ is a comfortable working height, but you can custom-build the beds to any height. Choose the width to match your arm’s reach. 

Black and white drawing of a containerized garden bed and a gardener in a wheelchair

To make a planter 27″ high, place one 2″ x 4″ and three 2″ x 8″ boards horizontally, with 2″ x 4″ boards vertically for reinforcement, especially at the corners. Build the sides first, again turning the boards “heartwood in.” Use decking screws to attach the vertical reinforcing boards and to join the corners. You can make a sitting ledge by attaching a 1″ x 4″ board flat on top of the frame, extending it over the sides.

Fill the planter with a mixture of soil and organic matter, and add two to four inches more each year as the soil settles and ages. Remember that containers, even large ones, need extra watering.

Thanks to University of Minnesota Extension Service