Over the Garden Fence

Over the Garden Fence | Warm weather brings timely suggestions for home gardeners

June 28, 2014 

Given the advent of some warm temperatures and sunny days, home gardeners are moving toward finishing up seeding and transplanting most of their garden crops.

Those still looking for tomato plants to round out their vegetable gardens may have noticed that the plants in stores have blossoms and may even set small fruit.

Should gardeners purchase tomato plants with flowers and small tomatoes on them? Plants with fruit sets are not a bargain because both blossoms and fruits should be pinched off; otherwise, plant growth will stop as soil nutrients will be diverted to fruit production.

With warm weather at hand, gardeners need to take special precautions in transplanting most plants. They can wilt up and die in a hurry under a hot sun, especially if some wind is added to the environmental equation. The plants will need some shade and water until they become established.

Even if the transplants survive, they can go through a period of transplant shock, which slows down growth. During transplant shock, leaves may turn yellow and the lower ones may drop off. A gardener can help prevent transplant shock by watering immediately after planting, applying a starter fertilizer solution such as a 10-20-10, and placing a board or other type of individual shade on the southwest side of each plant for several days after transplanting.

The shift to warm weather also means that weeds probably are growing well in your garden and flower beds, especially after all the recent rain. It is no secret that weeds are much easier to control when still small, so don’t let them get ahead of you. Hoeing or hand-pulling the weeds followed by an application of organic mulch constitutes a good weed control program for home gardens.

At this point in the year, the soil is warm enough that covering it with mulch will not impede plant growth. On the other hand, mulch-covered ground also will help to keep ground temperatures cooler and thus conserve moisture. In addition, mulch-covered ground prevents new weeds from growing and forms a dirt-free cushion for home garden crops such as strawberries, peas, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

Watering is very important, and the use of drip irrigation in the home garden conserves water and puts the moisture where it needed in the root zone of the crops and not on the foliage.

Although it’s important to keep the plants in the garden from undergoing any water-related stress, I suggest the following rule of thumb on watering the garden: When the garden plants take on a slightly limp or drooping appearance at midday, but recover a good “plump” condition at dusk, the time for a good soaking has arrived. Daytime wilting may continue for several days before permanent wilting begins. Irrigating or watering is best done in the early morning hours. This reduces the loss of water from evaporation. Early watering also permits the plant foliage to dry before night, thus slowing the spread of diseases by spores germinating under the cooler, wet conditions of night.

Bill Lamont is a professor and extension vegetable specialist in Penn State’s department of plant science. He can be reached at wlamont@psu.edu.

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