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It's not too late to plant veggies

Procrastinator's guide to a summer garden

Vegetable seeds
Squash, pumpkins and sunflowers, along with melons, cucumbers and beans, all can still be planted from seed for harvest later this summer. Corn and radishes, too. The little pumpkins can be trained on a trellis, just like cucumbers or small melons. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Is it too late to plant a vegetable garden?

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer. With triple-digit temperatures, this holiday definitely feels more like mid-July or August than the beginning of our warmest season.

For procrastinating gardeners, the clock is ticking for the best performance and highest yields from tomatoes, peppers and other favorites. But there’s still time to plant a veggie garden in Sacramento – just wait until the high temperature cool back down in a day or two.

Heat-loving tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and tomatillos can be transplanted now and will grow rapidly in the weeks to come.

For a “late” start, choose seedlings of early-maturing varieties. Early Girl, Celebrity and Juliet will all produce mature tomatoes in about 60 days or less – that’s early August. Just about any cherry tomato will produce a plentiful late-summer crop.

Plant tomato seedlings deep, stripping off the side leaves, so they can still develop enough roots to support the plant as well as suck up water and nutrients. Avoid transplants that are already setting fruit.

Squash, pumpkins, melons and cucumbers can be planted by transplant or seed. It’s still early enough to plant these crops by seed; they’ll develop stronger roots and more drought tolerance.

Create mounds with a mixture of aged compost and soil. Leave plenty of space between hills; even bush varieties of these crops tend to get big. The more air circulation, the less chance of powdery mildew or other fungal disease. Vining varieties need room to sprawl, but their foliage will shade the soil – saving water.

Short on space? Cucumbers and smaller melon varieties can be trained on trellises. Use old pantyhose (remember those?) or other stretchy material to support the maturing fruit.

Corn, radishes and beans can be planted now, directly from seed. Plant corn and bush beans in blocks (such as 6 by 6 or 12 by 12) instead of long rows. A square foot fits nine corn or bean plants, spaced 6 inches apart. This method improves pollination and water use.

Planted now, vining beans will quickly cover a trellis, another space-saving advantage. Heat-loving scarlet runner beans offer eye-catching flowers as well as tasty purple beans.

Radishes rank as the fastest-growing late spring crop. Planted now, they’ll be ready to pick by mid July – or sooner.

Basil sprouts on dark soil
Get some basil sprouting now to go along with
Don’t forget basil. Planted from seed or transplant now, basil will be ready in time for those first tomatoes.

Add some shade and a bee favorite with sunflowers. Planted now, tall varieties will offer shade in August when peppers and tomatoes appreciate a break.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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