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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 Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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