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Happy Plant a Vegetable Garden Day!

N.Y. author hopes to inspire more food gardeners

Pumpkins on vine
Celebrate World Plant a Vegetable Garden Day. After all, May is the perfect time in our region to plant pumpkins -- and have a crop like this by midsummer. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Here’s a holiday worth celebrating: World Plant a Vegetable Garden Day!

May 19 marks this relatively new commemoration, created by garden author Bob Matthews in 2019. Matthews, author of the Gardener’s Network ( ) and the Pumpkin Nook ( ), lives in Rochester, N.Y. He chose May 19 because its the last frost date for upstate New York and is past the last possible frost date for most of the Northern Hemisphere.

(Sacramento, by the way, had its last frost date two months ago.)

Matthews came up with the idea of World Plant a Vegetable Garden Day as a way to help others. As he says, give a man vegetables, he’ll eat for a day. Teach him to grow veggies, and he’ll never go hungry again. (At least, as long as he eats his broccoli.)

According to his Gardener’s Network website, his goal is to inspire people to grow more food and help feed a hungry planet.

Matthews has one particular favorite in his edible garden: Pumpkins. He grows all kinds, all sizes (not just the giants), and wrote a pumpkin cookbook, too. He also admits that his favorite holiday isn’t the one he made up.

“I have been growing pumpkins since I was a wee little lad,” he says on his Pumpkin Nook site. “Which, by the way, was a long, long time ago. Friends and family members will attest that Halloween is my favorite holiday. (The Pumpkin Nook) website is the direct result of two hobbies running amok, as I am both an avid gardener and an internet fanatic.

“I do not profess to know everything there is to know about gardening,” he adds. “I continue to read, experiment, listen and learn as much as I can about gardening, especially growing pumpkins.”

Many people caught the gardening bug during the pandemic. Stuck at home and worried about food supply chain issues, one in four Americans planted a vegetable garden last year for the first time, according to multiple surveys.

That’s on top of the millions of backyard farmers that already knew the joy of home-grown tomatoes. According to the National Gardening Association, one in three American families already grew food (vegetables and fruit) before the pandemic.

Now, more than half of our nation’s households have something edible growing in their landscapes.

Newfound interest in veggies continues to grow. Several seed companies sold out of stock again this spring. Baker Creek Seeds, the organic seed giant, reports that it saw a six-fold increase in demand for seeds this spring compared to 2019. Nursery experts expect demand to continue to be strong at least through 2024.

Of course, it helps the celebration of World Plant a Vegetable Garden Day to have perfect weather for planting. (That’s what Sacramento will see this week.)

So, go ahead and plant another tomato or other warm-weather favorite, and encourage others to plant something, too. And with luck, you’ll have something else to celebrate this summer: A home-grown harvest.


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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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