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Time to plant for cooler days ahead

Seed packages
Believe it or not, it's time to start thinking of cool-season vegetables. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Start cool-season favorites such as lettuce and kale

In the heat of mid-summer, it's time to think cool -- as in cool-season vegetables.

Get a jump on fall and winter by starting seeds indoors. Such favorites as lettuce, kale, chard, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower benefit from a head start before transplanting into the vegetable garden.

These seeds need warmth to sprout -- but not too much. Lettuce, for example, won't germinate if soil temperature is above 80 degrees. But a comfortable spot in the 70s on your kitchen counter will help them sprout right away.

These baby veggies can be moved quickly outside, but keep them sheltered from hot afternoon sun. Let them grow their first few leaves while sitting in the shade.

As they grow bigger and stronger, these transplants can move into the vegetable garden, replacing spent summer crops. If possible, give them some afternoon shade by planting them in the shadow of larger plants such as tomatoes or peppers. When those tomatoes are done, the cool-season replacements will be ready to take over their space.

Cool-season veggies also can act as living mulch. Sow leaf lettuce directly in the soil around peppers and eggplant. The lettuce will benefit from the shade of the taller plants while keeping the soil cool. It helps the peppers and eggplant while also helping the baby lettuce.

The key to success with these early cool-season veggies: Water. They need consistent moisture while germinating and during early development. Once established, these transplants can get by with deep watering once a week. Double that during triple-digit days in late August and September.

How soon until harvest? Leaf lettuce can be picked as soon as 30 days. Head lettuce needs longer, usually 55 to 60 days. Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower can take 60 to 180 days to reach maturity, depending on variety -- another reason to get an early start.


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Garden Checklist for week of April 21

This week there’s plenty to keep gardeners busy. With no rain in the immediate forecast, remember to irrigate any new transplants.

* Weed, weed, weed! Get them before they flower and go to seed.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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