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Mistakes gardeners are making now they'll pay for later this summer


It's difficult to pull plants you've grown from seed, but for these beans to thrive, they'll have to be thinned soon. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Gardeners can't rest because Mother Nature doesn't, either



May makes gardening seem easy. The plants are green and pretty, the flowers are sprouting and budding, the trees wave their fresh green leaves in the breeze. What a lovely month.

A mulch of newspaper and straw keeps the soil around
this tomato plant from drying out too quickly.
But the biggest mistake a gardener can make right now is to think that the garden, once planted, is done, "set," if you will.

Mother Nature works 24 hours a day, and humans don't. The garden is evolving every second. The humans have to be on their toes to keep up, especially in beautiful May.

Here are a few mistakes gardeners make now that they will regret later:

1. Not mulching. The heat's coming and those vegetable plants are going to be cooked (and the soil baked) without a good layer of leaves, straw, wood chips, shredded bark or whatever you've got. (I save newspaper all winter, then use that as the bottom layer, and pile straw on top.)

This garden would benefit from some mulch now, before the weather heats up.
2. Using hay as mulch instead of straw. There's a difference: Hay is green and full of seeds -- which will sprout in your well-watered garden and suck up the nutrients. Straw is yellow to gold and is hollow. It breaks down nicely later. (
Here's a great post from Debbie last year on mulch and other ways to keep tomatoes productive in heat.)

3. Not thinning sprouts. Awww, those little plants are so cute -- must I pull them out? The answer is yes, if you want to see a decent crop or keep your flowers from being too crowded to grow properly. Learn to be ruthless. Check the seed packet for advice on thinning. (A corollary to this is setting transplants too close together. Yes, that squash is going to overrun that pepper plant in a few weeks. Give them both some space.)

The zinnias are up! Now they should be thinned.
4. Not planting for pollinators. Any vegetable garden should include room for pollinator plants. The bees and other insects do the heavy lifting when it comes to creating the crops, especially tomatoes, squash and melons.  Flowering herbs, zinnias, sunflowers and native plants such as salvia or buckwheat will attract pollinators, as well as hummingbirds. ( Here's a full post I wrote on enticing pollinators to the garden.)

5. Not checking the garden often enough. As noted, Mother Nature's a 24/7 worker. A gardener who doesn't "make the rounds" to observe the garden at least once a day is going to eventually find some rude surprises, from overgrown zucchini to collapsed alyssum, and everything in between. Master gardeners also tell me that many garden problems that clients bring them could have been caught and corrected much earlier in the plant's life. If only someone had noticed! So being a close observer of one's own garden is the best way to protect the plants, and the time already invested in them.

Note to newsletter subscribers: We're having issues again. With any luck, this one arrives on time, with Debbie's Wednesday post also attached.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Feb. 18:

It's wet to start the week. When you do get outside, between or after storms, concentrate on damage control:

* Keep storm drains and gutters clear of debris.

* Clean up tree debris knocked down by wind and rain.

* Where did the water flow in your garden? Make notes where revisions are necessary.

* Are any trees leaning? See disturbances in the ground or lawn around their base? Time to call an arborist before the tree topples.

* Dump excess water out of pots.

* Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

* Lettuce and other greens also can be started indoors from seed.

* Got bare-root plants? Put their roots in a bucket of water until outdoor soil dries out. Or pot them up in 1- or 5-gallon containers. In April, transplant the plant, rootball and all, into the garden.

* Browse garden websites and catalogs. It’s not too late to order for spring and summer.

* Show your indoor plants some love. Dust leaves and mist to refresh.

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