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5 hacks for shading your precious vegetables

Argh, this Noir Des Carmes melon became sunburned beforeĀ I could
protect it. (Photos: Kathy
Quick help for plants in danger of sunburn

Venture outside in this heat without a hat and sunscreen, and you know what you'll get: Sunburned skin.

Pity your plants, which can't don sun-protective gear or move into the shade. Yet they get sunburned, too.

Sunscald mars ripening tomatoes and peppers. Even melons get scorched in intense heat.

Here's the deal: Growing something that requires "full sun" doesn't always mean, in our climate, "full exposure to sun." Full heat may require some filtered afternoon shade.

Lace tablecloths filter the sun in this community garden plot.
The experienced gardeners in my community garden have learned this. Some grow tomatoes under a wooden superstructure that shades the plants. Others hang shade cloth or frost cloth across the front of their tomato plants. A few have a sea of lace tablecloths floating on stakes over their veggies, giving the garden a refined air.

Frankly, I've given up trying to grow bell peppers and certain tomato varieties in full sun. My Robeson tomato, which does not like intense heat, is doing quite nicely this year in a large pot on the north side of a backyard crape myrtle tree. The peppers are also in pots, cozying up against rose bushes and dwarf citrus trees, which give just enough shade.

Are you seeing sunscald on your developing produce? Here are 5 hacks you can try now with items in your home or garden. Since they're not permanent solutions, be sure to plan for 2020: It's going to be just as hot next year.

A plant flat anchors some shade cloth on
this Burbank tomato in a pot.
1) Use black plastic plant flats balanced on top of tomato cages. They fit, I found out in desperation one summer. Use them alone or to anchor a piece of burlap or shade cloth to protect peppers or small tomato plants.

2) Put paper hats on melons. Use junk mail envelopes (plain ones, not the ones with the windows) as quick paper hats or cones over your most-exposed little melons. Or fold a piece of newspaper into a tent for a larger melon.

3) Newspaper sections also work as quick, desperation shade, hanging off tomato cages and cucumber trellises. Light can't get through it at all, however, so replace it soon with something less opaque.

4) Are the plants growing up a fence or trellis? Use clothes pins to attach thin dishtowels (worn ones work best) to the trellis, hanging them over the veggies. This is good for cucumbers or any other climbing vegetables.

5) Bring tree shade to the veggies: Trim off just a foot or so of a thin leaf-filled branch from an ornamental tree and lay it carefully among ground-growing veggies, such as squash or melons. The leaves will filter the sun just enough.


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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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