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5 hacks for shading your precious vegetables

Quick help for plants in danger of sunburn

Argh, this Noir Des Carmes melon became sunburned before I could
protect it. (Photos: Kathy

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 a 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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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* 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 needs nutrients. Fertilize 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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