June 17, 2012

Maine Gardener: Months into gardening season, and still plenty to plant

By TOM ATWELL

This has been a strange year for gardening -- ahead of schedule and behind at the same time.

click image to enlarge

Annuals like begonias provide great color.

We planted our first round of peas in late March, earlier than ever before, and they are doing well. There are a few tiny, unfilled pods and lots of blossoms. 

We bought our first strawberries on June 8, and have been buying them regularly since. The strawberries I planted are doing well, but we have been pulling off all the blossoms (just as you're supposed to do the first year).

So in a way, things are very early. But it rained nonstop, it seems like, in late May and early June, and some people may have given up on gardening for this season.

Don't.

Yes, the gardening season started three months ago. Yes, if you put in your annuals and warm-weather vegetables just before we got a half-foot of rain over 24 hours, your plantings suffered quite a bit of damage. That can be discouraging.

But we have three to four months before the first frost in most parts of Maine -- and I have few readers in Madawaska, where the frost is likely to hit earlier.

So I'm going to tell you what to do.

First, it is still prime planting season for trees, shrubs and perennials. You can plant these until late November, whenever the mood strikes you or you see something you like. And there are a lot of good new plants being offered this year -- everything from acers (maples) to viburnums. If you don't have room for a tree or a shrub, there are some gorgeous new perennials that will brighten your garden for the rest of this year and many years to come.  

The seasonal plants are annuals and vegetables, and some people may think it is too late for those.

Most people plan to put in their warm-season vegetables by Memorial Day -- either the traditional Memorial Day of May 30 or the current Memorial Day of the last Monday of May, which came on May 28 this year.

That is the absolute day you are expected to be frost-free for the rest of the summer, even if you are one of those people who wear both a belt and suspenders.

Annuals are great to provide color. Most people think of geraniums, marigolds, petunias and impatiens when they think of annuals, but you can put in some really great tropicals -- hibiscus and agapanthus, cannas and mandevilla, begonias and coleus. Just wander around the nursery and see what you like.

The beauty of annuals is that they bloom all season, so what you see at the nursery display table is what you get in your own garden. There will be flowers in the potted plants, and the blooms won't stop until the first frost.

We got an email newsletter from White Flower Farm in early June saying that all of their annuals were on sale (although that sale has since ended). Your local nursery might be offering bargains on some of their annuals by now or very soon. They can't keep them until next year, and if they have a lot of them, they might offer a discount. Check it out.

Vegetables are a bit tougher. People think that Maine has a short growing season, and it does. If you want to get big, ripe tomatoes or sweet peppers that ripen to a full red, you'll probably want to buy some seedlings right now at your local farmers market or farm stand and put them in. This is about as late as you can go.

But there are a lot of vegetables that are ideal to plant right about now.

Professional farmers plant greens -- lettuce, mesclun, Swiss chard and the like -- throughout the season. They come up quickly, and can be cut regularly. You could probably do one more planting now, and then delay until mid-August. The greens hate hot weather, and will do better in the fall.

And let me tell you a secret about cucumbers, squash and melons: Yes, you can plant them on Memorial Day and they will survive. But they like really warm weather, and right now is just about the perfect time for planting them. You really don't even have to buy seedlings. Just plant some seeds in the ground and water them regularly. They will pop up within a week and have good-sized plants by early July, and probably have edible cucumbers and zucchini by the end of July.

I have never done this experiment, but I should. I would like to plant some cucumber and zucchini seedlings on Memorial Day, and plant some cucumber and zucchini seeds in mid-June, and see which produces fruit sooner and more fruit overall. I am pretty sure the seeds would win out -- at least in the overall production, if not in the first fruit.

Although you can plant broccoli and cauliflower early, they really do better planted as a fall crop. They should be planted in late July or early August, and harvested in September.

And it is never too late for containers. If you just want some color on your patio -- or anywhere in your yard -- you can buy a mixed container of annuals.

And heck, if you have a sunny area right next to the house that's protected from the wind, plant tomatoes and peppers. They might ripen quickly.

If you want to be really adventurous, you can mix the flowers and the vegetables. Looking out onto our patio, I see at least three of those mixtures right now. Nancy put some onion plants into the same pot with a red geranium, and a decorative (purple leaf) pepper into a pot with some johnny-jump-ups and a gray artemeisa.

There are some patio tomatoes in a grow bag that I'm experimenting with. They're doing quite well on the edge of our patio.

See what you can put together.

FOR THIS WEEK'S garden tours, head west of Portland on Saturday.

The "Tucked Away Treasures Garden Tour" features six private gardens in Limington. Tickets are $14 ($12 for seniors) at Davis Memorial Library, Steeplebush Farm Herbs and the Country Collection in Limington. For more information, call 637-2422 or email davis memorialibrary@yahoo.com.

The Buxton Garden Club presents a self-guided tour of eight gardens, "All Around Town," from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets cost $18 with lunch or $12 without lunch, and are available at 409-6197, 929-3401 and buxtongc@yahoo.com, as well as O'Donal's Nursery in Gorham and Frugal Farmers in Buxton.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer who gardens in Cape Elizabeth, and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

tomatwell@me.com

 

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