Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Time to move little plants into bigger bed

My time has come! Uh, that is, my time to transplant warm season crops, including tomato, pepper and eggplant. Of course, there are many folks who have already done so. However, as mentioned in last week's column, experience has taught me not to rush it, not only because of the threat of late frost, but also because of low soil temperatures. Research has shown that tomatoes struggle to take up phosphorous at soil temperatures below 50 degrees F. This lack of phosphorus in tomato transplants can be detected by purple color of the underside of leaves of the plants.

Soil temperature also affects the germination of vegetable seeds. That is why I am only now sowing seeds of beans, corn, squash, cucumbers and other warm season crops into the garden. The aforementioned crops are called "warm season" for good reason; the seeds do not germinate well, nor do any emerging seedlings thrive, until soil temperatures are 60 degrees F or higher.

Therefore, my advice is: practice safe seed sowing and transplanting. One way to protect yourself from indiscretions relative to these gardening practices is to invest in a soil thermometer. With a soil thermometer, you'll be able to track soil temperatures and make prudent decisions which will affect the life of your cherished vegetable crops.


While on the subject of transplanting, I recommend that tomato and pepper seedlings be planted deeper than the top of their rootball. This deep planting helps prevent the seedlings from lodging, that is, toppling over in high winds. Furthermore, the seedlings will develop additional roots along the underground portion of the stem. Studies reveal more rapid maturity and greater fruit production when seedlings are set out in this manner.

On another note relative to transplanting, it is not unusual for tomato seedlings to be leggy, especially those started too early indoors or which have been growing under low light conditions. In this case, I trim off the lower side shoots and lay the transplants in a shallow trench with just the top six to eight inches of stem above soil level. This has the same effect as planting the seedlings deeper than the rootball.


If not exhausted contemplating the above information, tackle these gardening tasks:

- Continue to harvest asparagus and rhubarb for a few more weeks, unless the plants are only a year or two old, in which case, refrain from further harvests for this year.

- Look for sweet potato plants at local garden centers. As sweet potatoes are not commonly grown in this region, it may be necessary to mail-order plants, but look for varieties specified for growing in northern climates. Once you get plants, set them out 15 inches apart in rows that are two to three feet apart. Sweet potatoes grow best in well-drained, loose textured soils. I've had the most success with this crop by growing in black plastic mulch. During the season, apply fish emulsion at three-week intervals.

- Thin crowded vegetable seedlings by snipping off the unwanted ones with scissors rather than pulling up the seedlings. This prevents root disturbance.

- Be a bit unorthodox. Plant strawberries, cherry tomatoes or dwarf varieties of squash or cucumbers in hanging baskets.

- Use partially composted wood chips, rather than fresh wood chips, as mulch around trees and shrubs or in flower borders. Fresh wood chips can leach plant damaging acids into soils, cause depletion of soil nitrogen, or generate plant injuring levels of heat.

- Disbud peonies by removing side buds, but leave the main or top buds. This will result in larger flowers, if that is your goal. Don't worry about ants crawling over the flower buds. They are causing no harm.

- Take out your aggressions; pinch a mum. Ouch! Routine pinching of the shoot tips of mums between now and the second week of July will encourage branching and compact growth of the plants. Also, it may quell any anger issues you may have toward this garden column.


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