This is the weekend most gardening Canadians have been waiting for. The May long weekend is when we “drop the puck” for the true beginning of our coast-to-coast gardening season. Okay, there are a few exceptions, particularly up North and in a few pockets of the Prairies where Mother Nature is still toying with us a bit. But as a rule of thumb, it’s time to begin planting your garden. There is, however, still some gardening wisdom that we need to understand for success in all our plantings.
It is important to understand that you are the conductor of this garden symphony, and success or failure is in your hands. The key is to make sure the soil in your garden, raised beds or containers is well-prepared and ready to grow transplants or seeds. Daily attention to detail is crucial. A plant-and-run strategy is never an option because changing weather patterns will often mean extra watering or providing protection on cool nights.
Making sure your plants are acclimatized for the outdoor weather is one of the most critical factors. It’s a busy time of year in the gardening industry, and many growers are challenged just keeping up with the demand, which means that plants may go from warm greenhouses, into garden stores, then directly outdoors, without the usual “hardening off” period. Help your plants to “toughen up” by putting them outside for three to four days in a location out of both the sun and the wind. This will prevent the plants from burning or wilting and is especially critical for tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.
After a long winter and the record February cold, we’re all anxious to get growing, but remember: less is more. Strategic planting is the secret. For example, don’t plant the entire packet of seeds at one go, but rather plant partial rows or just a few seeds at a time. The same is true of transplants. When it comes time to harvest, it’s nice to have just a bit at a time rather than too much produce all at once. The goal is to enjoy a sequence of fresh food over the summer. This process is also true for our colour gardens. Sequential planting is the only way to grow.
Watering is, by far, one of the most significant considerations. It needs to be done in conjunction with the weather. In cool, wet conditions, you many not need to water, but when it’s hot, some plants may require watering two or three times a day. Try to always water in the morning when the temperature is on the rise. Once they are well hydrated, your plants will utilize that moisture during the stressful, hot parts of the day. If you must water in the evening, do it as early as possible. and keep the water off the foliage for fear of triggering disease issues. At night, plants tend to waste water through transpiration.
Whenever you water, use a proper water breaker to soften the impact of the water and to distribute it more evenly. A traditional soft rain nozzle will have 250 holes, but if you can get a 500 to 1000-hole nozzle, so much the better. Always water thoroughly and deeply so the water penetrates far down into the soil and reaches the whole root system, thus helping the roots to grow even deeper. Please, no overhead sprinklers. Soaker and drip hoses provide the most efficient use of water.
Even though most folks enrich their soils with lots of organic matter, plants still require more nutrients as they grow. Today, a wide selection of organic nutrients is available, but make sure the package is marked OMRI Certified Organic.
Growing organically is certainly trending and is the way of the future, but other quality nutrients are out there. I often recommend a B.C. product that is called “Garden Pro Veggie and Flower Food”. It is 40 per cent organic (uses kelp meal) and has a great 10-19-19 formulation that includes micronutrients, making it excellent for feeding vegetables, annuals and perennials.
Another very important consideration is that everything you do to create a great environment for growing also creates ideal conditions for fungus and disease. To help manage this situation, space your plants to ensure more light and greater air movement. Trellising or training climbing plants, like peas and beans, even tomatoes and cucumbers, to grow on tripods or along fences will get them up into the air and sunshine. Loosening your soil with a tool, like a Dutch hoe or winged weeder, will not only keep weeds at bay but will allow more oxygen to penetrate the soil. Keeping your foliage dry in the evening, except of course for nighttime showers, is one of the best ways of avoiding problems.
Insects, too, will always be a part of gardening, but don’t forget that there are many beneficial species such as ladybugs, beetles and even spiders. They are some of our best natural predators to control damaging insect populations. Watch out for those pesky aphids, and when they appear, all you need to do is wash them off with water. Keep an eye on your spinach and swiss chard because leaf miners will burrow into their leaves. An effective control is to simply cut off and destroy the infected pieces — the remaining leaves will still be great to eat. If leaf miners are an annual problem, at an early stage use a floating row cover, like Remay cloth, over your leafy crops.
When you see white butterflies flitting around your cabbages and other brassicas, you may want to use an organic control like BTK, a bacterial spray that should be applied every week to ten days or simply use your Remay cloth to keep them off the plants.
Don’t use lime or manures in the potato patch in order to prevent potato scabbing. On the other hand, tomatoes are lime lovers, and organic eggshell lime, which contains up to 30 per cent calcium, will help prevent blossom-end rot on your tomatoes. Tomatoes also like to be planted a little deeper because they will root from the stem.
There are many more little tricks you will pick up as you become an experienced gardener.
It’s hard to match the enjoyment of growing your own fresh food and having that wonderful resource on your patio or in your garden. It’s truly one of life’s great pleasures. The freshness and flavours are hard to beat, and it’s so easy, anyone can do it.