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Garden Guru: Keep a steady pace in the garden

By John Porter

Introducing our new garden columnist, John Porter

John Porter is the new garden writer for the Sunday Gazette-Mail.

He is the West Virginia University Extension Service agriculture and natural resources agent in Kanawha County.

He has worked extensively to help establish community gardens and is the coordinator for the Kanawha County Master Gardener program.

Porter received a botany degree from Marshall University and a master's in horticultural sciences from WVU.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Spring has finally sprung! That means that most gardeners rush out to plant all of their vegetables and flowers just as soon as they can. It's a hurried frenzy in the garden as hours are dedicated to planting everything at once. It's a madhouse at the market or garden center as gardeners descend en masse upon wide-eyed vendors and cashiers, responding to some instinctual call of warm soil between the fingers.

However, it may be worthwhile to pace yourself in the garden. Take it slow. Gardening is a form of therapy, after all. I definitely feel renewed after working in the garden (provided I take copious amounts of antihistamine for spring gardening). When we rush, we can lose some of that enjoyment that we get out of gardening. And if we don't enjoy it, we are likely not to do it. We see it more as a chore than a rewarding experience. There are real benefits to pacing ourselves in the garden.

Extended harvests

Planting all of your vegetables at once will result in having to harvest all of your vegetables at once. This can result in an overwhelming abundance of produce that can be difficult to harvest all at once. You have to "deal" with the produce all at once through preserving or gifting your neighbors. You could lose produce as the abundance is waiting for you to consume or preserve it. Instead, look at succession planting, where you plant a smaller batch of each crop separated by a few weeks.

Gardeners seem to think that most things have to be planted in the first week of May. You can plant some early for the earliest harvests, but many crops do well for late planting. Tomatoes can be planted well into June and beans to later July. All you have to do is figure out if it will reach maturity before a killing frost. To do that, you take the "Days to Maturity" from the plant tag or seed packet, add a few weeks for a harvest window and a few more for slower growth (a month total).

Many crops can also be grown as fall crops. Many of the cole crops like broccoli and cabbage do better planted as a fall crop. You can plant transplants in July and August, or you could even try sowing seeds directly in the garden in July. Beans, cucumbers, summer squash, lettuce and leafy greens all do well in the fall garden as well.

Extended blooming

Just like the extended harvest for vegetables, folks who plant annuals could see the benefits of holding off on planting all of their annuals at the first opportunity. Most annuals, by nature, bloom throughout the growing season. However, just like you and me, they seem to wear out before they are done. By waiting to plant some annuals later in the season, the period of attractive blooms can be extended.

Those who grow perennials should also take my advice. You can tell which gardeners run out and buy all of their plants at the same time in the spring; they have beautiful gardens in the spring and early summer, but the late summer and fall give way to little color. The flowers that bloom in different seasons are often available at stores during their bloom seasons, so multiple shopping trips might be in order.

Avoiding pests

Another benefit to pacing yourself could be avoiding common pest problems. Many pest insects have a specific window of activity, so later planting can help to avoid these problems. For example, planting squash and cucumbers late could mean missing the window of activity for squash bugs or squash vine borers -- both a nuisance to many gardeners. Planting early in cool soils can also limit plant growth or germination. Slow germination could be fatal to seedlings if you are seeding directly into the garden. Avoiding cool, wet springs could also limit fungal diseases for both vegetables and ornamentals.

John Porter is the WVU Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Kanawha County. He may be reached at john.porter@wvu.edu or at 304-720-9573. Follow him on Twitter, @WVUgardenguru.


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