Keeping food and flowers coming

As soon as a crop appears to slow down or be on the way out, get rid of it. Have a replacement crop ready to plant in its place.

Garden stakes must withstand downpours and summer storms. Here, homegrown bamboo stakes support three different varieties of pole beans. — Photo by Susan Safford

As the season wears on and plants grow taller, thunderstorms producing drenching rain such as that of July 16 (not to mention tropical storms) test staking skills and put them in the spotlight. Usually it is only when a plant has flowers or fruit that this becomes a problem, because those are what catch and hold wind and water. Leaves seem designed mainly to shed it.

Garden plants are not turkeys and do not need trussing. The goals of staking: to support the plant or stem; to be unobtrusive; and to be easily adjusted while the gardener is bent into awkward positions. However, stakes are ideally placed earlier in the season so that the plants grow around and conceal them.

Moreover, a stem incorrectly staked is almost guaranteed to break, at the point of support. When staking a single stem, the delphinium being the classic example, the goal is loosely tying in at a minimum of three points; usually the stem is given freedom to move slightly within the twine. Large knots, twine wound heavily around stakes, and strapping-in the plants unnaturally: all are unsightly and to be avoided.

Some plants’ habits require creating a network of twine running through the center for support, similar to slices of a pie. This type of support is needed for Hydrangea ‘Annabelle,’ with many large flower heads produced all over the large plant clumps.

Early pinching or cutting of many perennials may make them bushy enough to stand on their own. This works well for clumps of phlox, but improve airflow by selectively thinning out some stalks too.

Although I use peony rings and wire mesh rings because I have them (bought years ago, when it seemed like a good idea), in general I find them unsatisfactory and likely to promote breakage unless monitored and adjusted carefully. Garden twine and bamboo stakes of different diameters and lengths are the most versatile support materials.

Phlox mildew control

In addition to the thinning and pinching of Phlox paniculata mentioned above, a cultural tip comes from the phlox growers at Perennial Pleasures’ website, “If you must spray, we have found that horticultural oil works well as a preventative. This is what we do on our potted phlox, which suffer unavoidably from dry and hot conditions in their black plastic pots. We spray every two weeks with light summer oil, which protects the leaves, and doesn’t wash off easily in the rain. Plus, it makes the leaves nice and shiny.”

Vegetable garden

In the vegetable garden, support/staking is the norm for tomato plants, but pepper and eggplants laden with fruit also appreciate it; without support they may topple in windy or rainy conditions. Make cages of sturdy wire and anchor them with earth staples.

Bushy prunings of woody shrubs, “peas-sticks,” cut a bit shorter than a plant’s eventual height, supply just the right sort of support if you firmly stick them into the ground around the plant’s crown. The spring prunings of a large vitex provided me with more than enough for an entire row of sugar snap peas, and are the right color to become invisible, even in the flower garden.

We tried a new early potato variety, ‘Satina,’ this year. Boy, are they ever smooth and yummy! Our usual, ‘Dark Red Norland,’ is great too; it is likely that all new potatoes are an epiphany, compared to tired old storage spuds.

The early broccoli crop, ‘Blue Wind,’ was good-sized and trouble free, although I lost a few plants to root damage — grubs the likely culprits. In fact, all the early crops — beets, spinach, lettuce, kale, etc. — have been very nice. (One cabbage made almost a full crock of sauerkraut.) After losing those few early broccoli, subsequent ones were planted with a large comfrey leaf buried in the bottom of the planting hole and have grown well and trouble free.

The chilly spring seems to have provided the right growing conditions, after all. Did starting the early crops in trays of compost contribute? All gardeners have to decide the answers to those questions on their own.

Care and maintenance revolve around keeping yield coming, whether it is the food from the vegetable garden or flowers from the cutting garden. Most plants of both are annual in nature: it is their ambition to set seed. This means preemptively removing anything spent or near-spent so that the plants keep on trying. This is done, ideally, on a daily basis and ends up in the freezer, dinner table, or flower vase. Examples are snap beans, peas, leafy herbs such as basil and marjoram, cucumbers, squashes, arugula, zinnias, bachelor’s buttons, cosmos, snapdragons. And many more.

Replant after spring greens with carrots, leeks, and turnips, for example. They make great fall and storage crops but we are not so much interested in them in spring, when we hunger for tender greens and peas. Have seed for another crop of bush beans ready and growing in cells. Radicchio makes a wonderful fall crop, being usable through the winter and into the following spring when properly protected. Plant a row of storage squash such as butternut, delicata, or acorn.

As soon as a crop appears to slow down or be on the way out, do not waste time: get rid of it. Have a replacement crop ready to plant in its place. This is what successional sowing means.

Consider a warm-weather cover crop for spaces that will be empty for a while. The easiest is buckwheat. It germinates and comes up immediately. Let it grow to about a foot tall and flower, and then turn it in. Wait perhaps two weeks before planting in that spot, to allow for decomposition.