Still Time to Plant Warm-Season Vegetables

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If you haven’t gotten around to it, there is still time to plant vegetables such as squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. These warm-season vegetables are best planted after the last frost date which in our area is around April 15th. But as we know, nature doesn’t go by a calendar. Late spring frosts have occurred over into the month of May. As daytime temperatures reach into the mid to upper 70’s, soils have warmed enough to be at optimum levels for a successful vegetable garden.

Traditional in-ground gardening is ideal for working in an area with good quality soil. These home gardens are what many of us remember growing up, some reaching a half-acre or more. For those with less space and less than ideal soil, raised beds can achieve success with vegetables on a smaller scale. A soil test can give you the most reliable indication of levels of nutrients in your garden areas. ‘Edible’ landscapes involve planting vegetables and herbs interspersed throughout ornamental gardens. Some plants are attractive enough to fit right in with the landscape. Many dwarf selections of vegetables can be grown in containers if outdoor space is limited. Use of intensive gardening methods such as square foot gardening or vertical gardening concentrates water, fertilizer and management on those specific areas, optimizing use of the space. Any one or a combination of any of these types of gardens can produce a fresh variety of warm-season vegetables.

Plants such as squash and cucumbers can be grown as seed sown directly into the soil, or grown as transplants. Plant at the recommended depth and spacing Warm-season vegetablesaccording to the directions on the seed packet label. Tomatoes and peppers should be planted as transplants. Select disease and pest resistant varieties. Water seed until established and mature plants at the root zone to avoid foliar diseases. A one or two inch layer of mulch will keep plants free of weeds and help maintain constant moisture and temperature levels.

To help deter the buildup of insects and disease, avoid growing the same types of plants in the same spots year after year. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are members of the nightshade family. Plants like cucumber, squash and melon are all cucurbits. Plan a three-to-four year rotation to prevent crops from the same plant family from being planted in the same space in succession. This will reduce the likelihood of nematodes and pest and disease recurrence. For more information, check out our Gardener’s Handbook. Specific plants are vulnerable to specific pests, so please choose the least toxic pest management strategy available. Remember the importance of our pollinators and avoid spraying plants in bloom if at all possible.

Summer is almost here bringing long days and warm nights filled with the sounds of life around us. While awaiting your harvest, patronize our farmers’ market or one of our local farm stands and see what you have to look forward to. There is nothing quite like the taste of fresh food just a few minutes from the sunshine. How fortunate we are to have these good things from the good earth.

Gail Griffin is an Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteer with N.C. Cooperative Extension in Lee County.