Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hyenas and earthworms

This is it, dear reader, the big gardening week-end is coming up here in Southern Ontario. I was out grocery shopping yesterday and at the garden centre set up in the parking lot people were clamouring over one another like a pack of hyenas to get the last tray of ...(fill it in with your annual flower of choice).
Where you are the big gardening week-end may have already come and gone or you may still have to wait another week or two. So what can we talk about this week? Well, I think that in the spirit of mass planting that will probably be taking place this week-end (here in zone 5b) I’ll touch on planting flowers in your veggie garden to help get the most from it and about dangers that are still possible at this point in the season.

I’ve mentioned previously that while I’m no flower gardener I do at least have some success growing those flowers that are beneficial to my veggie garden. Some of these include sunflowers, pansies, marigolds, daisies and the like. If you want to incorporate these flowers into your veggie garden now is the time to do it. These flowers attract beneficial insects to your garden that will kill off predator bugs and, in turn, keep your crops healthy. One of my favourite flowers to grow is marigolds because they don’t spread to the point of choking out your veggies and they attract a lot of different “good” bugs. My other favourite is sunflowers because not only do they attract good bugs, when the flower starts to go to seed they also attract birds who eat bugs as well. As for my sunflowers that have made a return appearance here’s where they are now in their growth:

This week-end, although I won’t be planting too many veggies, I will be transplanting these little guys to their new home. As an illustration on how to safely move plants (flowers or veggies) that have already started growing I’ll do a little demo with one of the sunflowers. First decide where you’d like to move your plant and make sure that the soil has been turned over. All that requires is digging a hole and breaking up any soil that’s particularly clumpy. You may want to move your flowers to a planter and in that case the same thing applies, just make sure that you have enough soil to set the flower/ veggie in and leave enough room to top up the soil around the plant afterwards.
After that’s been decided, you can dig out your plant. Now, depending on the size of your plant this may require anything from a small hand spade to a full blown ‘use your foot to get it in the ground’ kinda spade. In this case, we just need the hand sized one. Dig out around your plant about 1-2 inches and as deep as you can go.

I can’t stress this enough that it’s important to handle your plants gently and to make sure that you get as much of the root system as possible. With this in mind you’ll also want to make sure that you dig up some of the soil with your plant so it doesn’t get shocked when you move it to the new location. This is more applicable if you’re moving the plant from a garden to planter or vice versa. Below you can see the dug out sunflower and it’s roots (and an earthworm!):

Then, plant it in it’s new home and that’s it. After transplanting make sure you water it to encourage the roots to set in their new home. Yes, dear reader, it’s really that simple. See? A happy sunflower sits in it’s new home below:

So now that you’re getting itching to plant things I should make you aware of the hazards of planting early in the season. The obvious concern is the weather. It can still get frosty out and nothing ticks off a baby plant more than getting frostbite or pegged by hail. Heck, that would get most any species upset. So maybe you can start plating this week-end or next (or maybe you’ve got things in the ground already) but are concerned about aforementioned meteorological calamities. An easy fix to this is to invest in some type of cover for your plants either in the form of a dome cover or sleeve. These items, which can be purchased at most gardening centres, include long plastic domes or Walls-o-water. In previous years I’ve used walls-o-water and they’ve proven to be very handy at protecting young plants from adverse winds and keeping them warm when the nighttime temps drop close to freezing. If you have the money to spend on these (and they’re well worth it) they run about $7-$9 and come in a one-size- fits-all sleeve. They’re a bit tricky to set up so it helps if you have an extra set of hands helping as you’re filling up the compartments with water.
If you want to keep your gardening budget to a minimum you can also use 2L pop bottles cut in half or a cardboard milk carton, again, cut in half. Using the end that has an opening, to let the air circulate, just place them over your plant and push them into the soil about 1" or so for stability. With that you’ll have a home-made plant cover!
After transplanting they may suffer from bouts of sun scald or wind burn but providing none of these are too severe your plants should adapt well to their new home and be growing like crazy in no time.

So there you have it, an easy guide to moving plants around and what you’ll need to keep an eye on for your transplants when they do finally make their way to the garden. If the weather is co-operative where you are this week-end, dear reader, I encourage you to get out there and get your hands in the dirt!

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