Season-Extention Techniques for Heat-Loving Plants

Reader Contribution by Melodie Metje
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It is spring, but you are dreaming of summer veggies.  What to do? Try these season stretchers! There are several tricks to getting a jump on the summer garden.

The first thing you can do to extend the season is to start your seeds indoors or purchase plants from your neighborhood nursery, hardware or big box store. Plants give you a good 2- to 3-week head start from sowing seeds in the garden. Basil, tomatoes, peppers and rosemary are already at my neighborhood stores.

Cloches and fabric. To get your plants a safe and fast start in the garden, you can buy cloches, Wall of Water, a greenhouse, or use a fabric covering to put your plants in or under. If you are using a cloche or green house, be careful to vent anytime the sun is shining or you will fry your plants.  When the sun is out, it gets hot inside the plastic fast!  Temperatures inside greenhouses can climb to over 100 degrees F on a sunny day. Be sure to open the greenhouse or cloche so you don’t roast your plant.

Clear plastic. Another trick is to lay clear plastic over your garden bed two weeks before you are planning on planting. Make sure the soil is watered well first. Clear plastic will raise the soil temperature by 8 to 14 degrees F. This gives your plants a head start when they are placed in the pre-warmed soil. Summer lovers like tomatoes hate cold feet and will just sit in the hole, shivering until the ground temperatures rise. 

Black plastic. Some would think that black plastic would give an even bigger temp boost, but it does not. Temps will raise only by 3 to 5 degrees F. You can either remove the plastic, plant, and then cover with mulch or leave the plastic in place and cut slits into the plastic and plant through the slits. I personally don’t like to leave the plastic in place and use mulch. Wait until the temperatures are on the rise before mulching as mulch can keep the soil from warming if applied too early. This time of year is great in the Midwest to mulch.

Create microclimates. One other thing to consider: The south side of the house will heat up much sooner than the north side. You can give your plants a warmth and growing boost by putting them on the south side up against a wall which will radiate warm back to the plant through the night.

When bolting happens. As temperatures start to warm, you want to keep the crops that like cool spring temperatures in areas that will stay the coolest to prolong the harvest for them. A spring edible gardenwith cool-loving crops like spinach, lettuce, kale, cilantro will bolt when the temperatures start hitting the 80’s. Bolting is when the plant sends up a flower stalk.  Don’t despair; you can save the seeds to replant in the garden.

These are a few ways to get your garden producing sooner rather than later.

Melodie Metje is a retired engineer from Ohio who started her blog, Victory Garden on the Golf Course, to help guide her family’s gardening efforts and to keep track of what was happening in her own garden. She named it after the victory gardens grown to help the WWII effort. Melodie thinks we are in a similar situation today: Our country needs our help in battling the war on ill health. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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