fter the rush of customers from Mothers’ Day through Memorial Day, garden centers begin to slow down as summer arrives, but according to Russ Bedner, owner of Bedner’s Farm and Greenhouse in Cecil, summer planting can actually be beneficial for many plants.
“There’s a lot of advantage to planting later in my opinion,” he said of tender crops like tomatoes and peppers. Warmer air and soil temperatures will get these warm weather varieties off to a great start.
“If you do plant those kind of veggies in the ground and the soil temperatures are not at least 50 degrees, they’re just going to sit there,” said Bedner.
Warmer nights will also help make tomatoes, peppers, beans, vine crops and others happy.
The fact that there’s usually not as much rain in early summer can be another plus. “When we’re getting a ton of rain and that soil doesn’t get a chance to dry out in between those rains, you could end up with some fungal issues,” Bedner said. “If you actually did a comparison and planted something early and something late, you might not even see the difference in the size of the plant over the next month.”
Bedner is also a fan of heirloom tomatoes for planting now. “I think those are the best,” he said with a smile. “They have a thinner skin and the taste is 10 times better than a hybrid in my opinion.”
Red Brandywine, Pink Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and Mortgage Lifter are some of his favorites. Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter is the full name of the last heirloom he mentioned. It has an interesting backstory.
In the 1930s, Radiator Charlie had a radiator shop at the bottom of a mountain in West Virginia. Trucks would fill up with water at his shop before trying to cross the mountain. Without any plant breeding experience, he took four of his favorite large tomato varieties and crossed them to create a plant he was able to sell for one dollar apiece in the 1940s. He raised $6,000 and paid off the mortgage on
Mortgage Lifter is a pink tomato that’s big—one to two pounds each—and low acid, meaty, which produces heavy yields and has vines that can reach nine feet tall.
Early Girl is another popular tomato, Bedner adds, which puts on fruit quickly.
It might be getting a little late for planting some of the cool-weather greens or peas, but lettuce, cabbage, kale, broccoli are all fine to put in the ground now.
For growing in containers, Bedner said bigger is better. Tomatoes need at least a five-gallon pot, but larger containers than that will make your life easier. The same is true for hanging baskets filled with flowers—look for the biggest you can find. “That’s going to mean less watering—you’ll be watering more frequently with a smaller pot. It’s not to say that it can’t be done,” Bedner said. “You just have to be diligent.”
The greenhouse is continually updated with newly planted flowers and vegetables, as many gardeners plant later in the season. Last year’s cool spring meant lots of summer planting. “We might not have everything that we would carry typically in spring, but we definitely have a summer crop coming behind it and within that summer crop, we actually have different colors, different cultivars, or even completely different plants than we would normally,” remarked Bedner.
Plants grown later in the greenhouse can also take the summer heat.
You can still start vine crops like cucumbers, zucchini, squash and melons from seed, sowed directly in the garden, along with pole beans, Swiss chard, beets and a host of other varieties.
Bedner advises to put some plants in too, so that the harvest keeps coming. “To keep you in stock all summer long because you typically get about a month or so of good picking and then they start to decline,” he said of continued planting. “So having a nice follow-up succession planning coming behind them is always a
When it comes to fertilizing the vegetable garden, he said wait until the time is right.
“We always recommend that you don’t fertilize until you actually get a fruit set,”
he said. “If you’re giving a nitrogen fertilizer to those plants, you’re going to be putting on all lush, green growth.”
For flowers, fertilize all summer to keep them growing strong. For the ornamental shade garden he suggests, caladiums, different types of begonias, impatiens and lobelia. Some newer caladiums can take more sun as can New Guinea impatiens.
Out in the sun garden, you can’t go wrong with petunias, calibrachoa (million bells) and marigolds, but Bedner has another interesting plant to discuss. “Angelonia is one of my favorites that I think is pretty underused. Some of the newer varieties that are coming out now have like a really big flower on them and they flower all summer long and they love the heat. They love the drought, the dry weather,” he said.
Herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary and more can grow in the garden or in containers too this time of the year. They all love dry hot weather.
When asked about something off the beaten path, that particularly does well late in the season, Bedner paused for a second and said “one of my favorites is passion flower vine—that’s what we named our winery, Passiflora Springs.” The beautiful flower is underused in the landscape, he said, because it doesn’t really start blooming well until June and then will flower all summer.
June is Perennial Gardening Month, making it the perfect time to add some of the plants that will come back season after season and in many cases, increase in size over the years.
You can also plant trees and shrubs this time of the year, but Bedner warns that they will need proper care through the summer. “Be diligent with your watering; the slow and deep watering on trees and shrubs is what I always recommend,” he said. “Set the hose with a little trickle and put that hose right at the base of the plant, and just let it run for about five minutes.” If Mother Nature doesn’t provide moisture, these plants could need water every few days.
For gardeners who missed the spring rush, don’t worry Bedner adds, there’s still plenty of time to plant the garden of your dreams.
If you didn’t get to it in May, get the bulk of your planting in June. You’re going to do OK.