Marianne Binetti

Don’t rush to plant garden in May

The third week of May is when you may be tempted to plant everything into your vegetable garden, and it is true that tomatoes, squash, beans and basil will survive if put into the ground in mid May.

But hold on.

We still can be hit with cool night temperatures that dip below 50 degrees, and while those chilly nights might not mean death to the warmth loving veggies, it could stunt their growth. Experienced gardeners wait until the first or even the second week of June before leaving basil outdoors overnight. And unless you have a raised bed or a hot spot against a west- or south-facing wall, your tomatoes will do better if you delay planting until June.

Planting the seeds of corn, beans and squash this week also is a gamble. The seeds might sprout, but a cool night could send the new seedlings into a dreary funk with little growth. If you wait until the second week of June, the seeds will sprout sooner in the warm soil and without the worry of cool nights. The new sprouts will quickly catch up with any seeds that were planted in May.

That means you have extra time to prepare the soil by removing weeds, adding compost or other organic matter, and working fertilizer into the soil where you will be planting vegetables.

Coleus is another plant that hates cool nights. If you plant coleus outdoors, grow it in pots so you can move the plants close to the house at night until mid June.

Q. I want to start growing my own vegetables, but deer are a problem in our neighborhood. What do you recommend to keep deer away from my vegetable garden? K. email

A. Using deer repellent sprays on your food crops is not recommended. A fence is the best defense for deer. They are browsers and will taste anything. You do not need to spend a lot of money fencing off a deer-free zone. Farm and home centers now sell black plastic webbing on a roll made to create an almost invisible deer fence.

You just supply the sturdy fencing posts, using metal rebar or stakes that will rise 7 feet from the ground and attach the flexible fencing material with plastic ties or staples. You will need to construct a gate or leave a flap that can be opened and closed in the fence line. The webbed plastic disappears from a distant view, and if secured to the ground with pegs, it will keep out raccoons, cats and dogs.

Q. If you were to recommend some vegetables for a child’s first edible garden, what would you suggest? I will be helping with the garden but am not that experienced at growing food myself. G.G., Buckley

A. Welcome to incredible edibles. My first suggestion is to plant what you both like to eat. Radishes are quick to sprout, and a harvest can be had in as little as 30 days, but most kids don’t appreciate the sharp bite of a fresh radish. You might want to start with bush beans and cherry tomatoes instead.

Don’t forget you can plant nasturtium seeds now for summer-long color, and the leaves, blossoms and seed pods are all edible and fun to add to summer salads or as a pickle substitute inside a hamburger. Some young gardeners prefer fruit to vegetables. Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are all crops that do especially well in the cool summer climate of Western Washington.

Q. I am tired of green tomatoes at the end of the summer. Which varieties that taste better than “Early Girl” will ripen up and turn red before the end of September? I already grow my tomato plants in the sunniest spot of the garden. S.M., Renton

A. Look for orange or yellow tomatoes with small fruit if you want to have plenty of flavors from ripe tomatoes. Yellow pear tomatoes, Husky Gold, Gold Nugget and any of the small-fruited cherry tomatoes such as Sweet 100 or Sweet One Million will have a sweeter flavor than the early ripening Early Girl or Early Cascade varieties.

You might also want to make this the summer you use a hoop house of clear plastic or spun polyester over your tomato plants to capture the heat and protect them from cool nights. If you only want a few plants, grow your tomatoes in heat-absorbing black plastic pots that sit against a west- or south-facing wall. Growing them near a mass of concrete such as a driveway or patio will also help to raise the night temperature and encourage early ripening of the fruit.

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