By Barb Delisio

OSU Master Gardener

It’s nearing the end of May, when annual flowers and vegetables can be planted outdoors in the Mahoning Valley. If you haven’t already started with cold weather crops (spinach, lettuce, swiss chard, onions, etc.), now is the time to get your hands in the soil.

Hopefully you’ve already decided what and how much to grow this year and tested the soil to see if anything needs to be added to help your plants. Do you need to make it more acidic or alkaline? Do you need added nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), or potassium (K) to help small starts grow into strong, healthy, good-producing plants? A soil test through OSU Extension will give you the answers.

Decide where each plant should be placed to give it optimum growing conditions. For help, check OSU Extension Factsheets 1601 to 1626, at ohioline.osu.edu, which are arranged alphabetically. Each gives tips such as temperature in which plants grow, planting instructions, insects and diseases, weed control, harvesting and storage, and varieties to choose from.

Vegetable plants prefer eight to 10 hours of sun each day, loose soil with organic matter and well-drained. Flowers, depending on the variety, grow in full sun, partial sun or shade (six hours) or total shade. Read your plant’s tag to determine the sun, water and soil requirements needed to produce a healthy flowering plant.

Most newly planted vegetables and flowers benefit greatly from an application of a starter fertilizer, which have a small amount of N, high P and low K. The high phosphorus helps develop a better root system for the plants to grow in their new environment.

For vegetables, mark off rows with string to get the plants in line and plant at the same depth as in their individual containers, with the exception of tomato and broccoli. If tomato or broccoli plants are spindly, plant in trenches 3 to 4 inches deep and 12 inches apart so only a few top inches of the plant are above soil level. This will help form a strong root system and avoid spindly stems which weaken plants. Place stakes or cages in the soil before planting so as not to drive them through buried stems.

Most vegetables should be planted 12-15 inches apart for good air circulation and optimum sunlight exposure. Many grow better by direct seeding into the now warm soil.

Cucumbers, squash and pumpkins should be “hill” planted.

Seeds only need water and sun, no fertilizer. When new plants emerge, a 10-10-10 fertilizer in the soil would be helpful. Fruiting crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers should be fertilized after the first fruit is set. Adding fertilizer before usually makes more green stems and leaves, but not set fruit. Leaves do not absorb water and fertilizer; this is the function of roots.

The best irrigation is by soaker hoses along the ground over the root zone. Vegetable gardens generally require 1 inch of water per week. It’s best to water in the morning because plants need moisture during the day when they are photosynthesizing. It is important that plants go into the night with dry leaves to produce healthy plants and reduce the possibility of fungal diseases.

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