What’s Growing On: Protecting seedlings, transplants from weather, pests

(Robert Fisher photo) Tomato seedlings at seven weeks.

At the end of March, this column discussed the different times to sow vegetables.

Spinach, peas and Swiss chard were among those that can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked. If you planted those in early April, they should be growing well as you read this. Other vegetables, including beans, squash and corn, are heat-loving crops that should be planted at the end of May or the beginning of June when the cold weather is behind us. That is also the time to plant out tomatoes.

A successful crop depends on several things. The first is the provision of a garden plot or raised bed with well-drained soil with sufficient organic matter or compost to hold moisture for the plants. Another is the maintenance of an environment in which your crops can grow uniformly without periods of stress such as wind, drought and cold. It is important to keep them growing steadily to produce a good harvest.

Young seedlings and transplants that have not been properly hardened off outside are susceptible to damage by strong winds. Agricultural fabric used as a row cover, or hoop tunnels covered with the same material, will protect rows. A search of YouTube for garden hoop tunnels provides options for constructing simple and cheap tunnels. Individual plants can be protected with plastic jugs with the bottoms cut out so they can be placed over the plants, or plastic covers are available at garden centres.

Small plants that have not yet developed strong root systems are susceptible to stress from lack of water. If more than two or three days go by without rain, they will benefit from watering. Apply water with a gentle rain setting so as not to wash the soil away from around the plants. Also, be careful not to overwater, vegetables do not like wet feet or standing water around them as it cuts off the oxygen supply to their roots and provides an opportunity for root rot to start.

Tunnels used to protect plants from wind also function to protect plants from cold. Warm weather crops, including tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash, are particularly sensitive to cool weather. These crops should be covered with garden fabric tunnels or not planted out until the danger of frost is passed. They can be helped further by covering the ground with plastic during the entire growing season. Garden centres carry a red plastic for this purpose and this keeps the roots warmer and reflects light back into the foliage.

Your vegetables also need to be protected from weeds, which by their nature often grow vigorously and will compete for water and nutrients and, if they become large enough, can shade vegetable seedlings that may be slow to become well-established. Weeding, therefore, is essential. An additional aid to managing weeds is the use of straw mulch. This is standard for strawberries where it serves the additional purpose of keeping the berries off the soil, and it can be used with other crops such as squash and pumpkins. Lawn clippings can also be used to mulch between the rows.

Finally, there is one other role for row covers, which is to protect crops from insect pests. Crops in the cabbage family, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and turnip, are susceptible to flea beetles and cabbage worms. Floating row covers applied at planting and kept in place for the growing season will protect the crops from these pests.

Upcoming plant sale

By-the-Sea Gardeners is hosting its plant sale on May 27, 9 a.m.-noon, at Wesley United Church, 77 William St., Saint Andrews.

By-the-Sea Gardeners is a community group that provides a forum for gardeners in the Saint Andrews area to share their interest and enthusiasm in gardening. To learn more about us, follow By the Sea Gardeners Club – St. Andrews on Facebook. Contact: Richard Tarn at 506-529-3110 or Mike Hutton at 506-529-3629.