Virginia Cooperative Extension

Between the Rows - A Guide to Vegetable Gardening
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May in the Vegetable Garden: Wanting More Space
Welcome veggie gardeners! VCE supports local gardeners with a host of resources, including free classes, plant clinics and this newsletter. Want to know more? Subscribe here to receive future issues. Missed out on past issues? You can get them all here.
Garden Guide
May To Do List
  • Continue to harvest cool weather crops to encourage growth until plant is spent
  • Continually deadhead greens and herbs by pinching or snipping florets or seed heads off the top of the plant to prevent the plant from bolting and becoming bitter to taste
  • Direct sow: summer squash, okra, beans, corn, and cucumbers; or resow beans, squash, and corn if first sowing failed
  • Continue to start from seed indoors: cucumbers, beans, melon, okra, potatoes, pumpkin, squash
  • Cover any cool weather crops with a light shade cloth to allow plants to continue growing, as temperatures rise (or consider intercropping to protect and extend early Spring crops, among other benefits)
  • Transplant some of your hardened-off seedlings:  tomatoes, peppers, beans, okra, sweet corn, squash, and melon
  • Place cages, stakes, and trellises for vertically climbing plants (such as pole beans, tomatoes, melon and squash) when transplanting to avoid damaging the plant or disturbing the roots as the plant gets bigger
  • Protect new plantings with temporary cover in case of an unanticipated late frost
  • Delay planting basil until temperatures rise
  • Delay transplanting eggplant for as long as possible to avoid flea beetle infestation
  • Resist buying cooler weather transplants, such as cilantro or dill, that may not do as well as temperatures rise
  • Water deeply early in the morning, and try to avoid getting the leaves of the plant wet
  • Lightly mulch around the base of the plant
  • Place straw around garlic plants to keep soil cool and hydrated; harvest garlic scapes when tender
  • Mound up soil around potato starts, and also leeks and carrots, as plants grow taller
  • If you started sweet potato slips indoors continue to monitor growth of off-shoots
Plant, Pest or Other Garden Questions?

Contact the VCE Horticulture Help Desk 

Knowledgeable Virginia Cooperative Extension volunteers are available to answer questions Monday-Friday from 9am to noon.
Continuously harvest loose greens to encourage additional growth using the so-called "cut and come again" method by removing only individual outer (larger) leaves and leaving the center (smaller) leaves so they can continue to growWhen harvesting chives, cut around base of the plant and don't pull the whole plant to allow more to grow back. Broccoli heads are ready to harvest when they get to be about 4-8 inches across. Broccoli leaves are edible and work well as a cooked green.

During the first few weeks of May you will be planting your summer hardy vegetables and watching them grow as the the temperature continues to warm up. Avoid common gardening mistakes caused by rushing to put some plants in the ground too early. In particular, delay transplanting or sowing basil outdoors until the daytime temperature is in the 70s, and the nighttime temperature is above 50ºF. See the
latest the quarterly Herb Supplement and other information on planting other types of herbs.

Tomatoes also prefer warmer soils, and grow best when daytime temperatures range from 70-80ºF, and night temperatures range 60-70ºF. Tomato transplants should be planted as deeply as possible, pinching off some of the lower branches to encourage additional roots to form along the buried main stem of the plant. Placing crushed egg shells at the base of the ball root of the tomato plant may prevent calcium deficiency and blossom end rot. For guidance on growing tomatoes. see here and here.

Intercropping refers to
growing two or more crops at the same time within the same area to encourage beneficial interactions between the two, such as complementing each plant's nutritional needs and discouraging some plant pests, but also providing shade and protection to plants by underplanting one variety (e.g., carrots, greens) next to a taller plant (e.g., tomato, corn). Try to keep cooler-weather crops on the north side of a taller plant (e.g., grow spinach under the trellis of a south-facing climbing cucumber plant). For information on intercropping, see here and here.

Hopefully, you’ve worked out a regular maintenance schedule for your garden. April's post discussed best practices for watering your garden and thinning out seedlings to prevent overcrowding. It is also important to regularly inspect your garden. Pull weeds when they first sprout, cut off and pick up dead leaves, and remove plants that look diseased or sick. Dispose of all unwanted items in the garbage, not in a pile in the garden.

If you’re like most gardeners, you may be wishing you had more space to plant. If this is the case, consider container gardening as a way to expand your garden without digging up more yard. Many vegetables grow successfully in containers that can be placed on a garden’s edge, deck, or balcony. Containers can vary from clay and plastic pots to milk jugs to empty barrels. A wide variety of fruiting plants (tomatoes, peppers), root plants (carrots, radishes), leafy plants (lettuce, peas), and herbs can be grown. To learn more about container gardening, look here and here.

If you need more hands-on exposure, consider visiting VCE's Organic Demonstration Garden or attending its Open House held each Spring and Fall at the Potomac Overlook Regional Park located at 2845 Marcey Road in Arlington, VA. The focus of VCE's Organic Vegetable Demonstration Garden is to educate the public on growing an urban vegetable garden using organic production methods. Master Gardeners are available to answer questions about growing vegetables in the Northern Virginia area, among other aspects of vegetable gardening, such as getting started, gardening in raised beds, soil testing, soil preparation, and planting times. Information on VCE's educational events is available here.

Do you have extra transplants you don't need? Consider donating any extra vegetable seedlings and starts to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). AFAC has clients who are gardeners and would welcome getting seedlings to plant in their yards or on their balconies. Favorite plants include: tomatoes, tomatillos, and sweet and hot peppers. Surplus harvests are also welcome.  For information, see ("Plot Against Hunger") or contact Puwen Lee at
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