Carol Michel is a freelance writer with a degree in horticulture from Purdue University. She regularly blogs about gardening at maydreamsgardens.com.
 

 
 

The Procrastinator’s Garden
by Carol Michel - posted 06/11/18

Once built, a raised bed garden makes it easier to plant earlier in the spring without having to till a garden.


If you are reading this well after Memorial Day, and you are wishing you had planted a vegetable garden this spring, but think now it is too late, you are in luck. It is not too late to plant a vegetable garden and reap an abundant harvest.

With a few adjustments from the traditional approach of planting earlier in the spring when you believe there will be no more frost in the garden, you can enjoy late-planted vegetables.

Here are some tips for a late-planted vegetable garden.


Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and green beans can all be planted late and still produce a good harvest.


Forget cool-season vegetables
Cool-season vegetables include cabbage (Brassica oleracea), broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) and cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis), plus lettuces (Lactuca sativa), spinaches (Spinacia oleracea), peas (Pisum sativum) and radishes (Raphanus sativus).

Some vegetable varieties, such as ‘Basket Boy’ tomatoes are ideal for growing in containers and can be purchased well into the growing season.

These crops should have been planted well before the last frost, and they will quickly fade out as the days get warmer. Even if you still find plants for these vegetables for sale, don’t be tempted to buy them and plant them late. Just make a note to plant earlier next year. Of course, if you bought plants earlier and just never planted them, go ahead and plant them now. You may still get a small harvest before they bolt and send up a flower stalk.


Check number of days to harvest
Look at the days to harvest on the seed packets. Since you are planting late, you are no longer concerned about the last frost of the spring. You should figure when your first frost is historically likely to happen. Then count back from that date to see how many days are left in the growing season.

Many vegetables, including snap or green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) and summer squash (Cucurbita pepo), need as few as 50 days from seed sowing to produce their first crop. These are good choices for late sowing in the garden. You can also still sow seeds for beets (Beta vulgaris) and carrots (Daucus carota sativus).

Forget the idea of growing vegetables like winter squashes (Cucurpita sp.), muskmelons (Cucumis melo) and pumpkins (Cucurbita maxima), which in some cooler years need every day from the last frost of spring to the first frost of fall to produce a worthwhile crop. For other in-between crops, which usually need 60 or 80 days to harvest such as sweet corn (Zea mays), choose an earlier-ripening variety.

 

Setting up a stock tank planter takes a bit of time, but it will make it easier to quickly plant in future years.
 

Raised beds to the rescue
If you never seem to find the opportunity when the weather is good, the soil is dry and you have the time to till up the ground for a vegetable garden, consider building a few raised beds. Once built, raised bed gardens are easy to maintain from year to year. In the spring, the soil in the raised beds warms up faster so it is ready with little prep for you to sow seeds for cool-season crops in late March and plant other crops earlier, too. Just remove overwintering weeds, rake the soil and plant.


Buy bigger plants
Start off with bigger plants of tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), peppers (Capsicum annuum) and eggplant (Solanum melongena) to plant in the garden. Many of these vegetables are purchased as seedlings in the springtime or started from seeds indoors six weeks or so before they can be planted outside. If you are planting well after Memorial Day, look for plants that have been potted up to grow in bigger containers and plant those in your garden. Avoid seedlings that have been languishing on the garden center shelves in their original small pots. They won’t take off suddenly in your late planted garden.
 

Containers like SmartPots are ideal for growing vegetables and take little time to fill and plant.

Grow vegetables in large pots
Grow your vegetables in large containers. If you missed what you thought was the window of opportunity to start a vegetable garden because you didn’t have an area tilled up and ready to plant, and still don’t have time to prepare a garden for planting, set up a container garden.

There are many options for container gardens, ranging from large plastic pots to specialty growing pots, such as SmartPots (smartpots.com). These specialty pots are made out of a heavy, breathable fabric that encourages better root growth, which in turn grows a stronger plant.

Or consider something even larger and more permanent using galvanized stock tanks. In areas where the soil is poor but there is plenty of sunlight, these are a good option to consider.

Regardless of which container you use, use a good soil mix to grow the vegetables in, and remember to fertilize and water regularly. Some container-grown vegetables might need to be watered every day during the hottest days of the summer, so put the containers in a location where it is convenient to water them.

Also, look for varieties of vegetables that are labeled as “patio” or otherwise suitable for containers. These are becoming more common in the garden centers each year.

 

A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Carol Michel and Court’s Yard and Greenhouse.

 

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