Photo: National Gardening Association
Whether you live up North or in Southern California, sometimes the growing season feels too short. If you're craving more time to enjoy your vegetable harvest and admire your flowers, read the following tips to learn how to stretch the life of your garden.
Spend a little extra time in the off-season and enjoy your crops for longer. Plant seeds of certain long-season crops indoors in pots well before the last frost date in your area. Start tomatoes, peppers and eggplants 8 weeks early, cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, kale and other related plants) about 4-6 weeks early, and vine crops 1 week early. In the fall, extend your harvest by planting second crops of short-season vegetables, such as snap beans, peas, greens, radishes, cole crops and turnips later in the season so they mature after you harvest the first crop.
Some areas around your property warm up faster in the spring, stay cooler or warmer in the summer, or are protected from the wind. Use these protected sites to grow vegetables earlier or later in the season. For example, you can grow an extra early crop of cold-hardy spinach or lettuce on the sunny south side of a building.
If you live in a cold climate, use black plastic to warm the soil in spring and retain extra heat in fall. If you're in a hotter climate, use reflective white plastic to keep the soil cooler. Cover the edges of the plastic with soil to anchor it in place. Mulches, such as Scotts® Nature Scapes® Advanced Color Enhanced Mulch, also moderate soil temperature, preventing hot and cold extremes.
In spring and fall, freezing temperatures limit plant growth in northern latitudes and at high elevations. Cover early- and late-season plantings with mini-greenhouses made from clear plastic, old window sashes set on hay bales, or fabric row covers. On warm days, vent the covers to prevent excessive heat buildup.
Start and end the gardening season with cold-hardy vegetables that tolerate frost, such as peas, lettuce, cole crops, beets and chard. Look for vegetables with varieties better suited to grow in cold, short-day climates. Read seed packets and catalog descriptions to find vegetables that meet your particular needs.
Season extenders that are smaller than greenhouses, such as plant protectors and cold frames, will give you a few additional weeks to the season, not months. Plant protectors come in many shapes and forms, from full row covers that extend down an entire length of the garden, to recycled plastic milk jugs, to water jackets, which are water-filled plastic tubes that you can wrap around plants such as tomatoes to extend their season outside. You can set these in place over newly transplanted plants to help warm the soil and protect the plants from a few degrees of frost.
A cold frame is a simple, unheated structure that uses the power of the sun to warm the interior and get plants off to an early start. Most cold frames are made from lumber and are built so that the back of the frame is higher than the front and the cover slopes downward, facing the sun. Recycled windows and glass-front doors make great cold frame covers and the frame can be built to fit their dimensions. They don't have to be fancy, just functional. Cold frames are great for getting a jumpstart on the season. Early crops of lettuce and spinach can be grown to maturity in a cold frame while your neighbors are still waiting for the snow to melt. .
Grow some plants, such as cold-tender herbs and dwarf fruit trees, in containers that you can move indoors and outdoors as weather permits. You can cover hardy root crops with a 6- to 12-inch-thick layer of straw or other natural mulch in fall to prevent the soil from freezing and harvest them as needed throughout the winter.
Original article courtesy of the National Gardening Association