June 2022

It’s not over, not by any means. There is still plenty of time left to garden even though we just past the summer solstice on June 21st. There are many different kinds of plants that can go in as seeds right now and still produce a bountiful harvest before the end of the growing season. With oil prices up, food prices are up as well. Remember, it takes a lot of oil to grow, harvest, and transport our food. A good home garden is the most environmentally friendly way to deal with this, and you will save yourself a bundle in the process. Besides, you also cannot beat the fresh taste of home-grown food!

This weed filled garden bed can be turned into a nice, productive vegetable plot with a little effort. Photo by mrl2022.

The only problem with all I have said is that unplanted garden beds can look rather intimidating right now. My unplanted garden beds are filled with weeds that are almost as tall as I am – but I am not scared by this! Any area can easily be converted to planting beds in a few steps. For me, that means mowing down the high grass with either a push mower or a trimmer, and then tilling up the remaining vegetation. I then rake out the big clumps and shake all the dirt off before removal. Now it is time to limestone or add fertilizer, if need be, based on soil tests conducted earlier. If you do not have a tiller, you could pull out or dig out the roots with a shovel, spade or fork. With a bit of hard work, the beds will be all ready to go. Although gardening bed preparation may be a chore, seed planting is quick and easy.

Green beans are probably one of the easiest crops to plant. There are two basic types which have different growth requirements. The first is the pole-type. These will need some type of structure to climb up. It does not have to be pretty, however. Go grab a fallen tree limb and stick that in the ground and it will happily climb up that. In the olden times, people would take three large branches, tie them together at the top, and plant the seeds around the base of each. Cattle panels can work as well either bent over to form an arch, or two on their long side stuck together at the top with worm-gear clamps. Much easier are the bush-type beans as they do not need any support. With either type, keep them picked for two reasons. First, they will continue to produce more beans if you pick them regularly. Also, if the beans are left on the plant too long, they become woody, stringy, and generally unpleasant to eat. Other types of beans can also be planted now as well (Lima, Runner, etc.). All beans will benefit from an inoculation with beneficial bacteria. It is not essential but can help them grow larger and produce more. These inoculants are many times sold near the seed packets. 

Pole-type green beans that will grow up these cattle panels. Photo by mrl2022.

Summer squash is another favorite with plenty of time to produce. Examples include various zucchini types, crookneck, yellow, and pan types. These plants have a nice bush growth habit. I usually mulch the area before planting the seeds so there is no competition from weeds. By the time any weeds would get going, the plants are so large they shade them out. Planting summer squash later sometimes helps avoid the squash vine borers that usually finish egg laying by July 4th. If pests still are a problem in your area, floating row covers will work. These consist of thin fabric that essentially screens in the plants. Be sure to tuck the edges into the soil all around the bottom of the covers. Take the covers off once the plants start flowering so they can be pollinated by beneficial insects. Plant varieties resistant to diseases if you have had trouble in the past. Amend the soil with compost before planting and these veggies will thrive. Keep the plants well watered. It is best to water in the morning, especially when plants are setting fruit. Watering in the evening may encourage powdery mildew and similar diseases.      

Zucchini seedlings just sprouting through the layer of mulch. Photo by mrl2022.

Winter squashes like butternut, acorn, decorative gourds, and pumpkins all can go in now too.  You probably will probably not win the biggest pumpkin contest at the fair, but you can still produce plenty of fruit. These are generally vining types that require an ample amount of space to spread out. Some winter squash are available as a bush or semi-bush type if your space is limited. Read the back of the seed packets and pick the variety best suited for your situation.  These also benefit from incorporation of compost into the soil at planting time. Keep the area weed-free while they are establishing, and their large leaves will do the rest once they get going. 

Another plant that is commonly planted in succession to ensure continual harvest is corn. Now you could do one of the sweetcorn varieties, or you could do ornamental corn. Many people I know, myself included, like the variety of colors produced by the ornamental types. Just be sure to separate corn varieties by the distance recommended on the seed packages to avoid unintended cross pollination, which can have detrimental effects on the edibility of harvested sweet corn. Alternatively, you could plant them at different times to ensure they are out-of-sync at pollination time. 

I am planning on putting in many varieties of sunflowers in during the next week. For continual flowers, plant these at two-week intervals. There are many styles and varieties so you will have to do a little research. They literally come in all shapes and sizes. Plants may be a few feet to more than twelve feet tall. There are ones with a large flower at the top of the stem, or multiple flowers on each plant. If you are planning to use them as cut flowers, try some of the pollenless varieties as they will not release pollen on to your table. There are some kinds that are nice for bird food, and others that are nice for people food. Follow package directions and make sure you are purchasing the correct type for your planned use. Regardless, they all look beautiful in the garden.   

My last suggestion is somewhat of a generic category. Try putting in some flowers. Cosmos are great and quick to grow. Sprinkle a few seeds now and they will be flowering in no time!  Dahlias are also another possibility with their large tuberous roots. The plants may even be starting to sprout in the bag. You could even think about planting seeds of some perennial flowers like Shasta daisies or Echinacea cone flowers. They will not flower this year, but will look great next year. 

The lima beans are sprouting, but the bed needs some quick attention to prevent the weeds from overtaking them. Photo by mrl2022.

So, there you have some easy suggestions for quick, easy plants that can go in the ground now.  The warm soil temperature will help them germinate quickly provided you water them well every few days. Try and disrupt the weed growth with a hoe until crops get going. Most of the plants discussed here will shade the weeds out after that. Now I am going to go take my own advice and get more planting done!

Happy Gardening!

Dr. Matthew Lisy, UConn Adjunct Faculty

Spring in New England has been kind to us gardeners. Temperatures have been on the cool side; weekends were not washout; there was a fair amount of cloudy days, so a lot of gardening work was accomplished, at least by me. I was bitten by the gardening bug as a young child following my grandparents around their gardens when we visited. Throughout most of my life, time in the garden has been very therapeutic, this spring even more so with the unexpected loss of a much-loved spouse. While the veil of loneliness creeps over me inside the house, outdoors it dissipates as we were opposite gardeners. My husband was a morning person and would be out at 7 am or earlier weeding, watering, and tending to his vegetable garden or other outdoor chores. I needed a few cups of coffee to get going on the weekends and after finishing indoor chores, would head out later in the day and during hot weather tended to follow the shade. So, while being alone inside is still very sad and difficult, being by myself to tend to the gardens feels more normal.

Two of my indispensable gardening tools. Photo by dmp2022.

That being said, there is not enough time for one person to keep up with all the outdoor chores so not as many vegetables are being planted but more flowers are. It’s just delightful to be able to collect enough flowers to fill vases in the dining room, kitchen, bath and bedroom, especially colorful or scented ones. Plus, the local garden club I belong to has a ‘flower show’ at the town’s Old Home Day Festival over Labor Day weekend.

Some of the floral arrangements at the Charlton Garden Club’s annual flower show. Photo by dmp2021.

I had already started a number of tomato and pepper plants in late winter planning for lots of meals with stuffed peppers and jars of my special chili sauce as well as fresh and canned tomatoes.

The only consistent animal pest problem we have had is racoons raiding the sweet corn – of course on the night just before it is ready to be picked! So, my husband had erected a fence around the garden we grew sweet corn in but not around the other two beds as they were typically not bothered – until last year when the rabbits ate most of the beans. Our plan was to fence this section in this spring.

 In the fenced garden bed, I planted 11 tomatoes, 4 cultivars of sweet peppers, a couple of eggplants, sweet potato slips (Beauregard), 4 varieties of cukes plus some zinnias, carrots, beets and Swiss chard. To reduce the amount of weeding necessary, I lined the paths with newspapers covered with animal bedding and placed a heat-treated straw mix around the plants. Some weeds will inevitably poke through, but many can be suppressed by a light covering of some type of mulch.

Fenced in and planted vegetable garden number 1 by dmp2022.

Last weekend I tackled the garden plot by the shed. Except for the strip of rhubarb and green onion bed, which I had previously planted with greens and garlic, there were plenty of weeds to deal with.

Vegetable garden number 2 before weeding. Photo by dmp2022.

Among the weeds were hundreds of self-seeding annuals like tall verbena, nigella, nicotiana, tall ageratum, bupleurum, and a few ammi. I transplanted a few of each and added a bed with butternut squash and nasturtium seeds, one with Japanese white hull-less popcorn and filled the other two small beds with seeds of zinnia, cosmos, marigolds and some others. In part of the bed I planted brown mustard seeds. My sister made the best sage mustard recipe last year and I am hoping to be able to harvest seeds, we’ll see how that goes.

Planting popcorn seeds. Photo by dmp2022.

Most of the third vegetable garden I covered with black plastic as I am limited to how much time I have to tend all the gardens, the house, and work full time. I did plant one whole framed raised bed with sunflowers and calendulas though. A few volunteer sunflowers had already shown up so I thought I would plant more. The birds really enjoy the seeds (don’t grow all pollenless varieties) and I am thinking Mr. Rabbit, who I’ve been watching nibbling the clover in the lawn may be the culprit that chomped on a few of the sunflower leaves. I sprayed what was left with deer and rabbit repellent so here’s hoping for the best.

I struggle with the mulch to keep down weeds to save precious time and my back versus providing an organic fortified, cooler, moister situation favoring those invasive snakeworms. While 2 inches of any type of organic mulch would likely keep weeds to a minimum, this provides a perfect habitat for these ecosystem destroying invasive pests. So I typically apply only a light covering of mulch, be it shredded bark, cocoa hulls, shredded office paper, untreated grass clippings or purchased seedling/garden mulch straw products.

It was a bit disappointing this evening when I went out to water newly seeded vegetable hills and rows to notice blades of grass rising through the winter squash bed that I had covered with Lucerne Farms gardening mulch. Since this product claims to be heat treated, I suspect that the sprouting grass seeds might be from the Mainely Mulch I had placed around the tomatoes planted in this bed last year. The Lucerne product claims to be heat treated and therefore, free of weed seeds capable of germinating.  I had used Mainely Mulch in the past with no problems but with all the rain we got last year, it seemed like any seed left in the mulch germinated. My weekend plans are to go through all the beds I just planted and pull the weeds when small.

Finished vegetable garden number 2. Photo by dmp2022.

Oxalis in the mulched herb garden is another challenge – it is so ubiquitous. I pull and pull and still see more plants.

My plan is to just upkeep what I can, not to harvest more vegetables than I can handle or give away and enjoy lots of flowers (if the rabbit doesn’t eat them).

I hope all of you have had a much happier and productive spring than me but at least it is just mostly maintenance now and the planting is done.

Celebrate the summer solstice!

Dawn P.

Plants need at least eighteen essential nutrients to grow and develop. Deficiencies of any of these essential elements can cause reduced crop yield and quality. For instance, we know that a high protein content in bread flour is essential for quality bread baking while low protein contents in flour is critical for quality cake baking. Aside from genetics, soil fertility management has a big impact on protein content and types of protein in the wheat we use for baking bread or cakes as well as all other crops. Plant proteins contain, among other elements, nitrogen and sulfur. So having adequate supplies of nitrogen and sulfur in the soil for the crop being grown will affect the development of protein in plants. Sufficient amounts of these two elements will guarantee high grain protein content and bread baking quality, while low nitrogen and sulfur availability in soil can lead to low grain protein content and cause poor bread baking quality. Often plants exhibiting nitrogen deficiencies develop yellowing on their lower leaves.

Bottom leaves of tomato turning yellow often indicate nitrogen deficiency. Photo by dmp, UConn

A common problem that we often see in our vegetable gardens is blossom end rot in tomatoes, peppers and summer squash. When conditions are right, the fruits of these plants develop quickly and each new cell that is formed requires calcium. When not enough calcium is available to plants either because there is not enough in the soil or there is not enough moisture to move the calcium from the soil into the plant roots, a calcium deficiency develops and expresses itself as blossom end rot. Also, if you have seen internal brown spot in the potatoes growing in your garden, you may also want to check the calcium level in your soil. Typically, you would do this by checking the soil pH. Since limestone (calcium carbonate) is used to raise the pH as well as supply calcium, if your soil pH is in the 6s, there should be sufficient calcium present in the soil so if you are seeing blossom end rot, it would most likely be due to insufficient watering.

Blossom end rot on tomato. Photo by dmp, UConn

Potassium is another nutrient that crops like potatoes need in high quantity. Potassium not only influences potato tuber yield and size but also potato sugar concentration, hollow heart disorder, even coloring after cooking. Sufficient availability of micronutrients, such as zinc and iron, are important for plants growth and nutrition values. These micronutrients are also essential for human health, and you can often find them in supplements.

Tomato with possible potassium deficiency. Poor locules and thick, mealy walls. Photo by dmp, UConn.

How do we know if our soil is sufficient in these nutrients? Soil testing can give you an idea of your nutrient sufficiency levels in the soil and plant tissue testing can tell you if your plant is accessing these nutrients. Some potential issues that could impact nutrient uptake by your plants include low pH, excessive amounts of another nutrient, poor soil structure and drainage, compaction, and improper watering. For macronutrients, such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium, soil testing is sufficient while for micronutrients, such as zinc, copper, boron, manganese and iron, we recommend testing both your soil and plants if a nutrient deficiency is suspected. If you observe poor plant growth and good plant growth in the same garden or field, it’s best that you take soil and plant samples from both areas and get the samples analyzed separately so that you can compare nutrient levels in these areas. Keep in mind that many diseases have symptoms that mimic nutrient problems so it is always a good idea to send photos of the problems you are seeing to the horticulturists at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (ladybug@uconn.edu).   

Is this a disease on cucumber or nutrient deficiency? Photo by dmp, UConn

For soil testing for garden crops, you can take soil samples at any time of the year, but fall is best. While taking samples before seeding, transplanting of annuals, and greening up of perennials is important to ensure timely application of fertilizer and soil amendment to provide your crops with sufficient nutrients during the whole growing season, keep in mind, that samples submitted in the spring take longer to process because of the higher volume. If samples are submitted in late fall rather than in early spring, recommendations are likely to be identical and if amendments such as limestone, which takes 6 to 18 months to work, are needed, they can be added in the fall so they can start working. Any fertilizer would be added in the spring before planting.

If you notice deficiency symptoms in your plants, it is important to take quick action to try and diagnose the problem and apply fertilizers, soil amendments, or change your cultural practices to deal with nutrient deficiency issues. Although your plant’s health may have declined because of nutrient deficiencies, a rescue application of nutrients can alleviate symptoms and put it on the path to good growth.

Plant tissue testing is primarily recommended for commercial growers because at the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab, there are no recommendations for home gardeners, only commercial vegetable and fruit growers. For commercial growers submitting samples, it is critical to sample the correct plant part at the right growth stage. This is because the tissue test sufficiency ranges that are use to compare your samples are established for that specific plant part and growth stage for a given crop. For example, ten uppermost recent fully developed trifoliate leaves should be sampled from green beans in summer, fifteen compound leaves adjacent to the inflorescences should be sampled during midbloom for field tomatoes, and twenty-five mature leaves from new growth should be sampled during flowering – fruiting should be sampled for peppers. Prior taking your soil and plant samples, please visit University of Connecticut Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory https://soiltest.uconn.edu/ for guidance on when and how the samples should be taken. Feel free to call the lab at (860) 486-4274 if you are considering submitting samples for plant analysis. UConn also has a Plant Diagnostic Lab that can culture plants for diseases.   

Another important thing to remember regarding soil and plant tissue analysis is that it is important to send your samples to your local labs. This is because different labs use different testing procedures that are calibrated for soil types specific in their region and the plants grown in these specific environments. The standard sufficiency levels established are therefore different by state and by region. For example, there are many different soil test procedures being used in the US for soil phosphorus test, however, only modified Morgan testing procedure is used for CT soils due to specific characteristics of our soils in CT.

The bottom line for home gardeners and growers is to do your best to ensure your plants receive the correct amounts of nutrients as well as water to be able to supply the nutrients to our plants. Routinely monitor your plants for insects, disease problems as well as nutrient issues. We are here to help you so feel free to contact the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (www.ladybug.uconn.edu) or UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab (www.soiltest.uconn.ed) if you need help or have questions.

Haiying Tao, Ph. D. Dept of Plant Science LA, UConn

The last few years certainly have been a challenge for many of us.  One unexpected consequence of the pandemic? Many who were quarantined at home decided to become gardeners.  Seed companies reported a boom in sales during the pandemic and, unlike other trends, (zoom cocktails, sourdough starters or dress shirts with pajama bottoms), it looks like gardening is here to stay.  To those new to gardening and to those more seasoned gardeners, we are here to help you every step of the way.  

We are the UConn Home and Garden Education Center, which is made up of three branches; the education center; the soil nutrient analysis laboratory; and the plant diagnostic laboratory. The education center is your first point of contact, where you will be greeted by horticultural consultants Dennis Tsui, Pamm Cooper and Marie Woodward.  Our mission is to answer your questions about anything related to home gardens and landscapes.  Our goal is to give you the best science-based response. In addition, we often rely on our other two branches for information, but that’s just the start of the services they provide. 

Dawn Pettinelli

Good gardening begins with knowing all you can about your soil, and The UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory, headed by Dawn Pettinelli, Associate Cooperative Extension Educator, provides home gardeners a means to test the fertility of their soil and, through a comprehensive report, receive environmentally sound fertilizer and lime recommendations. 

Dr. Nick Goltz

Identifying the cause and nature of plant problems is often the key to maintaining healthy gardens and landscapes, and that’s where Dr. Nick Goltz, plant pathologist, comes in. He heads the Uconn Plant Diagnostic Laboratory and is an expert in diagnosing plant problems including diseases, insect pests and abiotic causes.  Dr. Goltz has a passion for plant health and integrated pest management, (IPM).  He especially enjoys working with homeowners to find holistic and comprehensive solutions for any plant problem they may have.

The three branches of the center are available to gardeners year-round.  To access our services, you can reach us by phone, (860-877-6271), by email, (ladybug@uconn.edu), or you can visit the center the Radcliffe Hicks Arena, 1380 Storrs Road, unit 4115, Storrs, CT. Our hours are Monday- Friday 8:30am -4:30pm.

Collecting and Submitting Samples

One of the most common questions we are asked is how to collect samples that are of good diagnostic quality.  Each laboratory website has detailed instructions on how to do so.  For the Soil Nutrient Analysis lab, there is a page with instructions on how to submit a soil sample at:

Soil Sampling Instructions

The plant diagnosis laboratory has a form with instructions on how to collect plant sample at the bottom of the submission page: 

Plant Submission Form

Samples can be mailed in or brought into our center during our office hours, (see above).

Emailing us with a question?

If you’re emailing us with a question or problem, it can be helpful, (but not necessary), to include a few photos with it.  This can help us determine our response. 

To learn more, you can visit our website: http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/ where you will find the latest news, blogs and fact sheets about all things for your home garden.  We are ready to help make your home garden a success year after year.