Saturday, March 22, 2014

Root Crops and Dwarf Berries

Get those root crops in the ground! March is a great time to plant beets, carrots, onions, turnips, potatoes and radishes. If you planted radishes last week, chances are they are ready to thin. As we discussed on "Garden Talk" this morning, thinning is essential for many types of food crops. Although it is often difficult to convince beginning gardeners to do so, thinning actually increases yield, because each plant has enough room to perform at its best.

In the case of radishes, they should be thinned early, before true leaves have appeared, for the best quality roots. Leave about two inches between plants. Carrots also demand thinning, and the delicate seedlings should not be left crowded too long. Carrots planted this week will probably not appear above the surface until early April. Besides the approaching cold snap, natural germination inhibitors keep the seeds dormant until they have been wet a few times. Thin carrots to stand three or four inches apart for the largest, most uniform roots, unless you are growing a smaller variety, such as 'Little Finger.' Do this as soon as the feathery true leaves begin to appear. In the case of both radishes and carrots, it is best to snip off the excess seedlings at soil level, rather than pull them, because pulling may injure the roots of neighboring plants.

Radishes and carrots may be planted together in the same row. By the time the carrots germinate, the radishes will be almost mature. The emerging radish seedlings break the soil surface, making it easier for the weaker carrots seedlings to follow them. When you harvest the radishes, you will automatically thin some of the carrots.

For gardeners who just hate to thin, I suggest using seed tapes. They are available for many popular varieties of vegetables with small seeds or that are difficult to thin. Essentially, seeds are evenly spaced out between two thin strips of paper tape. You simply lay the tape in the row and the seeds end up at the correct spacing. This is a big time saver, but the tapes are expensive compared to loose seed.

March and early April provide perfect weather for transplanting nursery stock, and all varieties of fruit and flowering trees and shrubs are showing up in local garden centers. This year, check out the Brazel-berry varieties of blueberries and raspberries that have only recently been introduced into the market. "Brazel-berries" are dwarf varieties of raspberry and blueberry, suitable for small garden spaces or even patio containers. 'Raspberry Shortcake' offers the added benefit of being thornless. Grow it in neutral soil in full sun and harvest berries in mid-summer. The two new brazel-blueberry varieties being offered at Stanley's Greenhouse this year are 'Peach Sorbet' and 'Jelly Bean.' Like standard blueberries, these shrubs prefer acid soil, and can be included in the landscape alongside sun-loving azaleas, such as Encore(TM) types. All the brazel-berry fruits can be grown in large containers, making control of the soil pH simpler than in-ground growing. Besides the obvious benefit of fruit, all these shrubs add color and interest to the landscape. Blueberry foliage turns pink and purple in the fall, too. More information and images at www.brazelberries.com

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