Is It Time To Plant For Summer?

Apr 08, 2014

tomato plants

It is almost time to plant summer flower and vegetable plants outside.

April is the month to get your vegetable garden ready to grow summer herbs and vegetables such as squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and basil. It is also time to plant annuals and perennials for summer flowers. Many varieties of summer vegetables, herbs, and pollinator friendly perennials will be available at the Pender Extension Master Gardener plant sale, April 11 and 12, at the Pender Extension office in Burgaw.

Prepare for Success

Well prepared soil is the backbone of a healthy, productive vegetable garden and landscape. Before you plant, make sure to do a good job preparing your soil by spreading 2” to 4” of compost over the soil surface and then tilling it in 6” to 8” deep. Compost adds some nutrients to your soil but usually not enough to support a healthy vegetable crop or vigorous flower bed. Applying an organic or slow release fertilizer in addition to compost will ensure your vegetables and flowers have the nutrients they need to keep blooming and producing.

This is also a good time to apply lime if your soil pH is below 6.0. Many soils in southeastern coastal NC have high soil pH and should not be limed. To determine if your garden needs lime, pick up boxes and instructions for soil sampling from your local Extension office and submit soil samples to the NC Department of Agriculture’s soil testing lab in Raleigh. Learn more about soil testing:

What You Can Plant: Vegetables and Herbs

Summer herbs, vegetables and annuals flowers should be planted after the threat of frost has passed. The average last frost date for our area is around April1 at the coast and April 15 for inland areas. We cannot rule out a light frost later in April, so keep an eye on the forecast and be prepared to protect newly planted tender plants by covering them with an old sheet or floating row cover if frost is predicted.

Some vegetables are typically planted in the garden as seed, while others do better when planted as young plants. Vegetables that are direct seeded include butter and lima beans, green beans, southern peas, corn, and peanuts. While corn, butter/lima beans and green beans can be seeded in mid April, southern peas, which include field peas, black eye peas and cow peas, along with peanuts, need warm soil to grow and should not be planted outside until late April or early May.

Because they take a long time to grow from seed, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are usually planted in the garden as plants in April. Tomatoes can be planted earlier (early-mid April) than eggplant and peppers (mid April – May), which are particularly sensitive to cool weather. Many types of peppers do well in our area, including bell and banana peppers, as well as most types of hot peppers. Eggplants are another fairly easy crop, but tomatoes can be more challenging because of the many disease problems that affect them.

If you have found tomatoes difficult to grow in your garden because of diseases that cause them to wilt and die, your best option is to try growing them in large containers filled with potting soil. Of the many types of tomatoes that are grown, cherry tomatoes are the easiest and most productive, and are a great choice for beginning gardeners.

Cucumbers, squash, zucchini, cantaloupe and watermelons can be seeded directly into the garden or planted as young plants. Seed or plant cucumbers, squash and zucchini in mid-April but wait until late April to sow melons. When direct sown, these vegetables are often planted in hills, with 3 or 4 seed planted on mounds spaced 2’ to 4’ apart. Try planting squash and zucchini as early in the season as possible, even if you means you have to protect them from frost, to avoid damage from squash vine borer, a destructive pest of squash and pumpkins that becomes active in early summer.

What You Can Plant: Flowers to Support Pollinators

Honeybee on basil

Allow herbs such as basil to bloom to attract bees or plant flowers for the bees.

Whether or not you are planting your vegetable garden this year, be sure to include flowers in your landscape to support beneficial insects and pollinators. Pollinators such as honey bees are essential for good fruit set in many summer fruit and vegetable crops. Beneficial insects, including ladybugs, hover flies, lace wings, and parasitic wasps are important predators of pest insects and can help control insect problems in your garden naturally.

Flower varieties that are attractive to pollinators and beneficial insects include annuals such as sunflowers, cleome, zinnias, and cosmos. All of these flowers can be seeded in the garden in April. Popular pollinator friendly perennials include purple coneflower, black-eyed susans, gaillardia, yarrow, asters, and goldenrod. Perennials are especially valuable to pollinators because their nectar is typically richer than that of annual flowers. Learn more about planting for pollinators:

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