May Gardening Tips II

Monthly Proven Tips and Solutions for Granite State Gardeners


Starting fruit and vegetables from seed is a great way to get an early start on gardening and grow unique plants not readily available as seedlings. If your seedlings are looking elongated and pale they probably aren’t receiving enough light.

One of the most overlooked aspects of starting plants from seed is light requirements of seedlings. Adequate lighting can be difficult to achieve in an indoor setting, especially if relying solely on grow lights. Some grow lights targeted for homeowner use focus on plant-specific wavelengths of light, but the most important factor is the quantity of light. Crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers require more light for production while leafy greens tend to need less. Fluorescent shop lights are an affordable grow light option, and a similar setup with LED lights will be most energy efficient. A plug-in timer can help ensure that the lights stay on for the correct length of time each day. It’s best to keep the plants as close to the light as possible without touching or you risk burning them. If in doubt about your light setup, trying using a supplemental lighting run time worksheet.

New England properties often have areas with sitting water or poorly drained soils that are not ideal for some of the more common desirable landscape plants. Fortunately, there are many native trees, shrubs and perennials that have adapted to these conditions and can thrive if planted in soils that are wet for much of the growing season.

Native plants are highly recommended for any landscape installation due to the wide range of benefits to insects and wildlife. Wet areas on a property can pose a challenge, as many plants prefer well-drained soils. Year-round beauty can be attained with proper selection of native trees, shrubs and perennials that are tolerant of wet soils.  Some great options to consider for these growing conditions are: Willow (Salix spp.), silver maple (Acer saccharinum), river birch (Betula nigra), redosier dogwood (cornus sericea), summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium spp.), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).

Rototilling the garden every year may be a common practice, but is it necessary? Research has shown that in some cases it may do more harm than good. Low and no-till gardening is gaining popularity among home gardeners, but there are times where some soil disturbance may be necessary.

Tilling garden soil each year is a common practice, but studies have shown that it can disrupt microbial communities that are beneficial for soil health and plant growth. In addition, disturbing the soil can bring new weed seeds to the surface. Some weed seeds in the soil can remain viable for years or even decades. When applying soil amendments such as lime, fertilizer, or compost the recommendation is to incorporate them into the top 4-6 inches, which conflicts with no or low-till gardening practices. Sometimes it’s necessary to till or turn the soil to get the best results. An alternative tool to gas or electric rototillers is a broad fork, which can achieve the desired effect with less soil disruption. With the exception of incorporating amendments or breaking up compacted soils, it may be best to keep tilling activity to a minimum.

Managing weeds and moss in your turf can be an ongoing, uphill challenge. There are many herbicides available for weed control, but they will only provide a temporary solution, as more weeds will likely move into the bare spots left after treatment. A more sustainable approach is to optimize soil conditions and promote healthy turf growth to outcompete the weeds.

To help reduce weed pressure in turf the soil conditions should first be assessed to identify any deficiencies and imbalances that may be hindering vigorous turf growth. A good start is to have your soil tested and follow the recommendations on the test results. Where turf is struggling, weeds are certain to move in as they tend to be better adapted to sub-par environmental conditions. If weeds have taken over major portions of the lawn you may need to manually remove or kill the weeds in late summer and follow up with a lawn renovation in early fall to get some new turf established before winter. Come spring, the new turf will have a chance to really fill in. Lush, dense turf is great at outcompeting weeds, and can even tolerate grub populations without showing damage or needing treatment. Basic maintenance through periodic soil testing, seasonal fertilizing, and watering during very dry periods can all contribute to a lush, low maintenance lawn

Mulch in the landscape and garden can provide a wide range of benefits for your plants. There are many types of mulch to choose from, so it is a good idea to consider the cost, availability, and desired effect of each when selecting mulch for your project.

Mulch can be used in the garden, flower beds, or around the base of trees and shrubs to help with weed suppression and soil moisture retention. As an added benefit some mulches will increase the organic matter in the soil as they decompose. The addition of a mulch ring around the base of trees and shrubs can reduce the likelihood of mechanical damage to the bark from lawn mowers and weed trimmers. Some great options for organic mulches include bark mulch, wood chips, leaves, pine needles, grass clippings, hay, and straw. As a general rule, 2”-3” of mulch is adequate for most applications. There are benefits and drawbacks to each, so consider your needs, cost, and availability of different products before making a final selection.

When you receive your soil test results there can be an overwhelming amount of information to process, and it can be quite technical. Most amendments should be worked into the top 4”-6” of the soil. Lime can be applied any time the ground can be worked but can take months or a year to have its full effect on soil pH. Fertilizers are best applied to gardens before planting, and in spring and fall for turf. If you can’t find the exact fertilizer recommended on your test results try to find something as close as possible with a similar ratio of N-P-K, as the numbers don’t need to match exactly. When looking for amendments consider your local garden center or landscape supply store, as they may have a greater selection that is better suited to your region. If you have questions about your soil test results or need clarification on any recommendations you can contact the UNH Extension Infoline for answers.

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A monthly newsletter for New Hampshire gardeners, homesteaders and plant-lovers of all kinds, that includes seasonal suggested gardening tips, upcoming events and articles with proven solutions for your garden and landscape.

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