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Volume 15, Issue 14 ~ April 5 - April 11, 2007

Chesapeake Spring Planting

Get coles in the ground now

Plant cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radish, kohlrabi and collards early for a bigger harvest this summer. Early planters also include onions, peas, Swiss chard, beets, Chinese cabbage, celery and lettuce. These salad favorites grow best in cool weather; most are generally immune to late frost damage, especially without mulch. Heat released from the ground during frosty nights provides adequate protection.

Because soils are still cold when these crops are planted, use a starter fertilizer at transplanting time. Your soil may be rich in organic matter, but nutrients from compost are not readily available; microorganisms need warmer soils to release the nutrients.

The ground is too cool now for common granular fertilizers such as 10-10-10. The nutrients in starter fertilizers, however, are readily absorbed by roots.

Compost-rich gardeners can use a starter fertilizer such as 20-20-20 or 25-10-10 at the rate of two tablespoon per gallon of water, applying half a cup around each root ball.

Starter fertilizer can delay or reduce germination; do not use it when sowing seeds.

Wait until spring settles in for other annuals

The first warm days of spring urge home gardeners to purchase flowering and fruiting annuals, including tomato and pepper plants. These eager gardeners are tempted further by garden centers and greenhouse growers that purposely display plants early. Don’t be fooled. Such early garden additions will likely be killed by late frosts.

Only when soil temperature in the upper four inches is 60 degrees or higher is it safe to plant warm-season crops such as annual flowers, tomato, pepper, eggplant, okra, corn, beans, squash, cucumbers and melons. A sloping garden facing south should delay planting until soil temperatures are 65 to 70 degrees. Such south-facing soils warm more rapidly but are equally susceptible to frost.

Delaying plantings until soils warm also assures that nutrients from organic sources will be available.

The Bradford Pear Mystery

Q Why are Bradford pear trees called Bradford pear trees when they don’t ever grow pears?

—Gillian J. Black (age 9), Rose Haven

A The Bradford pear tree is named after the breeder, a director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Introduction Station in Glenn Dale, Maryland. He selected the seedling from a population called Pyrus calleriana, which he was screening for use as a root-stock for fruit-bearing pear trees. When it cross pollinates with another pear tree, the Bradford does produce a pear — the size of a pea and as hard as a dried pea. Hereabouts, most Bradford pear produce dark purple-brown seeds in the fall. Originally they were intended to flower without fruit, but as more clones were introduced, they began producing fruit.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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