Timing the garden is hard. Planting out tomatoes and peppers has to be done when the nights are no longer cold and all danger of frost has passed. You start getting excited when the first warm days of April come, but it’s still too early. Around here it is late April to early May, but some people still wait until Mothers Day. And then, all of the sudden, it is June, and the weather is a steady dose of “hazy, hot, and humid”, and the time for planting is over.
Well… not really.
Here in Virginia, zone 7, we can have two plantings of summer vegetables. A second planting of tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumbers, to keep you in hot weather veggies up until frost. Yes, technically a tomato plant will bear until frost. But one planted in late April will just be done by early September. For me at least, it will either be overtaken by blight, knocked over in a severe thunderstorm, or just be tired and have given up on life. You can do multiple plantings of corn and beans of course, too.
The time to be planting the late summer garden is now. Late June and early July is ideal because the plants need to be a good size before the days shorten and growth slows down. So even though you have yet to harvest a tomato or cucumber, it is time to plant another batch.
Where to put all this? Peas, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and onions should be finishing up so when those get pulled, some people put in new summer planting’s. I do not. I need that space to replant all those things for the fall garden in late July! That means that to get your second summer veggies in, you have to have empty space ready now. Maybe you could fit something super quick in early in the season like radishes. But I just have space waiting in the same area. My row of tomatoes has four spots waiting, my melon patch has a full empty row, etc.
Now for a little crop by crop overview of vegetables that are a good candidate for a second summer
Tomatoes- They need to begin by the fourth of July for our area. They can be direct sown in late June, or you could go through the whole seed starting in tray process in early June. OR, you could do the easy thing and root some cuttings in a cup of water and then plant in the moist soil as soon as roots appear. People may wonder what in the world you are doing with tomato branches cut like they are flowers, but oh well.
A smart person would probably grow MORE tomatoes as their fall crop so that they can they do their canning when it is a little cooler. I have never done this, and get too excited in the spring to hold back. (Actually, a smart person would probably buy canned tomatoes.)
Who needs sunflowers when you have tomato leaves? Me! Speaking of…
Sunflowers- Branching sunflowers, despite being inferior to single stem sunflowers in most ways, have the distinct advantage of putting out many flowers over the course of the summer. They don’t do so forever, though, and a second planting is beneficial. They should be direct sown, and you may want to plant darker, more autumnal colors. I like Chianti, Autumn Beauty, and Soraya for late summer and fall. (Do some more zinnias too! White, red, yellow, no pink.)
Melons- Full size watermelons are around 100 days to maturity, so planting them mid June will give you late September melons. Plenty of time. Smaller ones (Little Darling is THE BEST), are more like 70 days and will bear in late August. They take up so much room, so make sure you have left a good amount of space. They are direct sown also.
Cucumbers- They will get huge too, and can actually benefit from three plantings over the summer as they mature so quickly. You will want to space out pickling cucumbers too, because refrigerator pickles are the only acceptable pickle and you will want them for as long a time as possible.
And two plants that are a month behind:
Corn- Corn is a bit trickier because two different types cannot be maturing at the same time as the seeds will cross and affect the taste. (This is because you are eating the seed part, unlike with other vegetables). So you can either plant one kind and stagger it, or be sure that your other varieties will be at least 2 weeks apart in maturity. A simple plan would be to plant twice, two different varieties each time. For example:
May 1st, plant American Dream (75 days, matures July 15th) and Silver Queen (93 days, matures August 4th)
June 20th, plant American Dream (matures September 5th) and Silver Queen (matures September 23rd) again
Remember it must be planted in blocks, so this will take a lot of room.
Pumpkins- Not a second planting, just the only planting. A May 1st planted pumpkin will mature in August. No thanks.
And one month from now it will be time to put in the fall garden! Yes, this is a whole different thing.
It is really not that much work to put these things in a second time, and you will be SO glad you did in September. Just think of it as one more chance to get it right.
Have a good weekend!