The Norman Transcript

April 5, 2013

Planting summer vegetables, homegrown herbs is satisfying

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The edible garden is one of my most enjoyable things to plant. When you think of a vegetable garden, you typically think of the summer veggies: tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash, cucumbers, etc.

But I also love all the homegrown herbs I get to play with: purple basil, dill, fennel, a variety of mints. There’s nothing like a batch of sun tea or a fresh mojito on the front porch, spiked with mint you grew yourself.

Early to mid-April is the right time to get summer veggies and herbs in the ground. Most say “after the last chance of frost has passed.” If you want to be really safe, wait until April 15. I’m a gambler, so I’ll probably be planting tomatoes and others in a week. But, I will have a plethora of black plastic pots on hand, just in case they need frost protection.

To plant tomatoes, remove all but the top four-to-six leaves and plant them deep. This way, they will form many roots along the stem, leading to better establishment, more efficient water usage and sturdier plants. This is especially true with really tall, leggy plants, which tend to bend and flop in the wind.

I use old coffee cans, cut out at the top and bottom, around my transplants. This protects them from the elements until they get some size. When the plants grow out the top, I remove the cans and add cages.

Do not overfertilize plants with nitrogen, hose-end sprayers, pelleted fertilizers, compost or magnesium salts. Nitrogen is usually the only nutrient needed in the garden. But too much nitrogen will lead to robust, green plants and failure to set fruit.

Since most of our soils are clay-based, we already have an abundance of micronutrients in the soil. There is no need to add crazy amounts of nutrients as compost, magnesium salts or other complete fertilizers. Too many nutrients can make the soil salty and wilt plants.

A little compost goes a long way in the garden, so only use half to one inch to a bed in a year. You can supplement a fall or spring compost application with regular applications of blood meal, a 6-0-0 nitrogen fertilizer.

At a conference I attended recently, I heard about an interesting technique in vegetable production. It was called farmscaping, and it’s actually an old idea lost or forgotten, due to the convenience of pesticide applications.

Farmscaping consists of not harvesting and pulling out every plant once spent. Instead, let a few plants bolt or flower that you normally wouldn’t — like dill, fennel, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower or mustards. When allowed to flower, these plants serve as a nectar source for pollinators and attract predators and parasitoids to the garden.

In addition, you can add food sources in and around the vegetable garden to entice pollinators and parasitic wasps to visit yearround. This is best done by using plants such as yarrow, bachelors button, tansy, goldenrod, sedum “Autumn Joy,” comfrey, Queen Anne’s Lace and umbels like dill and fennel.

By incorporating a beneficial insect food source each season, you may see a dramatic difference in pest numbers. For more information on farmscaping and biological control, visit

If you have additional questions about diseases in the lawn or garden, call on a Cleveland County Master Gardener at 321-4774 or ccmastergardener@yahoo.


The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability or status as a veteran and is an equal opportunity employer.

Tracey Payton Miller is Cleveland County’s horticulture extension educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension.

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