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How to plant vegetables and flowers successfully

"Growing Together" columnist Don Kinzler says it comes down to doing seemingly small tasks well.

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Geraniums can become overwhelmed in combination planters, and will often grow better planted independently.
Michael Vosburg / The Forum
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FARGO — Do you know why you should never iron a four-leaf clover? Because you shouldn’t press your luck.

Gardening does involve a little luck, I suppose, but coaxing vegetable gardens and flower beds to flourish depends mostly on doing seemingly small tasks well. These tasks often require a little finesse, which we can learn from our own experience, or from experienced gardeners who share their treasured tips with us — like passing along a secret handshake.

The following are tips for transplanting flower and vegetable plants into gardens and flower beds. These gardening gems were passed along to me as a young gardener. They’ve served me well, and it’s fun to pass them along to others.

Annual flower plants

To maximize flowering on petunias, marigolds, snapdragons and other plants purchased in cell packs, pinch or cut off flowers and buds before transplanting. Plants will spend energy on rooting and forming a large, well-branched plant with greater long-term flower power. It might seem a shame at the time, but foregoing a few spindly flowers at the season’s start yields a greater floral display overall.

Pruning the green shoot tips of many annual types promotes a fuller, stockier plant. Often called “pinching out the centers” of the plant, it’s especially effective with petunia, coleus salvia, snapdragon and zinnia. Removing the central growing point causes multiple side shoots to arise where one spindly stem stood, creating a larger plant that will yield more flowers.

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Plant slightly deeper than currently in the cell pack or pot, so the flower bed soil or the soil in the container just covers the plant’s rootball. Some types are sensitive to being planted too deeply.

When planting in a flower bed, press down gently around each plant to bring the roots in better contact with the soil, which also creates a slight depression to hold water.

Water as soon as possible after transplanting. A starter fertilizer is also wise.

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Remove two or three lower leaves of tomatoes and plant deeply.
Michael Vosburg / The Forum

Tomato plants

Remove two or three of the lowest leaves, and plant deeply, leaving only the plant’s top part above soil level. Roots form along buried tomato stems, creating a more prolific root system.

Deep planting makes tomato plants less susceptible to wind whipping. To bury the stems of very tall tomato plants, lay horizontally in a trench and cover with soil.

Vegetables

Cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli transplants can be planted slightly deeper than in their current pack.

Cucumber, squash, pumpkin and melon plants dislike root disturbance, so caution is advised when transplanting. Often grown in peat pots or peat pellets, gently break apart the peat pot or cube when transplanting.

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When direct-seeding cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and melons, directions often suggest planting in “hills” of five or six seeds. A hill is a historic gardening term meaning a group of seeds planted together in a circular group, not a raised mound of soil.

Cutworms, known for cutting off young plants at soil level, can be deterred by placing bands made of milk cartons, tuna cans or foil around plants with an inch or two above and below the soil.

Strawberries

Because they’re sensitive to planting depth, the crown, which is the thickened area between leaf stems and roots, must be located at the soil line and partly visible. Planting too deeply interferes with growth.

Remove blossoms from newly planted strawberry plants through the month of June so energy and growth is directed to first establishing a vigorous plant.

Perennial flowers

Plant potted perennials so the flower bed soil just barely covers the plant’s rootball. If planted too deeply, some types like peony can fail to bloom.

Blossoms on young potted perennials are a joy, but for a stronger, more energized plant, remove flowers the first growing season. This is especially important for types that require several years to develop, like peony, bleeding heart, gas plant and hosta.

Most perennials thrive in soil rich in organic material. Peat moss, compost or bagged manure can be incorporated into the entire perennial bed, but since the roots of most perennials don’t extend outward a great deal, adding organics to a 12-to-18-inch planting circle can be as beneficial.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu.

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