Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: For added garden space, grow plants vertically

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I find conversations with other gardeners to be very enlightening. Either I learn something new from their experiences or am inspired to rethink some of my approaches to gardening. Such was the case last Sunday while conversing with a couple of friends at the coffee hour following our local church service. They are avid vegetable gardeners, who grow their crops in raised beds. While this has been very satisfactory, they had some concern about winter squash vines sprawling well beyond the boundaries of the raised beds. At this point, I suggested training the vines onto a trellis or in tomato cages. The question arose as to whether a trellis or cage would be sturdy enough to support the heavy fruit of butternut squash. I assured them that a trellis or cage of concrete reinforcement wire would be quite durable.

Not only do I use my cages in growing tomatoes, but have found them to be handy in growing cucumbers, pole beans and floral vines, such as morning glory. The benefits of growing these plants in cages or on trellises are many. The odds of fruit rots and foliar diseases are lessened because of better air movement around the plants; pollination seems to be enhanced and the vertical orientation of the plants saves much garden space.

The mention of growing vine crops on a vertical structure prompted one of my friends to comment that she liked that idea since she enjoys the attractiveness of the flowers on the squash vines. That, in turn, got me thinking about the visual appeal of many vegetables and how they would fit in quite nicely in a flower garden. Vegetables with very attractive flowers that come to mind include snap peas, eggplant and okra. There are also vegetables with colorful foliage. This should not be surprising to anyone who has planted the colorful ornamental cabbage and kale for fall display in their flower beds. The chard varieties "Bright Lights" and "Ruby Red" have cheery colored leaf stems that could enhance a flower garden. And then there are many culinary and medicinal herbs that would be perfectly comfortable in a landscape setting.

Of course, this is a two-way street. That is, many vegetables fit in nicely in a flower garden, but flowers fit in well in the vegetable garden. We routinely plant annual flowers among vegetables, not only for their beauty, but also to attract pollinators and insects that prey on vegetable pests.

So, strike up a conversation with fellow gardeners. You may find it enlightening and inspiring.

GARDENING TIPS

Here are some gardening thoughts for this week, which may be enlightening if not inspiring:

- Make frequent inspections of plants in the landscape and gardens. Hot, humid weather favors development of many diseases and pests. Manage these problems before they get out of control.

- Do not spray pesticides of any sort when temperatures are above 85 F. This would apply to organic pesticides, as well as synthetic ones. As always, read and follow the directions on the label of the product being applied. It is not only common sense to follow those directions, but it also a legal requirement.

- Moisten soil before applying two to three inches of mulch around flowers subject to wilting.

- Hoe the soil around squash and pumpkins to eliminate weeds and then apply straw mulch over the ground. Otherwise, once the runners of these vine crops sprawl it will be difficult to control the weeds.

- Shear off spent flowers and a few inches of leafy stem from annuals to induce more flowering. Snapdragons, sweet alyssum, lobelia, bachelor's button, petunias, impatiens, and geraniums are a few that respond well to shearing.

- Divide and replant overcrowded bearded iris anytime up to Labor Day. Wash the rhizomes with a forceful spray of water so they can be examined for signs of borer damage or rot.

- Don't depend on regular rainfall for watering houseplants vacationing outdoors. If you are, those plants are probably resting peacefully in that Big Greenhouse in the sky by now. If you have been watering them and their leaves look pale, they are probably getting too much sun. Move plants to the shade of a tree.

With the extreme heat of the past week and the likelihood of more of the same as summer progresses I'll repeat this tip from a few weeks ago.

- Be conscious of heat exhaustion when working in the garden. Headache, profuse sweating, dizziness, abdominal cramps, and rapid pulse are some symptoms of heat exhaustion. If experiencing any of these symptoms, get out of the sun and drink water. Ignoring any of these symptoms may lead to sunstroke, a much more serious reaction which will require immediate medical attention. Be smart. On hot days, confine your gardening work to the early morning hours, drink a glass of water every 20-30 minutes, wear a light-weight, long-sleeved shirt and long pants, wide brimmed hat with detachable neck flap, and take breaks.


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