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Tips for Growing Vines

Vines are sold in the form of seeds, as container plants, or as bare-root plants when dormant. If you are planting from containers, it’s best to do so in spring or fall. If you do plant in summer, pay special attention to providing the vines with enough water and protecting them from hot sun while they are becoming established. Plant bare-root vines as soon as you buy them.

growing vines

Climbing vines add texture and beauty to an otherwise ordinary wall.

Choose plants with healthy foliage that is pest-free. Also, check that the roots aren’t compacted and that the soil hasn’t been allowed to dry out.

Planting Container Vines

Like most plants, vines prefer good soil (an exception is nasturtium [Tropaeolum], which prefers poor soil). If your soil is sandy, add organic amendments to help slow drainage and provide added nutrients. If you have claylike soil, unless you are planting annuals, it’s best to leave it unamended.

Dig a hole twice the width of the roots of the plant and slightly shallower than the root system, centered about a foot from the support structure. Taper the sides of the hole slightly outward at the bottom, and then dig deeper around the edges at the bottom to allow room for the roots to grow downward and to prevent the soil from settling. Shape the soil in the center of the hole into a rounded cone, which will serve as a base for the plant.[GARD align=”left”]

If planting from a container, gently remove the plant; you may need to tap on the bottom of the container to loosen the rootball. Place the plant on the cone so that the rootball is slightly above the surrounding soil, and then lean the plant at a 45-degree angle toward the support. Spread the roots out around the cone and fill in the hole with soil, firming it as you go. Once you’ve finished filling in the hole, water the plant until the soil is moist but not soggy.

Keep the soil moist as the plant settles in. During the growing season, form a berm of soil around the planting area to create a watering basin. Water newly planted vines when the soil is dry to 2 inches deep. Once a plant is established, water only as needed. Many plants won’t need any supplemental watering.

Planting Bare-Root Vines

Buy and plant bare-root vines when they are dormant, during the winter in mild-winter areas and about three weeks before the last frost in colder areas. The planting holes should be deep enough so the plant will be set at the same depth it was grown in at the nursery (look for the soil mark on the trunk) and wide enough to allow you to spread out the roots.

If the roots are dry, soak them for up to four hours before planting. Remove any damaged roots, and trim the remaining ones to approximately 6 inches. Carefully set the plant in place and spread the roots out. Lean the plant at a 45-degree angle toward the support. Cover with the soil you removed from the planting hole and water thoroughly.[GARD align=”left”]

Caring for Vines

You’ll need to read up on the exact care requirements for your specific plant. However, drip systems or soaker hoses are always a good watering method. You can also use watering basins around the plant base to help direct water to the roots. Adding about 1 to 3 inches of mulch will help conserve water and suppress weeds.

Most vines benefit from a regular fertilizing program. An all-purpose fertilizer that is higher in nitrogen (the first number on the fertilizer package) is the best choice for stimulating growth. Fertilize newly established plants when you plant them. Established plants should be fertilized early in the growing season. Follow up with a second application if the plants aren’t performing well, and stop fertilizing six weeks before the first expected frost.

growing vines stucco

Climbing vines break up broad expanses of this stuccoed garage wall. Photo: Don Vandervort

Training Vines

Keeping vines in check is important. Though you can take out wayward growth at any time, it’s best to do the major pruning when the plant is dormant. Prune dead, weak, or diseased branches.

Vines that tend to tangle, such as honeysuckle, can use periodic thinning. Cut back any stems that are wrapping around existing growth, or detach them and direct them where you want them to grow. As always, check with a garden center for the specific requirements of individual plants.

Clinging vines, such as ivy and creeping fig (Ficus pumila), will grow over anything in their path, including windows and doors. Cut back growth as soon as you see it headed in a direction you don’t want it to go.

 

How to Plant and Grow Melons

When you’re planning your edible garden, don’t overlook the addition of melons. Before you add them in, though, be sure you can give these somewhat demanding plants the conditions they like.

That includes rich soil, full sun, plenty of water, and space to spread their 10-foot-long vines. Most of all, though, you need to give melons a long period of warm weather in which to grow.

Conditions for Melons

Even the varieties that mature early need at least 70 days to ripen; other varieties may take up to 115 days to reach maturity. They are truly summer fruits.

Though cantaloupes, also called muskmelons, are the most widely grown melons, you will find plenty of other choices. Smaller muskmelons, such as Ha-Ogen and Charentais, are a good choice for limited spaces.

Late melons include the very sweet honeydew, casaba, Galia types, and Crenshaw, a popular hybrid. These generally do better in relatively dry areas. If you have room, and enough heat, there’s the ultimate summer melon, the watermelon. You can find some early-ripening varieties, such as Icebox. If you want something different, try growing a seedless watermelon, or one that’s yellow instead of red.[GARD align=”left”]

Where summer heat is not always a given, look for varieties that ripen early, such as Alaska cantaloupe, Earlidew honeydew, Passport (a Galia type), Savor (a French Charentais), and Sugar Baby watermelon. You can also use growing techniques, like plastic mulch and row covers, to help them along (see Planting Melons). If it’s space that’s a problem, look for miniature melons. These can be grown in large containers or trained up a very sturdy trellis.

Melons may like heat, but humidity can be a problem. Look for varieties that are resistant to mildew and other diseases if you live in a humid or coastal region.

How to Prepare for Planting Melons

Prepare the soil well ahead of time, adding well-rotted manure and organic amendments. If you use fertilizer, mix it in thoroughly well ahead of time; melons are subject to fertilizer burn. You’ll have time in spring to get the bed ready; seeds shouldn’t be sown until the soil temperature has reached 75 degrees F. You may even need to start seeds indoors if your growing season is short.

If you’re growing in an area that has cool summers, look for a spot in the warmest part of your garden–next to a wall that reflects heat is a good choice. You can also cover the area with clear or black plastic or use row covers to keep the soil warm.

A third option is to grow melons in your compost pile–yes, compost pile–as many a gardener has discovered an inadvertent crop sprouting due to the heat and rich soil found there.

How to Plant Melons

In addition to being fussy about growing conditions, melons can be more fussy than most vegetables about how they’re planted: They should be grown in hills or raised rows. Hills are really flat-topped mounds, about 4 inches high and 2 to 3 feet in diameter, surrounded by a narrow watering basin.[GARD align=”left”]

You’ll need even larger mounds for watermelons, generally 8 feet in diameter. Space the hills about 4 feet apart for smaller varieties, 8 feet apart for watermelons. Plant seeds 1 inch deep, with four or five seeds per hill. Thin seedlings to two per hill. If setting out seedlings, plant two per hill.

For rows, mound the soil 3 to 5 inches above the garden surface and 12 to 15 inches wide. Add narrow watering troughs along each side of each row. Keep rows 3 to 4 feet apart, wider for watermelons. Plant seeds 1 inch deep, putting two to three seeds every foot, and then thin to one plant per foot. If setting out seedlings, plant every foot.

How to Care for Melon Plants

Once planted, keep the soil moist but not wet near the roots so the plants won’t dry out. As the plants grow, fill the watering basins or troughs to keep the soil moist while keeping water away from both the foliage and the fruit. Water deeply if the plants are wilting in the evening after a hot day. Add a water-soluble fertilizer every six weeks during the growing season.

As the fruit develops, place a brick or piece of wood under each one to keep it clean. If you’re growing on a trellis, support the fruits, once they reach 2 inches in diameter, in individual slings made of netting or old nylon stockings.

As they near full ripeness, protect Crenshaw melons from sunburn by using a shingle or piece of wood as a screen on the southwest side of the plant.

In addition to mildew, melons are subject to a number of pests, including aphids, cucumber beetles, and mites. In all cases, the best defense is keeping the garden debris cleaned up to encourage beneficial insects.

Aphids and mites can be hosed off with water or sprayed with an insecticidal soap. Cucumber beetles, which transmit bacterial wilt, can be controlled with parasitic nematodes or a product containing pyrethrins. For mildew, plant resistant varieties; for other varieties, spray with neem, sulfur, or copper soap fungicide.

How to Harvest Melons

Deciding when a melon is ripe can be one of the trickiest parts of having grown them.

grow cantelope

Ripe cantelope is delicious when brought straight from the garden!

A cantaloupe is ripe when it has a noticeable fragrance and the fruit comes off the stem with just a light tug.

To harvest, lift the cantaloupe until it separates easily from the vine. To make cantaloupes even sweeter, hold off watering a week or so before harvesting, but then resume watering if you have more fruit, and don’t let the vines wilt.

Honeydews are ripe when the place where they rest on the ground has turned white. Other late melons are ready when they have a strong, sweet smell and the blossom end is slightly soft. Their rinds should also have turned dull. Late melons should be cut from the vine with a knife or shears.

A watermelon is ripe when it makes a dull “thunk” when you rap on it.

The skin on the underside should have turned pale yellow, and the tendrils at the stem should be dark and withered. It, too, should be cut and not pulled from the vine.

 

How to Grow Berries

No garden treat quite matches plucking succulent berries off of your own berry vines. This expert guide will help you grow your own delicious berries.

Popular berries for home gardens include blackberry varieties and raspberries, which grow on canes; blueberries, which grow on bushes; and strawberries, which can be grown as low plants on hills or as a ground cover, or in pots or hanging baskets.

Once established, the cane berries and blueberries will provide fruit for years. Strawberries, though, will need to be replaced after several years. Each type of plant has its own growing needs and care requirements.

Blackberries & Raspberries

Blackberries grow as either trailing types, with long canes that need to be trained onto a fence or trellis, and erect types, which can support themselves but are neater if tied to an upright.

how to grow blackberries

Blackberries

Both types bear fruit on second-year growth. Raspberries can support themselves but do best if supported on an upright as well. Both blackberries and raspberries prefer rich, well-draining soil in full sun with good air circulation, though raspberries do better in areas with cool, wet summers and cold winters. Avoid sites that have been planted with other cane berries, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, or tomatoes.

Set blackberries out in spring. Remove any weak or diseased canes, and then set them about an inch deeper than they were grown in the nursery. Cut them back to 10 inches, and keep the soil most. For erect types, cut the new canes down to about 3 feet high in summer. The next spring, remove any broken or diseased canes, and cut the side branches back to about 12 inches. Cut the canes back to the ground once they’ve finished fruiting. Let the trailing plants grow the first year. The next spring, remove weak or diseased canes, and then prune the canes back to about 5 feet or wrap them around the support. Once you’ve harvested the fruit, cut the fruit-bearing canes back to the ground.[GARD align=”right”]

Set bare-root raspberries out in early spring. Raspberries in containers can be set out any time except summer. Remove any weak or diseased canes, and plant them about an inch or two deeper than they grew at the nursery. Leave space between plants. Cut back the canes to 5 to 6 inches. In early spring, before the new buds swell, add mulch around the plants and keep the soil moist, but try to avoid overhead watering, which can lead to fungal diseases. You’ll only need to fertilize if the plants are not doing well.

Prune summer-bearing red and yellow raspberries early in the second spring, before the buds swell. Cut back any diseased, weak, or broken canes, and prune the remaining ones back to about 5 feet and 6 to 8 inches apart. Once the fruit has been harvested, cut the fruit-bearing canes back to the ground.

Prune fall-bearing red and yellow raspberries after they bear fruit in the fall by cutting back the top third of each cane that bore fruit. The next year, after the canes have borne a second crop, cut them to the ground.

Purple and black raspberries, which grow in clumps with arching frames, should be cut across the top the first summer they’re planted to encourage wider growth. Cut black varieties to 2 feet and purple varieties to 2 1/2 feet; if you’re growing them on an arbor, keep them about 6 inches longer. The second spring, remove weak, dead, or diseased canes, and then remove other canes so you have about eight canes in a hill or canes spread 6 to 8 inches apart in a row. Shorten the side branches to no more than 10 inches for black raspberries and 14 inches for purple raspberries. After harvesting, cut back all canes that have borne fruit.[GARD align=”right”]

Blueberries, like blackberries, won’t produce a crop the first year but will be dependable and even prolific producers for years to follow. Unlike most other edibles, blueberries like very acidic soil. Plant them in a sunny spot with rich, well-draining soil in fall or winter in mild-climate areas and in early spring elsewhere. For the best start, prune the bush back to three to four strong shoots, and space them 4 to 7 feet apart in rows that are at least 8 feet apart. Add mulch; blueberry roots are shallow and this helps retain moisture.

Water blueberries consistently during the growing season; they need 1 inch of water per week. Drip irrigation is best; avoid overhead watering. Fertilize lightly after the second year with a fertilizer formulated for azaleas and rhododendrons.

Prune plants to prevent them from setting too much fruit. Remove any old and crossing canes. After the third year, cut back canes that are growing vigorously to encourage side branches.

How to Grow Strawberries

how to grow strawberries

Strawberries

Strawberries may be the most popular, and the easiest, berries to grow. Nurseries and your cooperative extension agency will have the best varieties for your area. June-bearing strawberries have a shorter season but generally the best size and taste. Ever-bearing strawberries fruit from summer to fall.

Strawberries prefer a sunny spot with rich, well-draining, acidic soil. Avoid sites where eggplants, peppers, potatoes, raspberries, or tomatoes have been planted in the past three years. Plant either in hills, which result in large and beautiful berries, or in rows, which eventually will grow together to form a ground cover. When planting, keep the base of the crown at soil level. Pinching off early blooms will help strengthen the plant; remove runners if you’ve planted in hills.

Water plants regularly, giving them at least 1 inch per week. Fertilize June-bearing plants lightly in early spring and then heavily after harvest; ever-bearing strawberries need consistent but light feedings. Slugs, snails, mites, and strawberry root weevils can cause problems; strawberries can also be prone to powdery mildew, blight, and verticillium wilt.

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How to Grow Pumpkins & Gourds

The perfect accents for a fall garden, pumpkins are great for color, seeds, decoration, and more. Here is how to grow pumpkins and gourds, from prep to harvest.

In the fall, the stars of the vegetable garden are pumpkins and gourds. When other vegetables are past their peak, these are just hitting their prime. how to grow pumpkins

Pumpkins are particularly versatile: You can grow them for decoration, turn them into pies, and roast their seeds for snacks. Plus, they’re just fun to watch grow. Their vines spread out over the garden, their flowers are colorful, and their fruits add punches of orange and white that are the perfect accents for an autumn garden.

Gourds may not have quite the star power of pumpkins, but they’re equally fun to grow. While generally not used for food, they’re great for decorations, crafts projects, and even for growing your own sponges. Gourds shouldn’t be harvested until they are fully ripe, which is late in the fall, so they add interest to the garden when other plants are fading.

Pumpkin & Gourd Varieties

Deciding on which pumpkin to grow depends on what you want to eventually do with it. You can grow pumpkins that weigh several hundred pounds, such as Atlantic Giant, Big Moon, and Prizewinner, or miniature varieties, such as Jack-B-Little and Wee-B-Little, which fit into the palm of the hand. Mid-size pumpkins, like Connecticut Field, Jackpot, and Trick or Treat, fall in between these two ranges and are good for carving.[GARD align=”right”]growing-pumpkins-gourds

Pie pumpkins have the advantage of both tasty flesh for baking and shells that can be easily carved. They generally weigh between 8 and 12 pounds, though smaller varieties like Baby Pam and Small Sugar weigh 6 to 8 pounds. Autumn Gold is a good choice for shorter growing seasons. While orange is the traditional pumpkin color, white pumpkins such as Casper and Lumina can add a “ghostly” presence to your garden.

Gourds fall into two categories: ornamental and hard shell. Ornamental gourds, Cucurbita pepo ovifera varieties, produce the small gourds often used in decorative displays. They’re distinguished by yellow blossoms that bloom during the day.

Hard-shell gourds, Lagenaria siceraria, are popular for crafts, as evinced by names such as Bird House, Long Handle Dipper, Large Bottle, and Wren House. They’re generally larger and heavier, and their white flowers bloom at night. A final choice is the Luffa cylindrical, also known as the loofah, dishcloth gourd, or vegetable sponge gourd.

how to grow pumpkins

Pumpkins love rich, amended soil. Photo: Freerangestock

Pumpkin & Gourd Requirements

Both pumpkins and gourds are warm-weather crops. They like a rich soil that drains well, plenty of water, and long, warm days in the sun. It’s not unheard of for a pumpkin to sprout from a compost pile.

Both also need plenty of room. Even the smallest pumpkin varieties have vines that are 6 feet long, and 20-foot-long vines are common. Gourd vines can reach 10 to 15 feet, but you can train them to grow up trellises and over arbors. Gourds can be heavy, especially hard-shell gourds, so any support needs to be sturdy.

How to Grow Pumpkins

Pumpkins like warm soil (about 65 degrees F.), so start them outdoors in late spring; you can start indoors two to three weeks earlier if your growing season is short. For vining types (check the seed packet), build hills 6 to 8 feet apart. Start with five to six seeds per hill, planted 1 inch apart and 1 inch deep. If transplanting seedlings, set two plants per hill.[GARD align=”left”]

Bushing types can be set in rows 3 feet apart. Sow three to four seeds 1 inch deep and 2 feet apart, and then thin to one to two plants in each cluster.

Once the soil is warm, generally in late spring, start gourd seeds outdoors. You can start them indoors earlier, but plant them in peat pots as they don’t like their roots disturbed during transplanting. Sow seeds or set transplants 2 feet apart in rows 5 feet apart, or sow seeds in hills (two plants or seedlings per hill) 4 to 5 feet apart in rows 7 feet apart.

Once established, pumpkins and gourds have similar needs. Both like a lot of water throughout their growing season, and pumpkins in particular don’t like wet leaves. Creating watering basins or furrows, or using drip irrigation, is a good choice for both. Adding mulch will also help keep in moisture and suppress weeds.

ladybug-prepare-yard-for-summer

Ladybugs can take care of aphids naturally.

Fertilize pumpkins regularly once the blossoms have formed. Gourd growers differ on the need for fertilizer, but adding some once they start to form vines won’t hurt. To keep pumpkins or gourds off the dirt, which can lead to brown spots or rot, slide a piece of plywood or foam underneath each fruit while it’s growing.

Pests and diseases can be a problem for both crops. They’re especially vulnerable to aphids, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and squash vine borers. They can also develop fungus problems, such as powdery mildew.

The best defense is keeping the garden clean and the plants healthy with good air circulation. Handpick insects or set traps. Or consider introducing ladybugs to your garden—they can take care of aphids naturally. Spraying with blasts of water or insecticidal soap also helps. For powdery mildew, remove infected plants, increase air circulation, and spray with either a baking soda or garlic mixture. For severe problems, try copper soap fungicides, neem, or sulfur.

A Giant Halloween Pumpkin

You may not be out to a win national prize, but you can easily have the biggest pumpkins on the block come Halloween. Some pumpkin varieties, such as Atlantic Giant and Prizewinner, are favorites among the giant growers, but it’s not so much the variety as the growing method that produces really big pumpkins. how to grow a giant halloween pumpkin

You’ll need to start with the basics: a sunny spot, fertile soil with good drainage, and plenty of water. The largest pumpkins are produced when the fruit doesn’t have competition for nutrients, so start by leaving only two main stems on the plant. Once the fruit starts to swell, remove all but one from each stem. Fertilize regularly once the flowers appear, and keep the plant well watered.

To encourage more root development, which in turn encourages the plant to take in more water and nutrients, create a 4-inch-wide hill every couple of feet along the length of each stem so the vine can root.

Harvesting Pumpkins & Gourds

Pumpkins are ready to harvest after three to four months. It can be late in the growing season, but before the first hard frost. Shells should be hard, and the color should be even throughout. Cut the stems with shears, leaving about 2 inches attached, and gently lift the fruit.

Pumpkins can be stored for some time, but don’t bring them into a cool area immediately. Instead, leave them outside in the sunshine, or indoors in a warm and well-ventilated place for a week or two. Then store them at a cooler temperature, around 50 degrees F.

Gourds can linger for some time in the garden, and some growers in milder climates will leave them in place into winter. They’re ready to be picked when the tendrils next to their stems are dead and the stems have turned brown. Cut gourds from the vines with a sharp knife or scissors, leaving 2 to 4 inches of stem attached. Handle gourds carefully, as they can bruise easily. Clean with soap and water, and dry carefully.

Place ornamental gourds in a dark and well-ventilated spot—making sure they don’t touch—for about a week until the surface is dry, the skin hardens, and the color is set. They can be set on trays or hung to dry. Once the surface is dry, keep the gourds in a dark, warm area with good air circulation for at least four weeks.

Also, monitor gourds. If mold appears on the outside, wipe it off; if they start to decay or shrivel, or if soft spots appear, discard them. If laid flat, turn them once a week. The gourd is dry when it feels lighter than when harvested and the seeds rattle inside.

Hard-shell gourds are dried the same way, but the process takes many more weeks, if not several months.

Once the gourds are dry, clean them carefully with soapy water. If you plan on painting hard-shell gourds, you can use very fine sandpaper or steel wool to clean them, but you may leave scratches. If not painting, you can simply coat them with paste wax.

 

How to Grow Pumpkins & Gourds

The perfect accents for a fall garden, pumpkins are great for color, seeds, decoration, and more. Here is how to grow pumpkins and gourds, from prep to harvest.

In the fall, the stars of the vegetable garden are pumpkins and gourds. When other vegetables are past their peak, these are just hitting their prime. how to grow pumpkins

Pumpkins are particularly versatile: You can grow them for decoration, turn them into pies, and roast their seeds for snacks. Plus, they’re just fun to watch grow. Their vines spread out over the garden, their flowers are colorful, and their fruits add punches of orange and white that are the perfect accents for an autumn garden.

Gourds may not have quite the star power of pumpkins, but they’re equally fun to grow. While generally not used for food, they’re great for decorations, crafts projects, and even for growing your own sponges. Gourds shouldn’t be harvested until they are fully ripe, which is late in the fall, so they add interest to the garden when other plants are fading.

Pumpkin & Gourd Varieties

Deciding on which pumpkin to grow depends on what you want to eventually do with it. You can grow pumpkins that weigh several hundred pounds, such as Atlantic Giant, Big Moon, and Prizewinner, or miniature varieties, such as Jack-B-Little and Wee-B-Little, which fit into the palm of the hand. Mid-size pumpkins, like Connecticut Field, Jackpot, and Trick or Treat, fall in between these two ranges and are good for carving.[GARD align=”right”]growing-pumpkins-gourds

Pie pumpkins have the advantage of both tasty flesh for baking and shells that can be easily carved. They generally weigh between 8 and 12 pounds, though smaller varieties like Baby Pam and Small Sugar weigh 6 to 8 pounds. Autumn Gold is a good choice for shorter growing seasons. While orange is the traditional pumpkin color, white pumpkins such as Casper and Lumina can add a “ghostly” presence to your garden.

Gourds fall into two categories: ornamental and hard shell. Ornamental gourds, Cucurbita pepo ovifera varieties, produce the small gourds often used in decorative displays. They’re distinguished by yellow blossoms that bloom during the day.

Hard-shell gourds, Lagenaria siceraria, are popular for crafts, as evinced by names such as Bird House, Long Handle Dipper, Large Bottle, and Wren House. They’re generally larger and heavier, and their white flowers bloom at night. A final choice is the Luffa cylindrical, also known as the loofah, dishcloth gourd, or vegetable sponge gourd.

how to grow pumpkins

Pumpkins love rich, amended soil. Photo: Freerangestock

Pumpkin & Gourd Requirements

Both pumpkins and gourds are warm-weather crops. They like a rich soil that drains well, plenty of water, and long, warm days in the sun. It’s not unheard of for a pumpkin to sprout from a compost pile.

Both also need plenty of room. Even the smallest pumpkin varieties have vines that are 6 feet long, and 20-foot-long vines are common. Gourd vines can reach 10 to 15 feet, but you can train them to grow up trellises and over arbors. Gourds can be heavy, especially hard-shell gourds, so any support needs to be sturdy.

How to Grow Pumpkins

Pumpkins like warm soil (about 65 degrees F.), so start them outdoors in late spring; you can start indoors two to three weeks earlier if your growing season is short. For vining types (check the seed packet), build hills 6 to 8 feet apart. Start with five to six seeds per hill, planted 1 inch apart and 1 inch deep. If transplanting seedlings, set two plants per hill.[GARD align=”left”]

Bushing types can be set in rows 3 feet apart. Sow three to four seeds 1 inch deep and 2 feet apart, and then thin to one to two plants in each cluster.

Once the soil is warm, generally in late spring, start gourd seeds outdoors. You can start them indoors earlier, but plant them in peat pots as they don’t like their roots disturbed during transplanting. Sow seeds or set transplants 2 feet apart in rows 5 feet apart, or sow seeds in hills (two plants or seedlings per hill) 4 to 5 feet apart in rows 7 feet apart.

Once established, pumpkins and gourds have similar needs. Both like a lot of water throughout their growing season, and pumpkins in particular don’t like wet leaves. Creating watering basins or furrows, or using drip irrigation, is a good choice for both. Adding mulch will also help keep in moisture and suppress weeds.

ladybug-prepare-yard-for-summer

Ladybugs can take care of aphids naturally.

Fertilize pumpkins regularly once the blossoms have formed. Gourd growers differ on the need for fertilizer, but adding some once they start to form vines won’t hurt. To keep pumpkins or gourds off the dirt, which can lead to brown spots or rot, slide a piece of plywood or foam underneath each fruit while it’s growing.

Pests and diseases can be a problem for both crops. They’re especially vulnerable to aphids, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and squash vine borers. They can also develop fungus problems, such as powdery mildew.

The best defense is keeping the garden clean and the plants healthy with good air circulation. Handpick insects or set traps. Or consider introducing ladybugs to your garden—they can take care of aphids naturally. Spraying with blasts of water or insecticidal soap also helps. For powdery mildew, remove infected plants, increase air circulation, and spray with either a baking soda or garlic mixture. For severe problems, try copper soap fungicides, neem, or sulfur.

A Giant Halloween Pumpkin

You may not be out to a win national prize, but you can easily have the biggest pumpkins on the block come Halloween. Some pumpkin varieties, such as Atlantic Giant and Prizewinner, are favorites among the giant growers, but it’s not so much the variety as the growing method that produces really big pumpkins. how to grow a giant halloween pumpkin

You’ll need to start with the basics: a sunny spot, fertile soil with good drainage, and plenty of water. The largest pumpkins are produced when the fruit doesn’t have competition for nutrients, so start by leaving only two main stems on the plant. Once the fruit starts to swell, remove all but one from each stem. Fertilize regularly once the flowers appear, and keep the plant well watered.

To encourage more root development, which in turn encourages the plant to take in more water and nutrients, create a 4-inch-wide hill every couple of feet along the length of each stem so the vine can root.

Harvesting Pumpkins & Gourds

Pumpkins are ready to harvest after three to four months. It can be late in the growing season, but before the first hard frost. Shells should be hard, and the color should be even throughout. Cut the stems with shears, leaving about 2 inches attached, and gently lift the fruit.

Pumpkins can be stored for some time, but don’t bring them into a cool area immediately. Instead, leave them outside in the sunshine, or indoors in a warm and well-ventilated place for a week or two. Then store them at a cooler temperature, around 50 degrees F.

Gourds can linger for some time in the garden, and some growers in milder climates will leave them in place into winter. They’re ready to be picked when the tendrils next to their stems are dead and the stems have turned brown. Cut gourds from the vines with a sharp knife or scissors, leaving 2 to 4 inches of stem attached. Handle gourds carefully, as they can bruise easily. Clean with soap and water, and dry carefully.

Place ornamental gourds in a dark and well-ventilated spot—making sure they don’t touch—for about a week until the surface is dry, the skin hardens, and the color is set. They can be set on trays or hung to dry. Once the surface is dry, keep the gourds in a dark, warm area with good air circulation for at least four weeks.

Also, monitor gourds. If mold appears on the outside, wipe it off; if they start to decay or shrivel, or if soft spots appear, discard them. If laid flat, turn them once a week. The gourd is dry when it feels lighter than when harvested and the seeds rattle inside.

Hard-shell gourds are dried the same way, but the process takes many more weeks, if not several months.

Once the gourds are dry, clean them carefully with soapy water. If you plan on painting hard-shell gourds, you can use very fine sandpaper or steel wool to clean them, but you may leave scratches. If not painting, you can simply coat them with paste wax.

 

How to Grow Herbs

Fresh, home-grown herbs are a cook’s delight—and the proud result of growing your own herbs. This guide walks you through the basics, showing you how to grow herbs.

Both the dictionary and botany experts define herbs as plants grown for flavor, fragrance, or medicinal purposes, often including spices and even edible flowers in the description.

When most people think of herbs, though, it’s the culinary herbs that come to mind. From the parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme of song to the basil and oregano that are staples of Mediterranean cooking, herbs are the plants that add seasoning to food.

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Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow. They’re generally not fussy, nor are they prone to many pest or disease problems. They also don’t need a lot of room to spread out, making them ideal for small spaces.

While herb gardens used to be formal affairs, laid out in elaborate geometric patterns, in today’s gardens you’re just as apt to find herbs mixed into a vegetable garden or planted among flowers and shrubs in a bed or border. Herbs like thyme and chamomile can be used as a ground cover or to form a path or even a “lawn.”

Taller herbs, such as an upright rosemary or lavender, work well as a low hedge. Or, you can plant a large container with a variety of herbs to have handy by the kitchen door. In fact, mint is so invasive that it’s best to keep it confined to a pot.

Deciding which herbs to grow depends mostly on your personal preferences. Popular choices include basil, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, and thyme. Among these, you’ll find any number of varieties, including Greek oregano, lemon and conehead thyme, and both curly and flat-leafed Italian parsley. A garden comprised just of these favorites can give you a surprising amount of culinary flavors.[GARD align=”left”]

If you’re more adventurous, you may want to try growing some more-unusual herbs, such as cilantro (also called Chinese parsley, and its seeds, coriander), chives, dill, marjoram, and tarragon.

Venturing even further afield, you can grow herbs for tea, such as chamomile and sweet woodruff (a good choice for a shade-loving ground), specialty seasonings such as chervil, lemon balm and lemon grass, and sorrel, or even those feline favorites, catmint and catnip.

And don’t overlook adding some edible flowers to the mix. Lavender, cloves, cottage pinks, feverfew, scented geraniums, Johnny jump-ups, nasturtiums, pot marigold (calendula), and sweet violets are all fine additions to any herb garden.

The majority of herbs like lots of sun, so choose a spot that receives at least six hours of sun per day. Those that prefer shade generally are fine with some sun or only light shade, so place them in a shadier corner of the bed or where other plants will block the sun during the hottest part of the day.

how to grow herbs

Flue tiles serve as handy containers for growing herbs.

Preparing for Planting Herbs

When laying out the bed, be sure to take the eventual size of the plants into consideration so that larger plants won’t crowd out the smaller ones. Also, perennial herbs will be permanent parts of the garden, so keep this in mind when choosing their locations. Think, too, about the colors and textures of the leaves and flowers of each plant, and mix them to show off their beauty and to complement the plants around them.

To save water and keep plants as healthy as possible, group plants with similar watering needs together. Plants with thicker, smoother leaves, such as basil and parsley, generally need regular water. Herbs that are native to drier climates, like rosemary and thyme, are far more drought-tolerant and usually thrive on a little neglect, making them a good choice for less-than-ideal garden spots.

If possible, prepare your planting bed about a month before you actually plant, or in fall if you live in a cold-winter climate. With a spading fork or, for larger areas, a rotary tiller, turn over the soil about a foot deep. Add organic compost, especially if your soil is excessively sandy or clayey. Once you’re ready to plant, rake the bed again, smoothing out the surface so it is even and removing any clumps of dirt.

How to Grow Herbs

You can start plants from seed, but most herbs are readily available in seedling form. Add an all-purpose fertilizer when planting; you won’t need to fertilize the rest of the growing season. Water thoroughly, even if the plants are drought-tolerant, and continue to water until they are well established. Once the soil temperature is warm (at least 50 degrees F.), add mulch to help suppress weeds and retain moisture. You may also want to protect small seedlings from birds and other predators by covering the beds with netting or chicken wire.

Once the plants are established, keep them watered, as needed, and keep an eye out for pests. The key to stopping an infestation is to take care of the problem in its early stages. Because these plants are grown for consumption, it’s best to use nontoxic pest controls. For smaller insects such as thrips, mites, and aphids, try spraying them with a blast of water or using an insecticidal soap. Remove larger insects like caterpillars, as well as snails and slugs, by hand. Other options include trapping them under pots or in traps filled with fermenting liquid, surrounding the plants with a copper barrier, or using a nontoxic bait that’s safe for pets and birds. Whatever pest controls you use, take care not to destroy beneficial insects that feed on insect pests.

Several flowers have also been found to be either pest deterrents or to attract beneficial insects and birds. These include the herbs dill, parsley, and feverfew. They also include popular flowers like coreopsis and cosmos.[GARD align=”left”]

Annual herbs, such as basil, grow for a single season. Others, such as oregano, marjoram, and thyme, are perennials and shrubs and permanent parts of the garden. Let them die back in winter (in some mild-winter climates, they will continue to produce), and then feed them lightly and add compost around the plants in early spring to give them a head start on the new season.

Herbs have a long growing season and are among the original cut-and-come-again plants; you just snip off what you need for that day. This, in turn, encourages further growth and prevents the plants from going to seed. If you’re not using the herbs immediately, set them in a small glass or vase of water to preserve their freshness; this also makes a lovely green bouquet for the table.

How to Harvest Herbs

At the end of the growing season, you can easily dry herbs to last through the winter. It’s a low-tech process: You simply cut off the edible parts of the plant, place them in a dry but airy place out of the sun until they are thoroughly dried and the leaves begin to crumble, and then store them in an airtight container.

The best time to cut plants for drying is when the flower buds are just starting to open. Cut in the morning, when the plants no longer have dew on them. If you want to dry both stems and leaves, tie the stems into a bundle and then hang them upside down. To dry just the leaves, cut them from the stems and spread them on a screen container. For herbs that are grown for their seeds, wait until the seedheads or pods turn brown and then pick them and place them in a brown paper bag. When the seeds can be shaken loose, they are ready to be stored.