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Mid-Atlantic: May Gardening

A Virginia Master Gardener shares spring tips and local news

Elaine is a member of the Master Gardener Association of the Central Rappahannock Area

Top 5 “to do’s” for May:

  • Get compost out of the composter and spread it in the vegetable garden.
  • Plant the new seed varieties I found in the January seed catalog
  • Plant vegetable transplants, putting hot peppers on the edge (to ward off the wildlife, I hope)
  • Plant gladiolus weekly
  • Check garden hoses for leaks and replace washer rings as needed

A frequent question this time of year:

“Can I grow vegetables in a container on my deck?”

Answer: Yes, you can. There are four very important considerations: the sun, the plant, the soil and the water.

Most vegetables need a minimum of six hours of sunlight. The morning light is the best for container plants on a deck; the afternoon sun is often very harsh on plants in containers.

The plant also needs to fit the size of the container. Large containers are best. I use a height of 18 inches and a diameter of 20 inches. The roots need room to grow and the foliage needs to have good air flow to prevent insects and disease.

Bush varieties are good for containers. If you want to have climbing plants (e.g. cucumbers) you need to provide a trellis. If you leave them trailing over the side of the container, the plant can get overheated from contact with the deck. If you are planting multiple seeds or plants be careful not to overload the pot. Consider how big the mature plant will be.

The soil you put in the container needs to be good soil with compost. Some commercial bagged soils are a good start but consider what you are growing (fruit vs. leaves). Consider mixing in a handful of bone meal and rock phosphate especially for tomatoes and peppers.

Finally, water is king in the whole container equation; it affects all three of the previous considerations. You will need to water at least daily, and frequency of watering will be determined by your plant choices and pot size. As the plants mature and the summer gets hotter you may need to water more frequently. Morning watering is the best. Water throughly and let drain. Remember to add a liquid fertilizer or compost tea once a week. This is necessary because the frequent watering will deplete nutrients.

The biggest recent challenge to gardeners in this area:

Our biggest challenge in our area is water. In recent years we have had droughts and water rationing. We also have Chesapeake Bay water quality issues. Rain barrels seem to be helpful in saving some of the spring rains for garden use. Mulch also helps keep the soil from drying out. Rain gardens keep the rain from running off, directing the water to plants that can use and filter the water. Preventing runoff also protects the Bay.

Volunteer activities of the Central Rappahannock Master Gardeners:

We have a variety of volunteer opportunities. One is a new program called "Livable Neighborhoods." It is a grassroots education program that is presented in small neighborhood groups. The program explains and encourages good environmental practices. The individuals chose which tasks to implement and commit to do them. I also volunteer at a local elementary school in their “Learning Garden.” It is an outside laboratory for teachers and students. Math, Science, Social Studies, Art and Reading are taught in the garden. One of the more recent projects is a trail at Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont, a historic site. The trail winds through the woods and has a segment along the Rappahannock River. We lead walks for the public on the last Sunday of every month. [www /]

About Elaine: I've loved gardening since growing up as a farm kid. I took my Master Gardener training in the fall of 1992. My favorite plant is the fig tree. On my suburban lot I grow vegetables, fruit trees and flowers that I sometimes enter in the local fair in July. I'm a Special Olympics swim coach and an elder at my church. I am married with four children.

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