Planning for a masterpiece

Well, it’s been a week since we last met, and still nothing is
planted in my garden. But I’m not worried yet.
You see, right now I’m in the planning stages. This can be the
part that’s the most fun
– the part where visions of a lush, fruitful garden inform my
planting choices.
Well, it’s been a week since we last met, and still nothing is planted in my garden. But I’m not worried yet.

You see, right now I’m in the planning stages. This can be the part that’s the most fun – the part where visions of a lush, fruitful garden inform my planting choices.

Right now, in my mind’s eye, I see a strawberry pot actually overflowing with strawberries. I see tomato plants climbing their cages with plump, ripe tomatoes just waiting to be tossed into a salad. I see a bushy basil plant with broad, scented, aphid-free leaves. Yes, it’s a rosy picture indeed.

What I’m blocking out right now is the vision of reality: The stunted strawberry plants, the tomato plants that have long since collapsed, the leggy basil with tiny, flavorless leaves. And the aphids.

But I digress.

Because my garden space is small, not all the plants I’d like to include will actually make it into the garden. And the hard part is thinning my choices. But one mistake I won’t make again is using my precious space for five sprawling squash plants. Helpful reader Cynthia Walker suggests planting two, max, and that’s what I’m sticking with.

So here’s what I’ve come up with so far, along with some growing tips from the University of California Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County, in case anyone else is interested in propagating similar fruits and veggies:

Tomatoes

What California garden would be complete without them? They grow in full sun, and the tall ones need support, usually with some type of cage or stake. The Master Gardeners recommend watering about twice a week during the early part of the season, and then decreasing that as the fruit begins to ripen. They also suggest pinching off growth that goes more than a foot above the cage so it doesn’t shade out the rest of the plant.

Peppers

As someone who adds chiles in any form to everything – from enchiladas to lasagna – I can’t have a garden without these little flavor bombs. The Master Gardeners suggest planting them close together to retain moisture under the leaves and prevent them from getting sunscald.

They also like it warm, but not too warm – between 65 and 80 degrees F at night, and no hotter than 86 degrees at night or 95 degrees during the day. Avoid overhead watering, because that can encourage fungal growth, and keep the soil moist, but not too wet.

Cucumbers

Not the pickling kind, the kind you eat in salad. “The Vegetable Expert,” one of a series of helpful gardening books, suggests keeping the soil moist, although not watering from above.

The plants require full sun and nice, warm weather, as well as plenty of fertilizer. They, too, need support, and can be trained to a trellis or a cage.

Basil

Now here is a plant I’ve actually had some success with in the past.

This plant also likes heat, and according to “The Bountiful Container,” a handy book for apartment-dwellers who still want to grow some plants, basil is the ideal herb to grow around your tomatoes.

The book also recommends letting the plant go slightly dry between waterings to help develop their flavor.

Squash

I will plant only two. I learned the hard way that it’s kind of difficult to do anything wrong to squash, but “The Bountiful Container” offers some advice just in case: Keep the soil moist, keep the foliage washed to keep off aphids, and keep picking the squash when they are small so the plant will keep producing.

Strawberries

These aren’t actually going into the ground. I’ve got a strawberry pot, and I’m not afraid to use it. The Master Gardeners suggest using fresh potting mix and additional fertilizer when planting strawberries in a container, and plant so crowns aren’t buried by the time you water.

Grow in full sun and prune off all runners the first season so the plant focuses energy on producing fruit. Strawberries are perennials, although you may notice them losing vigor in fruit production after the first year, and they do best with warm days and cool nights.

So that’s about all the plants I have space for. It was pretty tough narrowing them down, and there’s still no guarantee that I won’t go a little overboard at the nursery and throw in a bunch of other types of plants just to see what happens.

Now I’d like to know what you think – any suggestions for plants that may thrive in our South Valley soil? Any gardeners out there who have had luck with a certain technique, watering schedule, fertilizer or other trick? Please send comments, questions and tips to [email protected]

If you’d like to see what the UC Master Gardeners have to say about other plants, call the hotline at (408) 282-3105 or visit them on the Web at www.mastergardeners.org.

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