While April showers bring May flowers, the month of May is the official start of the season for warm-weather crops like tomatoes and peppers.
Why May? By the time Memorial Day rolls around, May's soil is toasty warm, a condition that tomatoes and peppers need in order to establish good root growth before flowering and fruiting time.
Tomatoes and peppers, which can be planted in large pots or in the ground, are popular among all types of gardeners, including people who have little yard space, according to local garden centers. Succession planting, or staggering your plantings for extended harvests, means you can have tomatoes and other veggies into late fall. Tomatoes, which need full sun and regular water, are easily planted into mid-July.
"There are more than 700 types of tomatoes, and we offer 110 tomato and 43 pepper varieties," says Tish Llaneza of Countryside Gardens in Hampton.
"Many have been recommended by customers over the years. All have pictures and stories on our Pinterest page, http://www.pinterest.com/csgardens. And, our herbs, come from A Thyme to Plant, the largest organic herb farm in Virginia."
The vegetable garden is a great way to spend quality time and harvest quality food for the table, according to retired Virginia Cooperative Extension agent Jim Orband of Yorktown.
"There are minimum requirements when growing vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, the salad vegetables – eight-plus hours of sun, access to water and routine monitoring of the plants," Orband said.
You can call in tomato and other gardening questions to him monthly, including noon-1 p.m. Thursday, June 19, during his live program on the "HearSay" public radio program on WHRV-FM 89.5. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 440-2665 on the show day.
"Watering needs to be done early in the day and the water needs to be applied around the base of the plant and not on the plants foliage. Use a porous mulch around your plants, such as pine needles that will help conserve water, reduce water evaporation, and reduce the spread of early blight disease."
Here, meet local gardeners with some of their tips on growing great vegetables in any season:
Larry Nisley in Hampton
"Our spring season remained cooler longer than expected, so cool crops held on longer," says Larry Nisley a Hampton master gardener and employee at McDonald Garden Center in Hampton.
"I recently removed old spring crops to prevent insects carrying over to my new crop and any diseases that might survive on the surface of the soil," he said.
"My raised bed had an outstanding selection of leaf lettuces, radishes, onions and spinach. Successive planting was one of my efforts this year for a constant crop of cool-season crops. Now, I'm in transition to summer crops."
Nisley suggests adding a thin layer of compost to recharge your soil for summer crops. This can be done before or after your plants have been placed, and are growing.
Garden lime is important especially for tomatoes, peppers, squash and watermelon plants, he adds. Lime helps prevent blossom end rot that occurs later into the summer growing season.
"I use and recommend Bio-Tone by Espoma when you plant tomatoes," he said. "I also recommend planting tomato's in a slanted angle into the ground but also use Bio-tone to encourage greater root development."
During the growing season, Nisley uses a top dressing of Tomato-tone around the plant stem every two weeks. Tomato-tone has lime in the fertilizer which helps prevent blossom-end rot.
"I use a palm size or three tablespoons sprinkled around each plant," he said.
To deter diseases and pests in the veggie garden, Nisley recommends proper spacing for good air circulation and light penetration.