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Gardening with Jack

April is a month of decisions for the home gardener. Summer is coming and looking after our plants will become more difficult. Many favourite vegetables will be almost impossible to grow successfully and those that usually grow well are often an acquired taste. Should we grow these vegetables in the summer or take a well-earned rest?

Tomatoes grow well but do not produce fruits when nights are warm. You may consider growing tomatillos as a tomato substitute. If you can get hold of Mexican cherry tomato seeds you will find they can set fruit in the summer months and provide a pleasant source of nibbling as you inspect your garden. All types of pepper can be grown and most will last through the summer months and bear well.

Cucumbers and summer squash also enjoy warm conditions but seeds should sown every few weeks as the plants will not last very long. The same applies to summer squash. If you have sandy soil you can grow watermelons if you fertilize very well and keep the ground watered until the fruits get fairly mature.

When it comes to green veggies the pride of summer is okra, which comes in two forms: bush and tall. If you only need okra occasionally then grow the bush variety. If you really love okra then plant a tall variety. The talls take longer to produce pods but bear for a longer period. Collards grow well in summer heat and are delicious if the leaves are picked early.

Long beans can only be grown in the warmer months and need support for the rampant vines. A chain link fence will do the job. Long beans are now very popular in US restaurants and are considered superior to regular snap beans. They are also known as Asparagus beans or Yard-Long beans. Early summer is the time for other beans such as cow peas, black-eye peas and black beans.

Summer flowers need to be tough as well as beautiful. Annuals that can take the heat are vinca, cosmos, zinnias and sunflowers. Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) can grow to 4 or 5 feet and bushes out well to provide summer beauty. Perennials such as Gaillardia (Blanket Flower) and Coreopsis bear flowers in their first year and can be treated as annuals. New Guinea impatiens can take the heat but not direct sun so buy some established plants and allow them to brighten up your garden’s shaded areas. The best bets for summer potted flowers are vinca, geraniums and portulacca.

Sap is rising and April is the time to give your roses a severe pruning by removing all small branches and allowing three or four main stems to provide the beauty. Take care not to remove more than 25% of the foliage. If your roses show any sign of damage from pests you can apply a drench of systemic insecticide to the root area.

During April we should have a clear indication of how the mango season will fare. At the moment it looks very promising with even the late-bearing trees such as Keitt holding fruit. The main fruit of April is black mulberry and the chance to make lots of pies and pots of jam.

Strawberries should be at their most productive during April. Nip off any runners you see growing. The stolons or runners are best left on when September comes in order to provide next year’s strawberry crop. Established pineapple plants should be producing ripe fruits by early June. Keep their soil suitably moist during the dry months leading up to June.

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