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Garden Plot: Some vegetables need to be planted now

Friday - 4/5/2013, 10:03am  ET

broccoli (Thinkstock)
Broccoli is among the vegetables that should be planted in the spring. (Thinkstock)

Lettuce loves cooler temperatures

WTOP's Garden Editor Mike McGrath

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Editor's Note: Meet Mike on Saturday, April 27 at the Community Home Show in Ocean Pines, Md.

Mike McGrath, wtop.com

It's not too late to prevent crabgrass without chemicals

Robert in Fredericksburg has a timely question. He writes: "Is it too late to use corn gluten on my lawn to prevent crabgrass this summer?"

Not at all, Robert. In fact, those folks who jumped the gun and spread it already may be the ones who get poor results. Corn gluten meal gives your lawn a gentle spring feeding and also acts as a natural pre-emergent, preventing weed seeds like those of crabgrass from successfully germinating. But timing is critical -- as with any pre-emergent, natural or chemical -- you want to put it down just as the soil temperature approaches 55 degrees, as measured 4 inches down. And by all accounts, our soils are still stuck in the mid-forties.

But the herbicidal action of corn gluten lasts for six weeks, and I expect the coming stretch of warm weather will bring those soil numbers up to where they should be sometime over the next two weeks.

So, as of right now, I think the best time to spread it would be between our very welcome weekend heat wave and next weekend. Better to get it down a little early than too late.

To get the most crabgrass killing effect, spread the gluten, wet it down once and then let it dry out afterwards. Do not water the area for a week after application and that first wetting.

Can corn gluten kill weeds in flower beds?

Jennifer in Silver Spring writes that she has purchased three bottles of the new liquid form of corn gluten meal to spray on her lawn when the time arrives, and asks: "Would it be safe to use some on my flower beds too, to keep weeks from popping up?"

Well, first I have to say that this is all very exciting. This is the first season that the liquid form of corn gluten has been available to homeowners, after decades of development. And expectations are high that it will perform as well or better than the granulated form.

Liquid or dry, corn gluten provides a feeding of nitrogen to existing plants and prevents any seeds in the soil from germinating successfully. It will not harm any existing plants -- wanted or unwanted -- in your beds, but it will prevent any seeds from growing into new weeds.

That means it will prevent some weeds, the ones currently in seed form, but not any weeds you can already see. And be aware that you can't direct seed areas treated with corn gluten (or any pre-emergent) for the next six weeks. But you can put new plants in the ground right away.

There will be a slight delay in new lawn seeding

Dave in Annapolis has a common spring question. He writes: "With this colder than normal spring, should we be delaying establishing a new area of lawn by seed?"

Yes, Dave. And unfortunately you need to delay until August.

Cool-season grasses like bluegrass and fescue take forever to germinate in the cold soils of spring, and then the weak young grass burns up in the summer heat, making spring seeding an expensive and time-consuming disappointment.

Sod is more expensive than seed, but it establishes very well in the spring, making it THE choice for small to medium-sized areas this year of year. Warm season grasses like Bermuda and zoysia also establish very well in the spring.

But if you want to sow seed for a cool-season lawn that will be full, green and weed-free for years to come, start the process on Aug. 15.

There's plenty of good eating to plant in spring

Tom in Hagerstown has a great question. He writes: "What are the best vegetables to plant this time of year, when there is still a chill in the air?"

A surprising number of edibles must be grown now, Tom, as they can't survive summer heat. Now is the time to plant the seeds of snow peas, snap peas and English shelling peas. And now is the time to plant lettuce, spinach, cabbage and broccoli starts from the garden center -- and to have seeds ready to sow more runs of lettuce and spinach when the soil gets a little warmer.

And pick up some cold-weather loving pansies while you're at the garden center. Their pretty flowers are deliciously edible -- and a natural cure for varicose and spider veins, thanks to the high amounts of the nutrient rutin they naturally contain.

Man who tills wood chips will eat no tomatoes

Paul on southern Kent Island in Romancoke writes: "I have a very large mound of wood chips from cutting firewood all winter, mostly red and white oak. The chips are only about a quarter of an inch square and quite thin. Should I turn the vegetable garden's soil over with the chips? The plans for the garden are tomatoes, peppers, lots of basil and scallions."

Tilling any kind of wood or sawdust into your soil would turn it into a killing field, Paul. The wood would seize all the nitrogen in the soil and starve your plants to death for years to come.

But you can put those chips to good use in future gardens. Mix lots of coffee grounds into your pile o'chips, turn it once or twice over the summer and let it slowly become compost. In a year or two, it will look like rich black soil, lost its propensity to suck nitrogen and be safe to use.

But don't till it -- or anything else -- into your soil. Tilling causes weeds. The smart gardener just adds fresh compost to the surface of the soil and doesn't walk close to the plants.

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