Sweet Peppers: 4 Tips for a Great Harvest

Sweet peppers can make attractive, colorful additions to your garden and are generally less vulnerable to pests and diseases than many other common garden vegetables. Here are four tips to help you get the most out of your pepper plants:

Thin early fruits. This encourages pepper plants to grow larger and produce more foliage before taking on the heavy task of producing fruit. Many sweet pepper varieties, especially sweet hybrid bell pepper types, can have a heavy fruit load. Consider staking your plants to provide additional support.

Prevent sunburn damage to pepper fruits. Sunburn damage is more common if plants lack sufficient foliage to protect pepper fruits and is more common with sweet pepper fruits than with hot pepper fruits. Provide shade cloth if temperatures reach into the mid-nineties. Temperatures above 95°F cause pepper flowers to abort and drop.

Do not over-water. Despite high summer temperatures, allow sufficient soil dry-down between irrigations. More than any other crop, peppers thrive when the soil has a chance to dry-down between waterings. Be aware that if new pepper leaves show signs of curling or appear wrinkled, it most likely an indication of a lack of calcium and not a lack of water.

Weed with care. Peppers are shallow-rooted: cultivate around peppers with care. Keep area well-weeded to avoid competition.

GardenZeus has customized growing information by plant and zip code. To get started, enter your zip code here.

Other articles of interest include:

Do Peppers Make Good Container Plants?

Hot and Sweet Peppers: Do They Make Good Companion Plants?

Sweet Peppers: Tips for Getting Started

5 Tips for Growing Basil in Containers

Basil is an ideal plant for container gardening, whether on the patio or the kitchen windowsill. Growing basil in containers allows you to move basil to follow seasonal changes in sun, to shaded areas during hot summers, warmer areas during spring, and to protected areas when necessary in response to winds or other environmental factors.

Here are five suggestions for growing basil in containers:

  1. Location. Place basil in a warm area where it will receive plenty of light.
  2. Soil. GardenZeus recommends a soil mix of at least 2/3 sand and topsoil when growing vegetables and herbs in containers, with some organic matter or compost. Potting soils with high proportions of organic matter tend to shrink and collapse over the course of a growing season as soil microbes and macro organisms like insects digest and decompose the organic matter, which results in falling soil levels.
  3. Watering. Soils may dry rapidly in containers, so monitoring and regular watering of vegetables and herbs in containers is important. Pay close attention to soil moisture and frequency of irrigation. Consider using self-watering containers, trays that hold a half-inch of standing water under pots, or pay extra attention to irrigation or manual watering when growing basil in containers. When growing multiple basil plants in one container, it can be difficult to maintain adequate levels of soil moisture. GardenZeus recommends using one large pot rather than several small ones to help ensure the soil does not dry out too quickly.
  4. Amendments. Nutrients are easily leached from containers. GardenZeus recommends providing basil plants grown in containers with supplemental fertility; add compost or nutrient-rich amendments and refresh mulch every month or so when growing in containers.
  5. Companion Plants. Gardeners who are tempted to plant basil with other Mediterranean herbs should be aware that basil has cultural needs that differ from many other Mediterranean herbs. Herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme prefer soils drier than basil, and parsley and cilantro want cooler temperatures than basil.
Basil has cultural needs often different from other herbs.

Basil has cultural needs often different from other herbs.

 

GardenZeus has customized growing information for your area. To get started, enter your zip code here.

Other articles of interest:

3 Tips for Growing Basil in the Summer Home Garden

Constructing a Mediterranean Herb Garden

GardenZeus Recommendations for Edible Sage

GardenZeus Quick Tips: Rosemary in the Sustainable Garden

3 Tips for Growing Basil in the Summer Home Garden

Basil is one of the most popular and rewarding herbs for the home gardener. Fresh basil is an essential ingredient in many recipes, from Caprese salad to pesto.  Two to three plants can usually provide enough for one household. Pesto lovers may want four or five. Gardeners with long warm growing seasons should consider planting basil successively to ensure several plants are always at maximum production.

  1. Watering.Water regularly, but do not over-water.  Soak soil thoroughly, and then allow soil to dry down but not completely between waterings. Basil is not as drought tolerant as other Mediterranean herbs, such as rosemary, sage and thyme.
  2. Soil amendments. Basil performs best in rich, living soil with sufficient organic matter. GardenZeus recommends adding nitrogen once during the growing season in the form of a cup of chicken manure diluted in 4 gallons of water (half cup if fresh manure) and mixed thoroughly, applied as a soil drench. GardenZeus also recommends mulching basil. Use a quarter to half-inch fine mulch for small starts under four inches in height; increase to an inch or more of fine to medium mulch after plants are 1 to 2 feet tall.
  3. Pruning. GardenZeus recommends frequent harvesting of the outer leaves to prolong the life of the plant. Once plants are at least 6 inches tall, begin regularly pinching the end of each stem every three weeks to prevent flowering and encourage new growth. Once basil flowers, the leaves tend to become bitter in taste.
Pinch the end of each stem to remove the flower.

Pinch the end of each stem to remove the flower.

 

GardenZeus has customized gardening information for your area. To get started, enter your zip code here. 

Other articles of interest:

Constructing a Mediterranean Herb Garden

GardenZeus Recommendations for Edible Sage

GardenZeus Quick Tips: Rosemary in the Sustainable Garden

California Native Plants: 3 Things NOT TO DO This Summer

For those familiar with gardening maintenance associated with the traditional flowering perennials and annuals common in California home gardens, such as roses, azaleas, delphiniums, and (gasp!) grass, learning what to do, or more precisely what NOT TO DO, with California native plants is a process.

California natives require us to reevaluate our plant maintenance practices, such as the application of fertilizers and regular watering. Think of meditation as the new soil amendment and inaction as the new watering: with respect to California native plants, gardeners often DO something when they should NOT DO anything.

Here are three things NOT TO DO this summer to your California native plants:

  1. Over-water. Most areas of California have a Mediterranean climate: hot and dry summers and cool and moist winters. It rarely rains from May through October. California natives are adapted to survive and thrive in this climate. They generally do not need and often do not want excessive supplemental water in the hot and dry summers. In fact, many natives are susceptible to root rot diseases that occur in over-watered and waterlogged soils. Resist the temptation to provide too much supplemental water to your California native plants this summer.
  2. Inter-plant your California natives with vegetables or ornamentals. Vegetables need water. And ornamental plants generally need water, especially annual ornamentals that gardeners use to “fill in” spaces needing “summer color.” California natives need significantly less water (reread 1 above!), making them inherently incompatible with vegetables and ornamentals. So, don’t plant your zucchini plants near your California Lilac: the water your zucchini plants need to produce fruit will likely damage your California lilac.
  3. Fertilize or add compost. California generally has infertile, alkaline soils which lack the deep, rich humus found in the American Midwest. Again, California native plants are adapted to survive in the dry, infertile, alkaline soils found in California. They generally do not need and often do not want supplemental fertility.  This summer, resist fertilizing and adding compost! When you are fertilizing your roses with supplemental nitrogen, skip the natives.

And remember, even when you are doing everything right, many California natives will look a little tired by the end of the summer dry season. In many ways, plants growing in the hot and dry California summers are like plants in Midwestern winters: surviving not thriving. Your California native plants will thrive once again with the arrival of cool season rains.

GardenZeus has customized growing information by plant and zip code. To get started,  enter your zip code here.

Other articles regarding California natives include:

Getting Started With California Poppy

Sky Lupine: A Lovely Native California Wildflower

California Goldfields: Plant in Fall for Burst of Spring Color

 

 

Cucumbers: Six Things You May Not Know

GardenZeus earns commissions on sales made through links in this article. There is no additional cost to you.

Think you know cucumbers? Here are six things you may not know.

Sustainable Gardening. To help ensure proper pollination of cucumbers and other fruiting crops, encourage populations of beneficial pollinators, and utilize surrounding areas by having plants that will provide food and habitat for beneficial insects. Flowering plants with a high sugar content in their nectar often support adult beneficial insects and butterflies. Consider also plants with abundant small flowers from the mint or aster families, favorites for native bees.

Saving Cucumber Seeds. Cucumbers can cross pollinate with any other cucumber varieties, up to a 1/2 mile away from your garden. Therefore, home gardeners do not usually save cucumber seeds. If cucumber varieties can be isolated by distance, or through bagging and hand pollination, cucumber seeds can be easily saved. Seeds must be selected from a fruit at a much more mature stage than normally eaten, and may turn white, yellow, or orange. Seeds are processed using a wet fermentation technique similar to tomato seeds in order to breakdown anti-sprouting enzymes present on the cucumber seeds. See The GardenZeus Guide to Saving Tomato Seeds for information on how to save tomato seeds.

Biointensive Gardening. Biointensive gardeners can plant cucumbers 6 inches apart along a trellis if soil is conditioned well with plenty of compost to support intensive growth.

Modifying Cucumber Flavor. Cool temperatures can enhance bitterness, but fertilization practices, plant spacing, and watering frequency have exhibited little consistent effect on the number of bitter cucumbers produced. Varieties vary widely in their tendency to be bitter.

Fun With Children. Consider growing Dragon’s Egg cucumbers for a fun yet edible activity with children. These non-bitter cucumbers are white to very light green and look very similar to large eggs. Plant Dragon’s Eggs and encourage your children to help you harvest by hunting for eggs!

Try Cucuamelons! Mexican Sour Gherkins (Melothria scabra), or cucamelons look like grape-sized watermelons, but are grown like cucumbers and taste like cucumbers with a twist of lime. See Cucamelons: Planting, Maintaining, Harvesting and Use 

GardenZeus has customized growing information for cucumber in your area. To get started enter your zip code here and then go to cucumber.

Other articles of interest:

Growing Cucumbers in the California Home Garden

Getting to Know Cucumbers Part 1 of 3: Two Basic Cucumber Decisions 

Mildews on Cucurbits: Identifying, Preventing and Treating

Mildews are a common malady of cucurbits such as summer squash (including zucchini), winter squash (including pumpkin), cucumbers and melons. How can you identify a disease as mildew? And how should it be prevented and treated?

What is mildew? Powdery and downy mildew are the most common leaf-diseases of cucurbits in many portions of California. They appear as a whitish circles or whitish layers on the upper or lower surfaces of leaves, yellowing or dead spots, or pale or yellow angular leaf sections, and may be mistaken for other problems, such as nutrient deficiencies. Powdery mildew is more commonly a problem in many parts of California than downy mildew, and especially prevalent later in summer or after periods of hot weather.

Typical whitish circles of mildew

How to prevent mildew. Avoid wetting foliage when watering. Some mildews can be discouraged using a nontoxic homemade spray of one tablespoon each of baking soda and tea tree oil per quart of water, shaken vigorously and regularly as applied via spray bottle. Mildews are often difficult to control and are best managed through prevention and good cultural practices, such as planting resistant varieties, planting in areas with good air circulation, keeping foliage dry, less-frequent irrigation, encouraging biologically active “living” soil that will support strong plant immune systems, and rotating crops.

Note that the plant leaves in the shade are covered with mildew while those in the sun are not.

Living with mildew. Mildews are often not fatal and squash may produce reasonable yields and fresh uninfected leaves despite ongoing infections on older leaves. The majority of cucurbit plants develop mildew infections by mid-to-late summer in warm weather portions of California, as their vigorous fruiting slowly exhausts them and their immune systems weaken.

The older leaves of this zucchini plant are clearly infected with mildew, yet the plant continues to produce fruit.

This is an updated version of an article previously published on June 7, 2017. The prior version focused exclusively on mildews on zucchini plants; the current article has been updated to include mildews on other squash, cucumbers and melons.

Other articles of interest:

Growing Winter Squash and Pumpkins in the California Home Garden

Growing Summer Squash (Including Zucchini) in the California Home Garden

Growing Cucumbers in the California Home Garden

 

Turmeric: Container Gardening and Harvesting

GardenZeus receives commissions for purchases made through links in this post. There is no additional cost to you.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a perennial plant and member of the Zingiberaceae, or ginger family grown for its edible rhizomes typically used for flavoring in curries. Recently, there has been much interest in its possible medicinal value. Native to tropical Asia, its growing conditions are similar to ginger: moist and warm but not hot. Gardeners who do not live in subtropical and tropical climates can be successful growing turmeric, although it is unlikely the plants will be as productive.

GardenZeus recommends growing turmeric in containers: containers make it easier for home gardeners to approximate turmeric’s preferred growing conditions, allowing gardeners to protect growing turmeric from frost, extreme heat, and dry soil.

Begin by selecting turmeric from a local grocery store; select rhizomes with buds, or eyes. Place whole rhizomes (do not break them apart) in a seed tray with buds facing up and cover with a light coat of potting soil, then cover the entire tray with a plastic bag and seal. Place in a warm room of at least 75° F. Remove plastic bag once shoots emerge and transplant sprouted rhizomes into containers.

Select loamy, well-draining soil high in organic matter.

Apply a balanced fertilizer at time of planting, such as Dr. Earth Flower Girl Bud and Bloom Booster. Avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers which will likely produce too much leaf development at the expense of root development. Reapply fertilizer regularly according to package instructions.

Plant sprouted rhizomes at a distance of 12 inches from each other and 2-3 inches deep in the container. Apply a light layer of mulch.

Ideal air temperature for turmeric is at least 65° F during the day but not over 90° F. Turmeric is highly sensitive to frost.

Turmeric cannot take direct sun. It tolerates filtered morning sun, but not afternoon sun. Place in complete shade in hottest climates.

Keep turmeric moist. Remember, it is native to tropical Asia! Do not allow soil to become waterlogged. Consider misting above-ground leaves in extremely dry climates.

Unlike ginger, turmeric cannot be harvested successively over time. Wait to harvest until flowers fade and leaves yellow. Then dig up all rhizomes with trowel. Turmeric matures in 8 to 10 months.

Fresh turmeric rhizomes last 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator. To store for longer periods of time, wash, peel and freeze in a freezer bag. Turmeric grates easily when frozen. Beware when using fresh turmeric: it has significantly stronger flavor than dry!

GardenZeus has customized growing information by plant and zip code. To get started, enter your zip code here. 

Other articles of interest:

Growing Garlic in Containers: Essential Requirements

Growing Mint: What to Think About Before Planting

Ginger: Growing and Harvesting for Culinary Use

GardenZeus receives commissions for purchases made through links in this post. There is no additional cost to you.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a perennial plant with spear-like leaves and unremarkable yellow flowers that is typically grown as an annual plant for its edible root, or more precisely, its edible rhizomes.  Ginger is grown commercially in subtropical and tropical climates, such as Hawaii, as ginger likes humid and warm but not hot conditions. Gardeners who do not live in subtropical and tropical climates can be successful growing ginger, although it is unlikely the ginger plants will be as productive.  Garden chefs will revel in fresh ginger’s flavor and moist, smooth texture.

GardenZeus recommends growing ginger in containers: containers make it easier for home gardeners to approximate ginger’s preferred growing conditions, allowing gardeners to protect growing ginger from frost, extreme heat, wind and dry soil.

Start by selecting a plump piece of ginger with lots of “fingers” from the grocery store: cut rhizomes into pieces containing 3-4 eyes or buds (just like a potato) and let them cure, or dry for two days.

Select well-draining soil high in organic matter and calcium with a soil pH from 5.5 to 6.5. Don’t know how to determine soil pH? Read our recommendations at Tips for Testing Soil pH at Home with a Soil pH Meter.

Plant rhizomes with eyes facing upward and cover with 1 inch of soil. Plant rhizomes 15 inches apart. Add a light layer of mulch.

Ideal air temperature for growing ginger is 77° F with humidity. Ginger is sensitive to both frost and extreme heat. Bring containers inside when temperatures dip below 50° F. Place in partial shade location protected from wind. Gardeners in hot inland areas will want to place ginger in dappled shade.

Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer such as Dr. Earth Flower Girl Bud and Bloom Booster upon planting. Consider supplementing with calcium by crushing broken eggshells in container soil. Avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers which will likely produce too much leaf development at the expense of root development. Once the first shoots appear, reapply fertilizer regularly according to package instructions. Discontinue fertilizing when flowers emerge on above-ground plant.

Keep ginger moist, but do not allow soil to get soggy as rhizomes can rot. Ginger is not a drought tolerant plant! Reduce watering a few weeks before maturity.

Ginger can be harvested over time, beginning at 3 to 4 months after planting. Harvest a small amount of ginger by gently removing an area of soil and breaking off a portion, or finger of the rhizome. The remaining portion will keep growing. Harvest all ginger when leaves turn yellow and stems droop, or full maturity, as long as 10 months after planting.

Store in plastic bags in refrigerator. The most recently formed parts of the rhizome may have the most desirable flavor and best texture.

GardenZeus has customized growing information by plant and zip code. To get started, enter your zip code here. 

Other articles of interest:

Mud Pies and Fizz: Easy Home Tests for Soil pH

3 Easy Vegetables for Beginning Gardeners

GardenZeus earns commissions on sales made through links in this article. There is no additional cost to you.

Many vegetables are easy to grow, but cherry tomatoes, loose-leaf lettuce and zucchini stand out for being easy to grow, quick to maturity and high productive.

Cherry Tomatoes. Tomatoes are one of the easiest vegetables to transplant and cherry tomatoes are the most reliable general category of tomatoes, and a good choice for beginners. Consider Super Sweet 100, a flavorful red cherry tomato or SunGold, a standout gold cherry tomato. Both are hybrids and disease-resistant and prolific. Both varieties are commonly available as transplants in local garden centers.

Sungold tomatoes

Sungold tomatoes

Tomatoes yield best in well-drained, loose, fertile soil with sufficient calcium and moderate-to-high organic matte and a pH in the range of 5.8 to 6.8.

Tomatoes prefer full sun and consistently-moist-but-not-wet soil, daytime temperatures of about 75° to 85°F and not above about 95°F, nighttime temperatures above 55°F. In the hottest areas, tomatoes benefit from afternoon shade.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders: avoid growing tomatoes or their relatives including peppers, potatoes, and eggplants in the same place for more than one season every 3 or 4 years to avoid depleting soil and encouraging pests and diseases.

GardenZeus has customized information for growing tomatoes in your area. To get started, enter your zip code here, then go to tomato.

Loose-leaf Lettuce. Mix. Cherry tomatoes are easy to grow and loose-leaf lettuce may be even easier. But unlike tomatoes, beginners need not start lettuce from transplants. Seeds can be broadcast outdoors and covered with a very thin (1/8-inch or less) layer of fine soil or sand. Broadcasted seeds must be kept moist for germination, which may require misting or watering with a gentle, fine spray a few to several times per day. Lettuce does not germinate well when in complete darkness or when buried under more than a very thin layer of soil. Gardeners in warm areas should consider Black Seeded Simpson as a standout lettuce variety with some heat resistance; gardeners in cooler areas can consider growing a mix, such as Salad Bowl Blend.

Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce

Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce

Lettuce prefers loose, reasonably fertile soil. Soil pH between about 6.2 and 6.9 is recommended, and soil pH is generally more important for lettuce than soil type or texture.

Lettuce prefers full sun in daytime temperatures of 70° F to 75° F, and may suffer, bolt, or become bitter above 80° F, during longer summer days, and during shorter, colder fall and winter days. At 85° F to 90° F temperatures and above, virtually all varieties of lettuce will suffer, become bitter, or bolt in from a few days to 2 to 3 weeks.

Lettuce is not a heavy feeder: there is no need to rotate the placement of lettuce from year to year.

GardenZeus has customized information for growing loose-leaf lettuce in your area. To get started, enter your zip code here, then go to loose-leaf lettuce.

Zucchini. Zucchini is a relatively easy vegetable that produces early and abundant yields, which make it a good choice for beginning gardeners. Purchase seeds, not seedlings; zucchini does not transplant well. Choose a hybrid such as Emerald Delight that is resistant to powdery mildew and mosaic virus.

Harvest zucchini young, and use both the fruit and the blossom

Harvest zucchini young, and use both the fruit and the blossom

As long as fertility and drainage are sufficient, zucchini performs well in a variety of soils. Zucchini is less fussy than some vegetables about soil acidity, and performs reasonably well in the range of about 5.8 to 6.9 pH.

Ideal temperature range for germination is 70° to 95°F with fastest germination at the warmer end of this range. Ideal temperature range for growth and fruiting is about 65° to 75°F. Zucchini withstands temperatures up to 100°F, but growth and fruiting may be diminished at temperatures above 85°F, and flowers may drop at high temperatures.

Zucchini are heavy feeders that benefit from well-drained, loose, fertile soil with sufficient calcium and moderate-to-high organic matter. Avoid growing zucchini or any squash varieties in the same place for more than one season at a time to avoid depleting soil and concentrating pest populations and diseases.

GardenZeus has customized information for growing zucchini in your area. To get started, enter your zip code here, then go to zucchini.

 

5 Common Mistakes Gardeners Make When Growing Tomatoes

If there is a single flagship (flagplant?) and most-beloved garden vegetable in California and the United States, it would be the tomato. With proper timing, careful selection of varieties, and appropriate care and maintenance, tomatoes are the juicy, flavorful, often colorful, and nutritious joy of the home garden. Increase your tomato joy by avoiding these 5 common mistakes:

Irregular Watering. Tomato plants benefit from consistent soil moisture with a partial or slight dry-down of soil between waterings to ensure that soil is not consistently wet. The amount of dry-down between waterings should be kept consistent, as irregular moisture swings and dry soil can lead to problems such as blossom end rot and fruit splitting.

Watering tomatoes with drip system

Watering tomatoes with drip system

 

Too Much Watering. There are two ways to control tomato flavor: genetics and concentrating flavor by withholding water. Once tomatoes have been planted, take advantage of your remaining opportunity to affect flavor and don’t overwater, particularly toward the end of the growing season.

Too Much Nitrogen. GardenZeus recommends providing additional nitrogen and nutrients to tomatoes after transplanting and once tomatoes begin to produce fruit. GardenZeus recommends adding nitrogen in the form of diluted urea or a cup of chicken manure diluted in 4 gallons of water (half cup if fresh manure) and mixed thoroughly, applied as a soil drench after transplanting and about once per month thereafter while plants are fruiting. But gardeners should beware: adding too much nitrogen may result in rapid growth and lush, high-carbohydrate leaves that attract insect infestation; and slowed or reduced yields. Reduce or discontinue fertilizing with nitrogen after early early summer to avoid growth flushes and an overly leafy plant that will tend to wilt during summer heat.

Improper Pruning. Indeterminate tomato plants may be pinched back when 6 inches tall to encourage compact, lateral, or spreading growth. Typically the end set of leaves on a stem is pinched or cut back to the next stem or node. GardenZeus does not recommend pinching back or removing blossoms from determinate tomato plants under most circumstances; and recommends that determinate tomatoes generally not be pruned.

Improper or Late Staking. Most tomato varieties will need staking or trellising to keep plants manageable, prevent vigorous tomato varieties from overwhelming other nearby vegetables, maximize growing space and maintain garden tidiness by requiring tomatoes to grow up rather than outward, allow for easier harvesting, and to reduce or prevent disease and pest problems caused by tomato fruits and stems resting directly on soil. Install support or trellises when germinating seeds or while seedlings are small. This will help prevent later damage to plants that may be caused by driving stakes through their root systems and when untangling or redirecting mature stems.

Bamboo stakes can be used for support

Bamboo stakes can be used for support

 

GardenZeus has customized growing information for tomato by zip code. To get started, enter your zip code here.

Other articles of interest:

The GardenZeus Guide to Watering Tomatoes

Pinching Blossoms and Pruning Stems From Tomato Plants

Growing Vigorous Tomatoes? Don’t Wait too Long to Provide Support

GardenZeus Tips for Fertilizing Tomatoes During the Growing Season

 

By continuing, you are agreeing to the GardenZeus Affiliate Policy, Terms of Use, and Privacy Policy.