How do you know when to plant for summer?

It’s that time of year again when I get asked a lot about sowing and planting summer seeds and plants.

When you go into the plant shops, they are already brimming with the tantalising summer plants; tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and even chillis.

For a novice gardener, this can be very confusing, as they are sitting on the shelves saying “buy me now”.

Maybe you will think to question “is it warm enough?”, but the sheer fact they are on the shelves surely indicates that it must be… right?

Over the past few years, I have experimented in many ways and particularly with timings; sowing seeds from now until November and also planting seedlings from now until December across many common varieties. I want to share these invaluable learnings with you, so that you can decide for yourselves!

Below are some of my findings over the past few years, and I hope this will help you with your decision.

Fast facts

Growing seeds is all about temperature.

Seeds like a consistent heat and, when transplanted to either a bigger pot or into the ground, they will require that same heat to ensure steady, even growth.

Yes – you can sow seeds now, either indoors or in a greenhouse, and they will germinate if it is warm enough and they will slowly grow.

If your greenhouse is heated, then you have the luxury of being able to determine your own climate. If you can consistently maintain a good, warm, healthy environment until the ground warms up, you can create success.

It is worth remembering that the summer plants you see in the garden centres right now have been grown in a temperature-controlled hot house, and then pricked out and put into a hardening off area to give them some strength. Next, these plants are shipped in a truck and put on the shelves.

They have never really been outside or exposed to a natural environment.

Once you pick them off the shelves, they travel home with you and, more often than not, get put straight in the garden, exposed to all sorts of weather and inconsistent temperatures. These plants can become stunted and die, or grow really slowly, due to the ground being too cold.

The biggest danger in gardening as far as I’m concerned at Grow Inspired is disappointment, despondency and doubt. Imagine this – you have sprouted your seeds and pricked them out. You’re feeling quite chuffed with yourself and excited that you might have tomatoes by Christmas! Then you plant them into the ground and a strong southerly wind comes along, dropping the temperature by 5 degrees. Your plants suffer and start to weaken, prone to disease, and so you are filled with disappointment and want to give up on growing food, before the season has really even started.

This is not what we want here at Grow Inspired.

My advice would be to wait until the next moon’s cycle to sow your summer seeds, unless you are going to protect them when they go into the ground and mulch them heavily.

Here are my top tips when you get started:

Top tip #1: A good thing to do when buying plants is to check under the leaves and along the stems for any pests or disease, and to make sure that too many roots aren’t coming out of the bottom, as this could mean that they are root bound with no soil to grow in.

Top tip #2: When you take them home, leave them outside but in a protected place for a few days to give them a chance to climatise to your area. Only then should you plant them into your garden.

Top tip #3: I have found that if you put microcloth over early plantings, it will increase the temperature of the soil, keeping it warmer so that your plants will grow much better until the summer really arrives.

Top tip #4: A good way to test if your soil is warm enough is to plant a bean seed. Beans like warm soil and will only germinate when the soil is above 16 degrees. They much prefer a consistent 20 degrees. Tomatoes, corn, zucchini, chilli, capsicum, eggplant, melons and pumpkins all prefer the higher temperatures.

From my experiments, I have had much better results with sowing and planting later, as the growth rate is nearly double as the soil warms up. You could buy a tomato in September and pot it up ready to plant in October just as an example. Summer plants will grow rapidly when the weather and soil are warmer and will usually overtake the earlier planted ones.

Last year, my best tomatoes grew from a fruit that dropped on to the soil in December and were producing by late January and lasted until June 2nd. These were healthy and disease free, with little care at all. Also my cucumbers planted in early January overtook the ones I had planted in November.

Gardening is all about trial and error and it is good to experiment to help us learn about our own soil, so I challenge you to plant one variety each moon cycle from now until December and see what happens. My belief is the learning comes in the doing!

Happy gardening!

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