Thursday, July 8, 2021

Maintain a Thriving Garden this Summer!

 By: Candice Keast

During the hot sweltering months of the growing season, you can mostly sit back, relax and enjoy your beautiful garden. However, there are still things you can do to keep yourself busy. 

Firstly, check out the second video in our three-part Get Growing Toronto video series, which covers several frequently asked questions.


Continue reading to learn about the following: 

  • Watering tips and conservation
  • Succession planting
  • Hand pollination

 💧  Watering Tips & Conservation 

If you are growing food in containers, you will likely have to water your plants every day, especially in July and August. We know that water conservation in our homes is essential. So here are some tips to help you be water-wise in your garden:

  1. Try to water in the early morning or evening to avoid evaporation during the hottest part of the day.
  2. A good indication that your plants require water is droopy leaves. Cucumber and squash are typically the first plants to wilt.
  3. Water deeply rather than more frequently – this will help promote root growth. Water your plants thoroughly and ensure you have good drainage for excess water to escape. 
  4. Water the base of your plants, not the leaves. 
  5. Mulch will conserve soil moisture, moderate soil temperatures, and allow you to water less frequently. Add leaves, straw, bark or pine needles around your plants. 

Watch this video for more ways to be water-wise in your home and garden this year.

Tip: Next year, consider trying Sub-Irrigated Planters (SIPs). These planters have water reservoirs and provide roots with water when they need it. They're great because you won't need to water your plants as often, and they're easy to construct yourself using recycled materials. Read more about SIPs here. 

✋  Hand Pollination 

You might notice that you're not yielding as many tomatoes, cucumbers, or peppers as you want or that your squash or cucumbers are falling off the vine before they're finished growing. If you're growing food on your balcony and eight stories or higher, there won't be as many pollinators/insects visiting your garden. 

If you're growing tomatoes, you'll notice that the flowers contain both male and female parts. Tomatoes are self-pollinating, so they don't usually require pollinators; however, buzz pollinators like bumblebees vibrate their bodies. This buzz causes pollen to drop from the stamen into the anther. If you do not see bumblebees in your garden, you can mimic buzz pollination by vibrating the plant gently (see video above). Other self-pollinating plants include peppers, peas, beans, lettuce, and eggplants. 

Two pictures: picture on the left is of a female cucumber flower and picture on the right is of a male cucumber flower.
Cucumber plant - L: Female flower R: Male flower
Photo Credit: Candice Keast

You can increase your yield with hand pollination for plants that aren't self-pollinating like members of the squash family (zucchini, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, etc.). These plants have male flowers and female flowers (you can tell the difference by looking inside the flower or at the stalk. Male flowers have a stalk while female flowers have a budding fruit - see above). You can transfer pollen from the male flower to the female by picking the male flower off the plants, removing the petals and rubbing it against the female flower (shown in the video below). An alternative method is to simply kiss the two different flowers together while they're still on the vine. Small blossoms like those found on cucumbers will require a cotton swab, paintbrush, or finger to transfer pollen from the male flower to the female. This video demonstrates how to hand pollinate squash and cucumber.

Close up picture of a man's hand pollinating a squash flower with a paintbrush.

Fun fact! The only pollinator interested in the squash family are squash bees (pictured below)! They're absolutely essential for squash pollination.

Squash bee nestled in a squash flower.
Photo Credit: Annemarie Baynton

Another way to increase vegetable and fruit yields is to invite pollinators by growing pollinator-friendly plants in your garden. Check out this resource for how to create a pollinator-friendly garden. If you're on a balcony, wild geranium, nodding onion, sneezeweed, and anise hyssop work well in containers. 

🌱  Succession Planting 

Get more from your garden with succession planting! When one crop finishes, you can replace it with another plant allowing you to enjoy multiple harvests throughout the growing season.  

By now, early plantings of cold-tolerant plants such as peas, lettuce, spinach, arugula, etc., will have finished cropping or bolted (gone to seed). You can replace these plants with beans, cucumbers, Swiss chard, beets, or carrots in early summer. If you planted garlic last October, it will be ready for harvest this summer, leaving you with space to grow something else! At the end of summer, you can re-seed cold-tolerant plants like kale, salad greens, peas, and root vegetables in place of heat-loving plants. Check out this video for more information on succession planting.

As always, feel free to ask questions in the comment section below and share your garden with us on social media by tagging @LiveGreenTO and using the hashtag #GetGrowing.

 Get Growing Toronto Newsletter 

Did you know that Live Green Toronto has expanded the Get Growing program to include a monthly newsletter? Whether you're growing food for the first time or a seasoned gardener, there are always new things to learn and try. Our goal is to help you on your gardening journey with lots of tips and resources. Get Growing with us and sign up here!

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