Monday, January 19, 2009

Reader's Garden Questions

Of winter's lifeless world each tree
Now seems a perfect part;
Yet each one holds summer's secret
Deep down within its heart.
~Charles G. Stater

Today I have two garden questions on topics that I get asked about all the time. I hope the answers will be of help.

When would be a good time to plant pumpkin seeds in San Antonio, TX? Is it best to start them inside? If so, when? My grandson and I are going to try growing our own pumpkins from seeds that he kept from last October's jack-o-lantern. This should be interesting! I have never tried to grow pumpkins. Do they have any special needs? ~Patricia

You should have good luck, because is the fourth leader in pumpkin producing. A lot of pumpkins are grown in Texas! First, all pumpkins have a vining growth habit, so they need a lot of space. The soil should be fertile, so mix in compost or rotted manure into the bed before planting. They also need high amounts of nitrogen, so remember that when using fertilizer. Another thing to keep in mind is that pumpkins are tender annuals and won't tolerate frost. The soil temperature should be between 70 and 90 degrees before planting. You can direct seed outside or start them indoors in pots. Direct seeding works when you have at least 3 months of hot days.

Many gardeners have their own methods for growing giant pumpkins, but the basics are the same. Build up small hills (3 foot x 3 foot or so) that are about 6 foot apart. Sow 4-6 seeds per hill, then thin to 2-3 plants per hill. (Or you can transplant 2-3 plants per hill.) A corner of the garden works well, or even a patch away from your regular garden. If you plant near other vegetables make sure you train the vines to grow away from them. You can grow them in rows too, but make sure they are about 6 foot apart as well. They need full sun and regular watering. Pumpkin plants have shallow roots, so they need about an inch of rain per week. As with other vegetables, water in the early morning or early in the afternoon so the foliage isn't damp at night. Soaker hoses or that type of irrigation is good used during the day.

When you sow depends on your climate. In Texas you can direct sow in May, but some areas can even go earlier, so check with your extension office. This site has information:

I live in New York and would like to know when is the right time to plant sunflower seeds and what are their needs? My Grandson likes them and wants to plant them. ~Judy

Sunflowers can be direct seeded, which I really think is the best, in the spring. The soil temperature should be around 45-50 degrees F. I'm in the Midwest, and this would be around the end of May for me (Zone 4-5). The soil should be fairly fertile and free of rocks-add some compost and/or other organic matter if the soil is heavy. Plant the seeds about 2 inches deep, smooth the soil down and water well, but gently. The seeds will take 7 to 10 days to germinate, depending on temperature. There are many types of sunflowers to choose from, and the spacing depends on the variety. I love dwarf types, but always grow the giants too.

There is more information on OFL about sunflowers:

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