March 4, 2012

Protect Plants with a Living Screen.

protective screen and growing space
for spring and summer plants
As cool spring weather moves to hot summers, some plants thrive while others wilt.  To get the most out of the overlap between the cool and warm weather, plant sun and heat loving summer plants in a way that they protect cool spring plants from the sun.  This will extend the growing season for the cool weather plants a bit, and ensure that you get a few more harvests out of them.

There are several hardy vining flowers and vegetables that thrive in hot days with full sun, growing quickly and producing well, while the spring plants suffer and wilt.  However, careful planting can make use of the quick growing nature of summer plants by planting carefully to extend the life of spring plants while giving room to the hot weather loving plants.  

Planting vining summer plants at the front of a row in front of a fence and training them to grow at an angle over the cooler temperature loving plants will provide dappled shade that can help give the vines the sun they need and protect the vegetables that grew so nicely when temperatures were cooler.  

To do this, map your garden out before you plant it, and ensure that you leave about 6"-12" at the front of the bed furthest from the fence or back of your garden (see diagram on right).  Plant your spring vegetables as you normally would and start your summer vegetable seeds indoors.

As the spring season moves into summer and temperatures rise, you will need to shade your cool weather vegetables.  Run garden twine strings approximately 4" to 6" apart from the base of the bed to the top of the fence.  If you don't have a fence, you can run the strings to a tall stake in the back of the garden.  This works best if you're using raised beds or square foot gardening because you can simply attach the strings to the wooden bed border with a staple gun or nail.  The strings should be no more than 6" apart and need to be taut.  They will support your summer plants.

Next, plant seedlings for summer vine vegetables or flowers in the front of the bed where you've left space for them.  As the seedlings grow, train them to wind around the strings as needed, but they should seek out the strings on their own. Generally speaking, your biggest problem will be creating an even screen that allows sun through without allowing the plants below to get too hot.  

The result is a beautiful green screen that protects your cool weather vegetables and extends their producing season by a few weeks.  It will not protect them indefinitely, and some plants may wither anyway.  Others may survive the summer and begin producing nicely in the fall--it depends on the plant.  But, even if this only extends the season a little, it's more than you would have otherwise, and the summer plants enjoy the extended growing area.

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