Summer Vegetable Garden: Getting Started in June
There’s still time for a summer vegetable garden!
Even though it’s the beginning of June in coastal Virginia, it’s not too late to get your veggie garden going for the season. All the summer favorites: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, beans, okra, squash, and zucchini can either be planted from seed (direct sow) or with plugs purchased from your favorite garden retailer.
If you’re new to gardening in this region, we’re considered zone 8a. On average, our last frost-free date is April 15. This is the date when you can start to plant your summer vegetable plants outside without danger of frost damage. Each season is different so keep an eye on the weather and let it guide your plantings. If a later–than–usual frost is expected, cover your plants overnight.
Good soil is the foundation to any successful garden. Once you’ve selected a spot for your garden, test the soil to make sure it has the necessary nutrients to allow your plants to thrive. Compost is the best natural way to amend your soil. A sunny spot with at least six plus hours of sun is ideal. Watering will be key all summer long so make sure you have a nearby water source.
Here’s a general list of vegetables to plant in May and June for a summer harvest:
- Summer squash (crook neck and zucchini)
- Beans (bush and pole)
- Peppers (hot and mild)
For summer seeds to germinate, the soil needs to warm to a minimum temperature. Each plant has its own preferred range but it’s usually between 65-75F. The warmer the soil, the faster the germination. Each plant also has a preference for how deep to plant its seeds. The general rule of thumb is to match the depth in the soil to the width of the seed – tiny seeds barely need to be covered while large seeds need to be deeper in the ground. Don’t forget to water them periodically if the weather is dry.
Plants like tomatoes and peppers are best started from seed indoors in March. They often have to put on a lot of growth in order to produce fruit so it’s better to go with a plant instead of starting from seed at this time of year. Local garden retailers always have a good variety to select from. Remember where in your garden you plant crops in the nightshade family, like tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. To prevent disease issues in the soil, it’s best to rotate them from year to year.
Don’t forget to include summer herbs like basil. Both the Italian and Thai varieties do great here. You might be able to squeeze in a quick crop of parsley and cilantro, but they really prefer the cooler spring temps and will quickly go to seed as the weather warms. Perennial herbs such as chives, rosemary, thyme, sage and fennel can be planted any time of the year but tend to establish best when planted in the fall.
Spring 2020 has been cool and rainy. Our Potager, or Kitchen Garden, is just now finishing up its summer plantings of tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, beans and the like. Take inspiration from this “victory” garden and mix in flowering plants, annual or perennial, that are favorites of bees. It will help increase the production of your garden and give it an aesthetic boost.
If you want to give it a go at starting your summer vegetable plants from seed next season, winter is the best time to thumb thorough seed catalogs and scroll through websites to find new varieties and tried and true heirlooms. You can even save seeds from this year’s harvest.
Starting seeds indoors isn’t as challenging as it might seem. Finding space near a bright window is probably the most critical. Once you have a good quality potting mix, just about any sturdy planting container will do. You can even get creative and reuse egg cartons and milk jugs. Water regularly and wait for the magic to happen. Once your seedlings are big enough to plant outside, leave them in their containers and give them a little time outside in a shady spot. This transition time only takes about a week for them to get used to outdoor conditions before they go in the ground.
As the summer progresses into August and September, it will then be time to direct sow seeds for your late fall and winter crops such as beets, spinach, kale, radish, lettuce, cabbage and leeks. For more information on planting vegetables in the zone 8a, checkout VA Tech’s helpful guide: Virginia’s Home Garden Vegetable Planting Guide
5 tips to help you get started:
- Select a sunny, well-drained spot for your garden bed. If you’re tight on space, containers are a great option. Tomatoes, herbs and peppers are great in containers.
- Make sure to have your soil tested. If gardening in a container, make sure to use a good quality potting mix.
- Compost makes the best soil amendment.
- Make sure to have a nearby water source to keep your garden thriving when the weather is hot and dry. Containers may need to be watered twice a day when it’s really dry. Watering in the morning is best. If feasible, adding a rain barrel is a great way to conserve water.
- Don’t forget to incorporate flowering annuals and perennials to your vegetable garden. They’re magnets for pollinators which will help increase your production.
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