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Gardeners Grow Together Week 22, May, 2021: Now the Fun Begins!

Welcome to my special gardening page for those of you who like to garden yourselves! Each week, I will make suggestions as to what gardening tasks we need to do every week during the growing season. It will help keep you on track--as well as myself!

To keep things simple, I am using the year's weekly number, Week #1 through #52 (example: the week of January 1 is Week #1), instead of specific dates.

So, come on! Let's get our hands dirty!


Week 22:

Now the Fun Begins!

Now is when we get to start to see some real progress in the garden and actually watch stuff grow and bloom!

In the vegetable patch:

Tomatoes and Peppers

In the flower garden:

How to prepare Peonies, Poppies, Lilacs and Bearded Iris for cut flowers.

In the Vegetable Patch:

Okay, now it's time to get those tomatoes and peppers in the ground! Start by separating your tomato plants into groups by type - cherries, determinant (bush type) and indeterminant (vine type). Now you have to decide how you are going to support your plants. Your choices include: a simple stake and string, tomato cage, cordon, or vineyard style.

The stake and string and the tomato cages are only work well for cherry or bush type tomatoes. For large, vining plants, cordon or vineyard style is the only practical way to go. Most all commercial growers use cordon style, where they remove all the side shoots and allow only a single stem to grow up either a cord or straight pole. But that means that you have to have some kind of cross support ten feet in the air! Not to mention a ladder to harvest your tomatoes. I prefer the vineyard style and used it very successfully for many years when I grew tomatoes for sale. It works great for large plants that produce heavy fruit and vine.

Start by putting the stakes in the ground first, before planting, otherwise you may damage the plant roots.

I start out with steel t-posts (fence posts) in the ground, in a line, about five feet apart. Then I run a wire all the way down the row at the two foot mark, then again at the four foot mark, and then secure them to the fence posts with wire. I allow only one stem to develop up to the two foot wire, then I allow two side shoots to grow and I secure them to the wire loosely with string, going in opposite directions. The central leader then grows up the post to the four foot wire and I allow one more side shoot to develop and then the central leader goes one direction down the wire, and the side shoot goes in the opposite direction...exactly like wine grapes are grown. Then I just let them do their thing and secure the vines to the wire as they grow. The plants receive maximum sun exposure and air circulation, which is very important for disease control, especially with heirloom varieties. The fruit is easy to see and is at a convenient height to pick.

Whatever you choose, start with a sturdy stake. Even the cages will topple over from the weight of a heavily laden plant, so make sure it is secured by a stake in the ground.

For the best results when planting tomatoes, remove all but the top two or three sets of leaves and plant them as deeply as you can. The plants will root along the stem and produce a very strong root system this way. Your plant will look puny and small, but will start to grow quickly and robustly only after a few days. Water them in well.

For peppers, plant them in the ground at the same level as they were in the pot, then all you need to do is to either cage them, or tie them to a sturdy stake to keep the plants upright as they bear fruit. The plants don't get terribly tall, but can get heavy with fruit and topple over.

In the Flower Garden:

Peonies, Poppies, Lilacs and Bearded Iris, the stars of the late spring garden, are all in bloom right now. All are large showy flowers and each has a wonderful scent. They just beg to be cut and brought in to our homes for our enjoyment. Here's how to get the longest vase life out of these flowers:


Cut peonies (any flower, really) in the cool of the morning or late afternoon and put them directly into cool, very clean water. For the longest vase life, cut them at the “marshmallow” stage of bud development. That is when when the bud is in a large ball, showing lots of color, and is “squishy” to the touch. They will open completely in a day or so in the vase.

Peony bud at "marshmallow" stage


Poppies are a different animal than most flowers. They secrete a white sap when cut that clouds the water. And, the flowers collapse very quickly if not sealed at the bottom of the stem with a flame. Cut the stems to the desired length, then burn the ends with some kind of flame – gas stove, fire starter torch, or (what I use) a hand held propane torch. You must repeat the process if you recut the stems later, as well. Wait until one or two flowers open in the garden before you cut. Poppies usually bloom all at the same time, so you will know that the buds you picked will open shortly after harvesting.

Pick in the “cracked bud” stage. When you can see the oval pod cracking open and you can see the color of the flower. Once the bees find the flower, it will shatter in a matter of hours and start producing seed, once fertilized, so don't wait for them to open before you pick. They will open after being cut. Trust me! It's really fun to watch, too, as the pod “pops” open to reveal a crinkled, tightly packed flower, that opens like a butterfly exiting its chrysalis.


Aaahh, Lilacs. One of the most beloved and lovely scents in the garden. But, lilacs can be tricky. They like to droop their beautiful, frothy flower heads almost immediately after cutting. However, if you slice the bottom couple of inches of the stem vertically, first one way, then the other, making a cross, you will increase its ability to take up more water. Alternatively, you can smash the woody stem with a hammer. That works, as well. Also, pick the flowers when the bottom third of the cluster of florets are open.

Bearded Iris:

Bearded Iris are another big showy flower whose form, beauty and scent fascinates us. If picked at the right time, a stem of iris blooms can last a long time in the vase, without much fuss. This flower usually has from two to four bud spurs on a stem. Each spur normally holds two flower buds inside, so even though one flower only lasts a couple of days, there is another waiting to emerge when the first one fades. Just pop off the old flower when it wilts away. Cut this stem from the garden when you see the first hint of color on the top bud. Iris bloom from the top down.

For all cut flowers, always remove any leaves below the water line in the vase and add a few drops of bleach to keep bacteria from growing and clogging up the flower stems. Change the water and recut the stems every two or three days, too, to help extend the life of your flowers.

I know it's a very busy time for us in the garden right now, but try to stop and admire the fruits of your labor. Go on, cut a few stems and take them in the house where you can enjoy them close up.

Now, lets get busy!

If you have any questions, put them in the comments below!

~Lee Ann~

Valmont Valley Farm

Where Beautiful Magic is Always in Bloom

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Get all the details here!


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