By Brent Gray
It is safe to set out transplants of basil in all parts of the state now. Basil is particularly sensitive to cold and will not grow well until the ground is warm. Plant perennial herbs such as chives, oregano, mint, fennel, lemon balm, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and Southern tarragon in a permanent location. You can begin harvesting foliage as soon as the plants begin growing well—just try not to take more than one-third of the plant’s foliage at a time!
Plant zinnias now for summer arrangements. Choose long stemmed selections such as Big Red, Royal Purple, Canary Bird, Envy, or scarlet Queen. Pick a sunny spot and sow seeds directly into the soil. Sunflowers, marigolds, cleome, and cosmos can all be direct seeded now for blooms this summer.
Take tired foliage plants outdoors for the summer, but be careful to put them in the shade. Their leaves are as sensitive to sunburn as a person’s skin after a long winter indoors. Repot, fertilize and prune as needed to encourage new growth. If you want to learn about the unique benefits of having houseplants and some great ones to select you should go to the MSU Extension Service website: http://-msucares.com/gardenvideos/index.html# and view the Gardening Through the Seasons video entitled “Three Plants for Clean Air” located under the section of videos for Winter.
Slug problems are being reported now. The following is from Publication 2369 “Insect pests of ornamental plants” available at your county extension office.
“Slugs thrive in moist, protected areas with heavy accumulations of decaying organic matter. Limit conditions favorable to slugs, such as excessive moisture, excessive organic matter/mulch, excessive leaf litter, and other detritus, and items such as flower pots, rocks, fallen limbs, and such, that provide daytime hiding places. Raking mulch away from the base of susceptible plants can also help reduce attack. You can use copper barriers or other types of barriers to protect especially sensitive or valuable plants. You can control slugs through diligent use of traps baited with beer or other attractive baits, such as moist dog food. Another nonchemical control option is to place inverted flower saucers, boards, or other attractive harborages in the bed, check them regularly, and physically remove and destroy any snails or slugs you find.”
Bright sunshine and temperatures in the high seventies and eighties are ideal for all vegetables to grow. Examine your plants to see if any of them are lagging behind the rest. Check the straggler for insect or disease symptoms. Look on the underside of the leaves for aphids. These sap suckers do not show themselves and their feeding does not make any holes or tears so it is easy to not notice them. Some aphid infestations can be washed off with soapy water or be controlled with an application of insecticidal soap. DO NOT use detergent used for dishes or clothes. The ingredients will strip the wax from the leaves of the plant.
Cool season greens will soon be done. You can replace them with warm season greens like Malabar spinach, Chenopodium and Amaranth. Malabar Spinach is a vine and grows best with some support. The leaves are individually harvested. It grows best in temperatures in the nineties.
Chenopodium gigantium is a relatively new green for Mississippians. It is in the same family as beets, Swiss chard, lamb’s quarter and spinach and is sometimes called tree spinach since it will grow to as much as eight feet. Another name is ‘Magenta Spreen’ (bulldog fans take note). Young leaves are similar to those of Photinia bushes in starting red-purple then turning green. Leaves are harvested individually. This green should be cooked since it contains oxalate and saponin which are removed by cooking.
Vegetable amaranth is an edible cousin of pigweed. The vegetable version has larger leaves with less fiber. Any gardener who has left a pigweed to grow knows how well adapted these plants are to our climate. Leaves are harvested individually.