Tips on planting tomatoes, zucchini, and beans
Let’s get those plants in the ground—or their final containers—so we’ll be all set for summer! Here are tips, tricks, and timely tidbits to transplant your starter tomato plants as well as plant your zucchini , winter squash, cucumbers, and green beans!
Getting Plants Ready
After Memorial Day, many of us are planting those warm-season crops that should only be planted after your last frost date: tomatoes, squash and zucchini, cucumbers, plus beans.
- If you have the time, your best bet is to sow in several batches a couple of weeks apart so even if the first batch are hit by frost or pests, the next plants are ready to take their place.
- If you’re bringing home starter plants from a greenhouse or growing your own seedlings indoors, don’t forget the “hardening off” routine. Get plants used to being outside by leaving them out during the day for a shorter period in a place that’s sheltered from the wind and then bring them in at night early on. This will make their transfer easier. If you don’t have a sheltered spot, place them in a box (with top open) while outdoors hardening off blocks the wind. Gradually extend the amount of time they’re outdoors for.
Tips on Planting Tomatoes
Let’s start with our tomato starts. Most gardeners buy transplants (small starter plants) and some of us raise our own babies from seed in a greenhouse. If you are planting cordon or indeterminate types, they need supporting. Put in supports such as bamboo canes or tomato cages when you plant. Also, make sure that you remove any lower leaves or suckers from your start plants.
It’s not our first year planting our beds, so we have “no-dig” beds and simply added an inch of compost in the autumn or winter, and there’s really nothing left to do. (If you haven’t prepared your beds, you’ll want to add compost now and mix it in.)
- To plant, dig a good-sized hole— nice and deep. Tomatoes benefit from being planted quite deep, below their current soil level. This is because they can produce from the stem, so by burying some of the stem you’re encouraging more supportive roots to form, giving a strong, more resilient plant. Just clip off any leaves that would get buried.
- In terms of nutrients, there’s nothing more to add to the soil at this stage, but you could of course add other soil amendments at planting time for good measure, such as a scattering of bonemeal, which is rich in phosphorus to encourage root development—a good aim at this stage in the tomato’s life.
- Tomatoes need proper spacing for good airflow to reduce the risk of diseases such as blight. Space around 18 to 20 inches apart in both directions. Do not crowd! You will not be doing your harvest any favors.
- With our toms in the ground, push in those canes or carefully set a cage over the top. Try to use the thickest canes that you can find so they don’t snap under the weight of fruits. Push them in a good foot’s depth or so, to really anchor them into place. Then tie the plants against them using garden string or twine but not too tight so the stems can grow.
- With tomatoes in the ground, finish off by planting some companion flowers. Try marigolds, which are said to dissuade aphids—both by repelling them and by attracting predators. Also going in are some basil plants—the perfect pairing for tomatoes of course!
- Plants will need regular watering in dry weather to help them establish then, when they begin flowering.
- Feed them with regular additions of an organic liquid tomato feed – once every two weeks, or according to packet instructions – to encourage more flowers and, of course, deliciously ripe fruits.
Planting in Straw Bales
- You don’t have to plant tomatoes in a raised bed. Try planting some tomatoes in straw bales if you wish (outside or in a greenhouse). The bales are great at staying moist between waterings, much better than a smaller container or grow bag. You can reuse straw bales for a second year as well. There’s no conditioning necessary; they’re just ready to plant as and when you’re ready. Bales are watered and fed just like container plants: use a tomato feed once the plants start to flower.
- To support the tomatoes in a greenhouse, one method is to suspend lengths of twine from a horizontal wire above. The ends of the string will now be buried beneath the rootballs of the tomatoes they are planted, to anchor them down into place to get the string nice and taut. The stems will then be wound around the string as they grow, which will save the faff of tying them in.
Tips on Planting Squash
That’s our tomatoes done, now for all the squash-family crops. This includes both winter squash as well as zucchini and my cucumbers.
- Zucchini is the most prolific of vegetables. We planted this summer squash a few weeks ago if you’d like to learn more here. All squash are planted the same way.
- You can direct sow zucchini or you can buy transplants. But purchase with caution! It’s better to have younger, stockier plants than older plants that are already leggy and running short on nutrients. You want plants nice and green, with a few adult leaves and ideally no flowers. Don’t worry if you think you’re running behind schedule in choosing smaller plants; they will catch up with earlier sowings at a remarkable pace.
- Again, before planting, start by adding lots of well-rotted organic matter to really enrich the soil, ideally in the fall or winter to settle in; otherwise, add organic material a couple weeks prior.
- Ideally, you want delay planting squash family plants until average nighttime temperatures have reached around 50 Fahrenheit, or 10 Celsius. That’s quite late in spring in some areas. You can push it a bit if you use a layer of row cover like fleece to keep the chill off recent transplants.
- When you water your squash, especially young plants, take care not to blast the soil out from around the plant. You might like to use the spray setting on your hose, or a watering can fitted with a rose.
- Here’s a tip: Sink bottomless bottles of water to hold the liquid in place so it doesn’t just run off over the surface, and it can get round down to where the roots are. An alternative to bottomless bottles is to create a levee right around the plant, to sort of fence it in. Make it quite deep so it doesn’t gradually flatten out. Now when we water, we’ve created a reservoir so that all of the water is held in place until its drained through. This is another great way to make sure every precious drop of water is used by the plants.
- If you live in North America, consider using tin foil around squash stems to prevent squash vine borer (see our zucchini page for more details).
- A great companion for squash is chard; just seed this vegetable to grow behind the squash. More leaves are always a good thing, and chard is my go-to green for its sheer ease of growth and the fact it has the potential to crop almost year-round.
- Last up in the squash family are these cucumbers. If you want to pickle, choose an outdoor climbing variety that will give plenty of smaller gherkin-sized fruits so you’ll have plenty for picking.
- Cucumbers need regular watering to help them on their way – much more water than tomatoes. It figures when the fruits are something like 99% water! This is important to keep the leaves from crisping up. Sometimes the leaves can go a bit pale in the run up to planting, and this is simply a sign that the nutrients in the potting mix have run short. Again, plant your cucumbers promptly to keep them growing seamlessly.
How to Plant Green Beans
Now for a bonanza of beautiful beans! Bush beans simply require seeds in the ground and no support. Let’s talk about two types of climbing beans this year: borlotti beans for fresh eating and then, from later in summer, to dry for winter use. And then runner or pole beans because they are so vigorous and so delicious!
- Beans really do need warmth to grow away well, as the leaves are easily hampered by plunging temperatures.
- Don’t panic if the seedlings get frosted though - they will often recover.
- For climbing beans, you’ll need supports. See our article on how to build a green bean teepee, arch, and other ways to support beans.
- Help the young stems to find their way onto the supports initially by loosely tying them against the supports. But then they’ll happily twine their own way up. If it’s dry spring where you live, it’s worth watering your beans to speed their growth; after all, the sooner they grow up and start flowering, the sooner you’ll be picking!
- Beans like companions too. Plants some nasturtium and perhaps some dill. Poached egg plant flowers are also a lovely choice.
Once beans, and indeed all warm-season plantings have established, mulch with organic material to help lock in soil moisture. Lay lawn clippings or another mulch over the soil surface. This should save time watering, or at least promote more consistent moisture levels. In warmer climates, a mulch is essential as it will also help to shade the soil, keeping roots cooler.
That’s all of the summer staples planted. How’s spring where you are? Has it been a bit of a late start or are you weeks ahead? Share what you’re up to in the comments below.
For more information on growing tomatoes, squash, beans, or any common crop, check out the Almanac Growing Guide Library!