Q: Last year I tried to grow broccoli for the first time. I planted the seeds at the same time as the beans and corn. They both grew fine, but the broccoli didn't. The plants never got big, and they made nothing to eat, just a couple of yellow flowers. How can I get real broccoli this year?
A: Because broccoli likes to grow in cool weather, not the hot summer days that corn prefers, you want to start it earlier. If you have broccoli plants ready for the garden right now, they will be able to grow to a decent size before the hottest weather arrives.
That means that this year you want to buy broccoli plants. Next year, if you want to grow broccoli from seed, plant the seeds indoors in the second half of March and grow them in the house or greenhouse or cold frame until the beginning of May. The plants will first grow and then make flower buds — which are what we eat — at a time when they can coordinate themselves with the weather.
Q: I read somewhere that when I am buying flowers for my garden — like pansies or marigolds — I should buy the pots that have no flowers. Can that be right? Wouldn't those plants be the weaklings that never make many flowers?
A: What you read was true. A plant still in its nursery pot should be growing only leaves and roots. Once it starts sending its energy to flowers, it has nothing left for increasing its size. The plant stays relatively small while it makes flowers, and within about a month it is worn out. A plant bought without flowers has a chance to enlarge its root system before the strain of manufacturing flowers begins. It makes more flowers for more weeks than the plant which was forced to be a child prodigy.
If there are no flowers in the pot you buy, how can you tell what they will look like? The racks of plants will have each kind grouped together, so your pot will have flowers like the ones in neighboring pots. Each pot or four-pack will have a label with the variety name, and often a picture. If there is no picture, look for a blooming pot with the same variety name. Then buy the non-blooming one.
Q: Do you use weed and feed products on your lawn?
A: I do not, for a couple of reasons. The weeds in my lawn are not evenly spaced over the lawn. They grow just here and there. If I spread a weed and feed product evenly, so as to feed all the grass, I would be wasting a lot on spots where there are no weeds to kill. That is expensive. It would cost far less to fertilize all the lawn and spray weeds only where they grow.
Nor is the best time to spread fertilizer the best time to attack weeds. Even though it means walking around the lawn twice, at least the trips are useful and not just exercise. If I am going to spray weeds, they need to be big enough to be seen easily. The best time to fertilize grass is when it first starts to grow, long before weeds are visible.
I have said before that I think spraying weeds is the least efficient way to arrive at a beautiful lawn. I try to grow lush and healthy grass, and let it choke out the weeds without my assistance.
Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails. Hackett writes a twice-monthly Dirty Fingernails opinion piece for the Missoulian.