Gardening Articles: Care :: Soil, Water, & Fertilizer

Growing Cole Crops (page 2 of 2)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Mulch

Mulch is a protective layer of material such as straw, hay, leaves or grass clippings. Placing four to eight inches of mulch around your garden vegetables prevents weeds, keeps the soil cool and helps retain moisture in the ground around your plants. Mulch is practically a must in the South.

Cole crops don't need to be mulched when the weather and soil are cool. But you can use mulch to provide the cool, moist growing conditions they need if it's hot.

Brussels sprouts have to be in the garden for a number of months before they mature, so it's likely they'll be subjected to some hot, sunny days. Mulching them will help them endure the heat with fewer problems.

One of the benefits of mulch is that it cuts down on weeds by shutting out light to the ground it covers. If you really hate to weed, you can mulch the walkways between your garden rows as well as the vegetables themselves. Try to use a mulching material such as straw that contains few, if any, weed seeds, so you aren't planting more weeds than you prevent.

Black plastic is another type of mulch, but it is used mostly to warm up the soil for heat-loving plants, such as melons and tomatoes. Don't use it on cole crops. Organic mulches are best, as they tend to keep the soil cool.

Side-Dress Fertilizer

Some plants need extra nutrients during their growing period. They either use the initial fertilizer completely or they take such a long time to reach maturity that the fertilizer has been washed away. Giving plants a second dose of nutrients is known as side-dressing.

You usually will want to sidedress broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. The best time to sidedress cabbage is just before it starts to head. The plants will use this boost to produce a second crop once you've harvested the first. Brussels sprouts are in the ground a long time and the foliage is quite dense, so they really respond to a second dose of fertilizer just before they start budding.

To sidedress, simply draw a circle in the soil around the base of the plant, about four inches from the stem. Sprinkle a handful of 5-10-10 or dehydrated manure in the ring and cover it with an inch of soil.

The tender foliage can be burned by the nitrogen in the mixture, so place the plant food a few inches away from the base of the plant. This will also ensure that the nutrients will seep gradually into the soil, reaching the roots a little at a time rather than all at once.

If there's no rain soon after side-dressing, water around the base of the plant to send the nutrients to the roots.

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