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Part II: Deciding How and What to Grow in VS .NET
Part II: Deciding How and What to Grow
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Determining your growing season
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Except for gardeners living where the mercury never dips below freezing, most of us have a growing season the time between the last spring and first fall frosts that is far shorter than 365 days As you might expect, gardeners who live in the North or at high elevations have the fewest days for growing herbs The growing season in Fairbanks, Alaska, for example, averages 88 days, while gardeners in Tampa, Florida, often have more than 300 days between the last spring frost and first fall frost The last- and first-frost dates aren t guaranteed Those dates are based on 50 percent probability, which means there s a 50 percent chance that frost will come after the spring date and before the autumn date Put another way, if you set out basil seedlings on the frost-free date of March 19 in Birmingham, Alabama, you have a 50 percent chance that they ll be killed by a late frost Still, the dates are a useful planning tool; you just have to be prepared to protect tender plants Visit the National Climatic Data Center Web site at www ncdcnoaagov/oa/climate/freezefrost/frostfreemapshtml to peruse the frost/freeze maps for your region The length of your growing season affects how well some herbs will do for you and how you should grow them Even if your weather seems as hot as Hades, you may not be able to produce mature plants if you have a season shorter than 100 days Most large-leaf basils, for example, take about three months to reach full size If your growing season is very short, you should start seeds indoors several weeks before the average last spring frost Even warm-weather gardeners may want to begin indoors: Anyone can get a head start this way
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The Heat Zone Map
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The average temperatures during your growing season also influence your herb garden You have only 119 days between the last and first frosts if you live in Green Bay, Wisconsin, but your mean, or average, temperature in July and August is a relatively balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit In contrast, gardeners in San Francisco have at least 307 growing days (in fact, they only have a killing frost one year out of ten), but in July and August the mean temperature is about 60 degrees Many herbs grow slowly or cease growth altogether in temperatures lower than 50 degrees Plants that require heat to fully mature, such as chili peppers, may have plenty of time to turn red in San Francisco, but they may not have enough heat Likewise, at very high temperatures many herbs slow or cease growth and go into survival mode Rather than risk losing too much moisture, they close their pores and shut down photosynthesis For example, in the Deep South, basil will die out in summer from the heat Most plants prefer moderate conditions not too hot, not too cold
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3: Getting to Know Your Home Ground
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When the dogwood flowers appear
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Long before the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) became our weather guru, gardeners relied on natural signals, or phenological signs, to know when to plant and harvest The term phenology comes from the Greek word phaino, meaning to show or appear ; phenological signs are recurring events in the life cycles of plants and animals Natural signs adjust for variations in day length, temperature, rainfall, and more, which make them more reliable predictors than a single indicator like an average frost-free date The first blooms of the pink lady slipper, which appear a week after the black flies arrive and just as the volunteer apple trees flower, are Karan s most trustworthy sign that all danger of frost has passed, and it s safe to set out basil and other tender herbs A worldwide phenological network of gardeners and scientists exists, but the best phenological data are those you collect in your garden, your microclimate Record any natural event you like: the date that the bluebirds return, the first appearance of fireflies or mosquitoes, or the first chamomile flowers After you have several years of observations, the correlations jump out By the way, according to lore, flowering dogwoods are a useful frost indicator: When the dogwood flowers appear, Frost will not again be here
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To help gardeners factor heat into their gardening equation, the American Horticultural Society developed the Heat Zone Map The 12 zones of the map indicate the average number of days each year that the thermometer hits 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) A day during which the temperature rises above that level is called a heat day Zone 1 averages less than one heat day per year, and Zone 12 averages more than 210 heat days You won t find heat-zone ratings on plant tags, but if you live in a region with scorching summers, you may see or hear references to the map You can find out more about heat-zone ratings and view the map at the following Web site: wwwahsorg/publications/heat_zone_maphtm In the Southeast, heat partners up with humidity, creating ideal conditions for many plant diseases to strike If you live in an area where every day is a scorcher, check with local gardeners about herbs that do, and don t, grow well for them Don t despair if you feel that all this information seems to be getting way too complicated Keep in mind that most people live in a temperate climate a climate that has distinct seasons and average temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and gets at least 30 inches of precipitation each year That means that in summer, they can grow most herbs outdoors in their gardens and on their decks, patios, or rooftops
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