Gardening: It’s not too late to plant your veggies

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

If you want to join the veggie gardening movement but ran out of time this spring, the good news is there is still time to get growing.

Many garden centers still have tomato plants, but many vegetables will need to be started from seed; however, don’t let this scare you. In most cases, growing plants from seed is easy.

For some plants, such as cucumbers, peas, beans and lettuce, my secret to success is pre-sprouting the seeds indoors. I soak the seeds overnight in a dish of strong warm tea – the acid in tea speeds up the germination time. Then I place the seed on a damp paper towel, fold it in half and place the paper towel in a plastic sandwich bag and park it atop the refrigerator. I check daily to see if the little white root has emerged from the seed; that’s the signal to plant them in the ground.

Beans can be planted up to 8 to 10 weeks before the first frost. Cucumbers can go in 10 to 12 weeks prior to frost. Small pickling cukes are quick to grow and they’re great eating fresh.

When buying seeds check the packets for days to harvest. Some varieties take longer than others. To find “the average first frost date” in your area, Google that phrase. According to the Bonnie Plant site, Southern Michigan’s first frost arrives between Oct. 15-31. That gives us 14 weeks of growing time.

For a fall harvest, peas can be planted up to 8 to 12 weeks before Jack Frost arrives.

Lettuce and other greens such as spinach, kale and chard do well in cold weather so you can plant them in late summer.

When choosing tomato plants, check the tags on the plants for days to harvest. Cherry tomatoes and other short season varieties, such as Early Girls, are good choices for a late season start.

Tomatoes can also be propagated by cuttings using 6- to 8-inch suckers. I’m told once they root, the plants grow like crazy so give it a try. Remove all but the top four leaves and place the cuttings in a glass of water and park them in bright but indirect sunlight. When the stems begin to sprout roots, pot them in large foam cups with a drainage hole punched in the bottom and keep them well watered. In a couple of weeks they will be ready to plant in the garden.

For more how-to tips, Google “propagating tomatoes from cuttings.”

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at