Spring is upon Us, Things to do in the Garden By Susan Carter
With many of us home this spring, what a wonderful time to take a break, get out, and work in the garden. Clean up the garden areas, prune back hardy perennials and summer blooming shrubs. But, hold off on roses till April 15th due to frost/cold damage and don’t prune spring blooming shrubs as you will prune off this year’s blossoms. I got out in the vegetable garden two days ago. I planted some cold crops: lettuce, arugula, spinach, beets and sugar snap peas. The lettuce should be up in 7-10 days so we could potentially be eating it in a few weeks.
With the temperatures warming up, I always start getting questions about tomatoes. We also seem to get this false early spring, what I mean is we are still going to get FROST. So way to early to plant anything outside that likes warm SOIL. Note I said soil and not air. The soil warms up slower so unless you are using a method to warm it up and keep it warm as well as protecting plants from frost it IS too early to plant tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash and the like. You may want to get a jump on the season, but it will actually cause stress to the plants leading to disease and overall poor performance for the entire year. Many people told me they had a horrible tomato year last year, well we started off with a cold wet spring thus setting us down that path. Remember our last average frost in the Western slope is late April to mid May, depending on where you are.
So, how do you have a good tomato crop.
#1 Rotate your crops. Diseases can stay in the soil for up to 4 years. If you are using pots, replace the soil yearly. And make sure it is a different family of plants. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are all in the same family, so they get the same diseases.
#2 Do a soil test. This can tell you if you have too much or too little organic matter. Is there a salt issue and do you need specific nutrients for your tomatoes. We normally recommend CSU Soil Lab or Ward Labs, not sure who is open at this point. http://www.soiltestinglab.colostate.edu/ or https://www.wardlab.com/ Then amend your soil per the test.
#3 Buy Certified Disease free seed or plants as well as virus free if you have had an issue. There label or tag should have this information. Try cherry tomatoes as they are the hardiest of the tomatoes. Don’t start your plants too early. I am aiming for late May to early June to plant, so I don’t want to start seed indoors till April 1. If plants get too big in the pot, they get root bound and again it is hard for them to recover. When buying tomato plants make sure the top growth is proportionate to the pot size. Don’t think you got a deal by coming home with long lanky plants. https://planttalk.colostate.edu/topics/vegetables/1834-common-tomato-problems/
#4 Don’t water daily. Tomatoes like regular infrequent deep watering. This frequent watering does many things. First it displaces oxygen which is just as important as water- thus kind of suffocates them. With our high pH, some nutrients are hard to absorb even thou they are present. If your plants (tomatoes and squash) wilt at night, ignore them. If they are wilted in morning, soak them with water.
#5 Fertilize as needed. Go by what the soil test recommended. If you can’t get that done this year here are some recommendations within: https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/Gardennotes/717.pdf Our pH tends to be around 8.0 so in the slight to moderate alkalinity range. Take a look at the chart below. Notice how some of the nutrients in the chart below are less available. The thicker the band the more the nutrient is available.
#6 Frequently inspect for insects and diseases. Get out there with your cup of coffee and observe, daily. This prevents things from getting too bad before you notice it. https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/recognizing-tomato-problems-2-949/
#7 Contact CSU if you still have issues.