It’s the first week of June, which is typically the time when I write the “it’s the first week of June, it may be safe to plant those warm-season crops in the vegetable garden” article.
I know many of you have already been tempting fate for weeks by transplanting tomatoes by the middle of May (“But they’re in Walls-of-Water, so they should be fine!”) and seeding beans and squash before Memorial Day. And it probably worked.
I don’t see anything in the weather forecast over the next week or so that would keep me up at night – highs in the 80s, lows in the 40s. But beware: In 2014, it was over 85 degrees for eight out of the first 14 days to start June, and then on June 15, the low hit 32. And just like that, all those tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans and corn were at risk of freezing.
Remember: We live in a high-desert environment where temperature swings of 40 degrees are the norm. June can be wicked hot (and wicked dry), and microclimates are the norm (Durango temperatures can be very different than those in the valley, Grandview or Florida Mesa).
If you are like me and haven’t transplanted your tomatoes and peppers, then don’t fret – it is definitely not too late. I prefer to plant the first or second week of June and take my chances with the first fall frost instead of the last spring frost. The last two years, I have planted them in containers and will do so again this year. It’s a matter of space and necessity rather than preference – ideally, those tomato transplants (not too big, thicker stems, dark green in color and no flowers or fruit) would go into raised beds where the soil temperatures are warm and the roots have plenty of space to grow. But for now, they will go in pots on the patio, where I can stare (and maybe talk) at them, wishing them to grow faster and please, please ripen!
Planting in containers is a bit different than planting in-ground. Some helpful hints:
Use big pots: A larger pot holds more water, and tomatoes love water. As the days get hotter, the plants will require more water. If you water your plants every morning and by late afternoon they are drooping, then you need a bigger container.Water consistently: Tomatoes (and peppers) don’t like it when the soil is really wet, then really dry. Blossom-end rot, where the end of the fruit turns black, is a calcium deficiency caused by irregular watering. Use only determinate (compact) or small-fruited varieties: There just isn’t enough rooting mass to support those big Beefsteaks or Brandywines.Give your plants the nutrients they need: Typically, potting mix is nutrient-poor, with the majority of nitrogen being used in the first couple of weeks. Use a balanced water-soluble fertilizer every week. If you are growing organically, use a combination of fish emulsion (adds beneficial micronutrients) and bone meal (needed phosphorus). Either way, slow down the fertilizing regime once the plants start flowering and stop once they start fruiting. An added benefit of container plants is that you have the opportunity to bring them inside as temperatures drop in late summer. So if you can, place the containers on casters or wheels. Your back will thank you.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464.