Editor’s note: Get Growing, written by the La Plata County Extension Office’s Master Gardener Program, appears every other week during the growing season. It features timely tips and suggestions for your garden and landscape.
By Deb Paulson
When I began gardening in the West, I followed the methods I remembered my grandmother using on her big farm garden in Minnesota.
My first gardens were pretty much failures. The plants just never took off. They struggled and eventually either died or produced pitifully little. I had not accounted for the lack of humidity and intensity of the sun and the wind. My purchased transplants, no matter how robust and healthy, were often the worst victims.
Here, some of the changes I’ve made to have better success:
I harden off my transplants by putting them outside each day to prepare them not only for the cold, but also for the wind and dry air. This takes a little effort, starting with just a short exposure of a couple of hours to sun and wind and then lengthening the time they are outside each day for at least a week, if possible. I try not to ever let them wilt. Depending on the size of pot, soil mix and weather, you may have to water a couple of times a day.
Plants seeded directly in the garden are tougher from the start, but they, too, will need protection once they germinate. Mulching can be used for wind protection and moisture retention. Finding good mulch is often a challenge. Hay or straw works well because they are bulky enough not to blow away, let air and water penetrate and can be placed to block wind on small seedlings. I cut and gather my own tall grasses and even weeds without seeds to use as mulch.
Finally, for my precious tomatoes, I create some sort of wind protection using a very thin (85 percent light transmission) plant-protection cloth that I put around my cages for determinate tomatoes and attach to wire covers of my indeterminate tomatoes until they grow big enough to stake or otherwise support. This year, I put my tomatoes in front of my house, and it’s not pretty but, hey, tomatoes are worth it!
I have found May and June to be the most challenging months. After the plants have a better root system and the monsoon moves in, things function more like they do in Minnesota. But, for the hot dry winds of late spring and early summer, mulch and wind protection are a must to get strong vegetable plants established.
Deb Paulson became a Colorado master gardener in 2013. She lives in La Plata County.