Saturday, May 27, 2017

Time to Plant Tomatoes

This is a re-post of last year's ('17) tomato planting primer - still works.  It looks like the nights are staying above fifty so no reason not to plant unless you need to head back to the garden center and buy more plants because of hail damage. Thank goodness it is early in the season, so there's still plenty of time for warm season vegetables to grow and mature. If your lettuce or broccoli got hammered, try again with garden center purchased transplants.

One day yes, next day no, one week - maybe, next week - no way. The seesaw decision making continues for Front Range gardeners. When will it be time to plant tomatoes?? "Is it still too cold, is the soil dry enough, when's the next snow storm, my toe hurts!

Technically we haven't had continuous nights in the fifties, so if you held off planting warm season vegetables, you made a good call. If you're using cold frames or keeping them toasty at night and hail free then you're coasting and waiting for flower set, nice job.

I'm old school, I want to put tomatoes, peppers and eggplant in the ground on a sixty-five degree partly cloudy day with steady nights above fifty-five. Will that scenario be possible in the spring of 2017? Certainly not today, it's umbrella and polar fleece weather. But we're getting close, my official planting target is in a few days, it's looking consistently warmer according to my weather app.

In yesterday's (May 26) Grow Section of the Denver Post I "punched" about warm season planting so I've included the tomato planting bullets below, along with photos to illustrate the how tos. You can follow the same procedure for leggy peppers and eggplant. Eggplant usually doesn't get too leggy in garden centers mostly because I find they sell out early.

Here's the link - if you wish to view the entire column on the Denver Post website - Warm Season Planting

Hardening Off
  • Soil preparation and site selection are just as important as choosing healthy plants from the garden center. Make sure the soil is amended, drains well and receives the right amount of sun (read the plant tag). Avoid planting too close or on top of tree roots.
  • Try to rotate vegetable plantings each year in the garden.
  • Make sure all indoor grown transplants have been acclimated (hardened off) to the outdoors by slowly (over a few days) being exposed from shade to full sun and windy conditions.
    Sterilize Containers and Cages (not shown)
  • For vegetables-sterilize all planting cages, supports and containers with a one to ten bleach/water solution or disinfectant spray to remove possible carry over fungus or disease from previous years. Rinse well after cleaning.
  • Remove any blossoms or fruits on vegetable plants so they focus on root growth once in the ground.
  • Vegetable transplants, mainly tomatoes and peppers can get leggy (tall gaps between leaves) from growing too long in the garden center or under lights at home. Once outside, a leggy plant can easily fall over and get whipped around in the wind. 
  • Compensate for leggyness by planting deeply in the ground, in a container or trench plant if unable to dig a deep hole.
  • Start - dig a deep planting hole at least twice as wide as the container. Mix some all purpose dry or pellet fertilizer with the soil at the bottom of the hole. Check the package for the correct amount of fertilizer per plant. 
    Pepper in Deep Hole
  • Place the plant while still in the container in the hole to be sure the hold is deep enough for the height of the plant. 
Cut Lower Side Branch/Leaves
  • Once it is the correct depth, carefully cut off the side shoots and leaves of the entire plant to the main stem - leaving the top set of leaves.  Wherever side growth is removed, roots will develop in the planting hole - which makes the plant much stronger.
  • Next carefully remove the plant from the container, even from peat-based containers - these containers will not easily break down in our soils like they do in other parts of the country.
  • Plastic container grown tomatoes can easily be tapped out of the container before planting. Water a day or a few hours before transplanting so the root ball stays together and is easier to place and plant.
  • Carefully set the plant in the bottom of the dug hole.
  • Place a stake or stick next to the root ball for plant support as it grows. Adding it later may damage plant roots.
  • Gently fill in the soil around the plant, water when half the hole is filled with soil. Finish adding more soil to fill in the hole and water again. There should be just a set or two of top leaves showing. This seems drastic, but it works.
  • If planting in a container use the same procedure. Smaller patio or determinate tomatoes may not be leggy so deep planting is optional.
  • Trench planting a tomato on its side works well if a deep hole cannot be dug in the garden space. Dig a long trench the length of the plant; mix fertilizer with soil in the trench. Remove side shoots and leaves and carefully lay along the trench, with remaining top leaves at the end. Cover soil over the length of the plant so the soil is even with the rest of the area. There should not be a mound, if so, the trench isn't deep enough. Place the stake next to the foliage.
  • Trench (should have watered the rootball earlier)
    Check out this Denver Post video for a visual - Planting Leggy Tomatoes
  • After planting, place a large cage over indeterminate tomatoes (ones that produce fruit until frost and get very tall). Small, determinate or container tomatoes often don't need staking. 
  • Mulch the plant with chemical-free grass clippings or weed-free straw. 

Trench is covered, stake goes next to top foliage

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