by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
At last, the weather forecast confirms that it’s time to put in our gardens! In fear that a late frost would damage young plants, I have been holding back planting my first crop of summer vegetables. Glad that the weather is warming because the gardener within has been held back long enough! With daytime temperatures well into the 70’s and the evenings approaching 50 degrees I have planted my garden’s first wave of vegetables and herbs. The garden soil that has been ready to receive plants for weeks now will be welcoming a steady influx of a few new plants over the coming weeks.
Coincidentally, this will be the first weekend of the season the garden center is at full plant capacity. You will find a glut of plants overflowing into parking lots and greenhouses, just waiting to be “taken home”.
As usual, the most sought-after plants of the season are tomatoes. Whether you are a first-time tomato gardener or have had some problems in the past, here are some tips for successful tomato harvests.
Best Varieties –Choosing climate-appropriate tomato varieties is a must. To guarantee crop success, be sure to select from medium-sized tomatoes like Champion, Celebrity, Early Girl, and Better Boy. Also, any of the smaller varieties like yellow pear, cherry tomatoes, and Sweet 100’s perform exceptionally well in our area. I have had considerable success with the new grafted varieties as well. Because of cold night temperatures at this altitude, varieties bearing larger tomatoes tend to struggle, but with a bit more TLC it is possible to grow tomatoes “the size of your fist”.
Premium Mulch – Tomatoes enjoy a rich garden soil that drains well. Be careful not to add too much manure, which has a high content of nitrogen, as tomato plants in nitrogen-rich soil result in huge vines with few fruits. You want to starve tomatoes of nitrogen and give them plenty of phosphorus, the element indicated by the middle of the three numbers shown on a fertilizer bag. Phosphorus helps plants produce more roots and fruits, which is exactly what we want for superior, productive tomato plants.
Nutrition Supplements – Along with compost and mulch consider turning into the soil some bone meal, 0-10-0, or super phosphate, 0-18-0. These additives encourage larger, better tasting fruits. Gypsum also is recommended to produce superior tomatoes. Gypsum is made of calcium sulfate, which reduces blossom end rot, and fruits that split open. Sprinkle a little gypsum in the bottom of the planting hole, cover it with just a little dirt, then top dress with my “Tomato & Vegetable Food”.
Planting Depth – Tomatoes are one of the few plants that will root from the hairs on their vines, so always plant a tomato as deeply as possible. Prune off the side shoots and leaves from the bottom of the plant, 2-6 inches above the root ball. Then plant the vine as deeply as possible, but don’t bury any of the attached leaves. Roots will begin to grow quickly from up and down the buried stem. This will develop a larger, deeper root structure, which is exactly what a tomato plant needs to contend with the arid months of May and June.
Soil Temp – Through April and the first of May daytime temperatures are warm but soils are cool. To plant tomatoes now, we must protect new plants and warm the soil quickly. ‘Plant Protectors’ are like individual mini-greenhouses that affordably provide this necessary protection around the first plants in the garden. The water-filled tubes of these structures keep newly planted babies warm, but more importantly, they warm the soil to promote deeper, stronger root formations for this early planting.
Insider’s Scoop –Mountain tomatoes are notorious for vigorous green growth without setting blossoms, for fruits marked by black spots, and for blossom end rot. That’s why my home garden vines always receive a little extra TLC. I prevent “spots and rot” with an easy spray regimen. Once per week I spritz my vines with alternating sprays of ‘Blossom Set’ and Bonide’s ‘Rot Stop’. Start this weekly regimen when the first blossoms show on your plants. You will have more fruits per vine, and the tastiest tomatoes that will be the envy of the neighborhood. Yum!
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Mother’s Day is just one week away!
90 Minutes all to Herself! A new survey by ‘Birds & Blooms Magazine’ found that for Mother’s Day 43% of moms would rather have a gift card to their favorite nursery and only 3% would like to receive cut flowers. Of course, if your mom, wife, or mother-to-be enjoys dead flowers, and the peace that comes when dining with all those kids, then by all means present her with a bouquet of cut flowers and take her to your favorite buffet. But if she really loves her garden, a gift card from Watters makes perfect sense. In reality you are giving her 90 minutes of peace and quite while she shops for her own flowers that will bloom and bloom again.
Gift Basket Combo – The garden center is stocked full of big bold Mother’s Day baskets grown to perfection; they intertwine and overflow with colorful blooms. We’ve grown 150 of these festive baskets that are the epitome of fragrance and beauty, and all for under $25. Each carries the loud and clear sentiment: “I love you, Mom, enjoy the flowers.”
Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at www.wattersgardencenter.com or Facebook page www.facebook.com/WattersGardenCenter .