Many gardeners in the Pikes Peak area have been complaining of undersized tomato plants, underperforming basil, wimpy peppers, etc. As usual, weather challenges us when we garden here, and this year, we have a rather unusual combination – chilly temperatures and (at times) over-abundant moisture. The last few summers have been warmer than average, so we’ve been caught off guard by conditions that are pretty comfortable for the gardener, but not so much for the warm-season vegetables and herbs!
A fellow Colorado gardener that I know of who gardens (with wild success) above 8000 ft always says “A tomato never wants to go below fifty degrees in its life – maybe even sixty!” (She, of course, uses cold frames, hoop houses, green houses, etc for all her gardening. To learn more about her garden, visit her web site here: www.pennandcordsgarden.com.) I suspect that the minimum-temperature rule for peppers is even ten degrees warmer than for tomatoes.
So, what’s the big deal? We’ve been over sixty degrees since the middle of June, right? Well, we have been for day time highs. But you have to also consider night-time temperatures. Even at the lower altitudes, night-time temperatures in our region dipped below fifty degrees several times in the past few weeks. This has helped keep our houses cooler, but it has definitely affected those hot-weather loving plants like peppers, tomatoes, and basil.
And then, there has been the rain. We’re used to dry summers. A good drip irrigation system can keep our gardens fairly happy during those typical times. But when the rain gauge starts filling up, our gardens can get too much water. Fruits on tomato plants may swell and crack, or they may develop blossom end rot due to uneven moisture. Some of the storms in the past few weeks have been very heavy, flattening some plants and knocking developing fruit off of others. (And if you haven’t learned to always have some sort of hail protection over your tomato plants, you may have suffered some hail damage as well.)
So what are we gardeners to do? Well, the best we can. We cannot control everything (or, some may argue, anything!) and sometimes a season just ends up not being our best.
- We can provide hail protection in the form of screens or hardware cloth across the tops of tomato cages.
- We can make sure our irrigation systems don’t continue to run when we are having a rainy spell.
- We can diligently amend our soils in the fall or spring, improving drainage.
- We can mulch well – in addition to help keep soils moist a thick layer of mulch can also help heavy rain run off a bit towards lower areas in the garden.
- As we continue to garden, if we get even more committed, we can build hoop houses that provide frost protection early in the season, hail protection throughout the whole season, and even help keep the plants from getting deluged with rain. Hoop houses would even help keep the plants warmer during these unusual cold mid-summer nights this year.
- And finally, we can keep talking to each other, getting ideas and commiserating (it really can help to know we’re not the only ones with troubled plants!).
Contributed by Carey Harrington, Certified Colorado Gardener and Colorado Native Plant Master