Tomato

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.  

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Have you noticed that some of the veggies and herbs in your garden aren’t yet thriving? I’ve noticed that my basil seems especially displeased with our current weather pattern. If my tomatoes weren’t still in their Wall o’ Waters, I’m sure they’d be looking a bit weak too. Yes, we are having below normal temperatures this season, especially at night. Lots of our plants like to have nighttime temperatures at least above 50 degrees, but we’ve been dipping down into the 40’s in the middle of town (and those of you further north and west may be getting a few degrees colder than that!). Fortunately, some plants – like broccoli, lettuce, etc. – LOVE this kind of weather, and if you’re growing them, you’re probably enjoying a bumper crop.

But the forecast is showing a warm-up, so here is what you can do to give a few of your more heat-loving veggies and herbs a boost.

Tomatoes
If you don’t have them in any kind of protective structure or in something like the insulating Wall o’ Waters, they may be languishing a bit. We don’t advocate overfertilizing tomatoes (unless you want lots of lovely green leaves and no fruit), but when we have had a cold snap, research has shown that giving your plants a dose of balanced liquid fertilizer can help them get back to the business of growing again. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer you choose. One dose should be good for those plants in the ground. If you are growing your plants in containers with sterile potting soil (with no added fertilizers), then you should be fertilizing them more frequently anyway – every week or two at half the strength recommended on the fertilizer container. If your plant put on a fruit or two a few weeks ago and hasn’t been doing much since, it’s advisable (but by no means easy) to pluck those fruit and let them plant concentrate on growing a bit bigger before setting new fruit. (more…)