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: 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.  


wallowater.jpgYes, yes, we have now officially passed the (trumpet fanfare) “average last frost date” for our area – approximately May 15. I’ve been watching lots and lots of tomato plants leaving the big box gardening centers for the past several weeks. And Memorial Day weekend is probably the biggest week for garden centers everywhere – lots and lots more tomatoes and annuals will be heading out to home landscapes. (more…)

We’ve probably all seen the ads for growing upside down tomatoes. They’re the Big New Idea in gardening. The question everyone is asking is, do they work here in Colorado?

Carol O’Meara is the horticultural extension agent in Boulder county. She has decided to find out for herself if growing tomatoes upside-down works in our climate, and is sharing the ongoing results of her experiment on her blog, Gardening After Five. She brings up a number of important issues; reading her article is a good place to start.


greentomato.jpgWe’ve all noticed the temperatures starting to dip and the days getting shorter. Our tomatoes are noticing it too. Most Pikes Peak area gardeners have plenty of green tomatoes still on their plants at the end of the season. They ripen much more slowly once night-time temperatures start to drop into the 40’s. It’s time to start thinking about how you want to end your tomato season.

Option 1 – Frost protection

If you want to keep your plants alive for as long as possible, frost protection is essential. Start watching predicted night-time lows faithfully, and when the weather forecaster says we’ll be getting near the mid-to-low 30’s, cover your plants (for those at higher altitudes, you’ll need to be even more diligent). Covers can be as simple as old sheets or even plastic sheeting. (more…)

Q: Do I really have to pinch off my tomato flowers at this point?

A: Although it can be hard to do (mentally, not physically), pinching off any flowers on your tomato plants is a good idea in August. At this point, the fruit that might develop from those flowers will never have enough time to grow and ripen before our average first frost (it’s coming sooner than you think! Usually it’s around Oct 10…). Using your thumb and index finger nails, you can pinch off the flowers right where they attach to the plant. This is also a good idea on any other nightshade plants you have in your garden, such as peppers and eggplants. Doing this encourages the plant to direct its energy into growing and ripening the fruit it already has. (more…)

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.

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…)

A quick tip for veggie gardeners who are using Wall o’ Waters (or similar products) to get an early start on warm season vegetables. When it is windy (which, as you may have noticed, it is today), these handy protectors can occasionally topple over in a really strong gust. There is nothing more pitiful than the sight of your tomato being squished under a flattened Wall o’ Water. Go ahead and refill it by setting it off to the side around a bucket and adding water to the tubes again. Then pick it up and place it back over your plant (an assistant can be helpful). If needed prop up or even stake your poor dazed plant. Then, sink one or two bamboo stakes inside each of your Wall o’ Waters to help stabilize them. And if they do get blown or disturbed and lose water, at least they won’t flatten your precious plant! This is a step I seem to forget every year until I discover a flattened Wall o’ Water in my garden one morning (often this is due to a curious squirrel rather than the wind).

And finally, on these warmer days, don’t give in to the temptation to remove your Wall o’ Waters or other protectors just yet. We’re still getting down into the 40’s and sometimes 30’s at night. Instead, fill the tubes all the way up so that the protector has a wider opening at the top. This will provide more ventilation and still provide needed warmth at night.

Contributed by Carey Harrington, Colorado Master Gardener

careytomatoes.jpgQ: I am going to try tomatoes for the first time this year. Is it time to plant them?

A: Growing your first tomatoes can be really fun and satisfying. They have a bit of a reputation of being hard to grow in the Pikes Peak area, but really we just have some challenges (as do gardeners in any are of the country) that you need to keep in mind. This is the time of year to be buying plants to transplant, so here are ten tomato tips to help you in your first attempt:

1. Buy plants at your local garden centers. Rather than shopping at the national chains, try the local centers as they will have started varieties that are appropriate for our area. Ask the staff for advice as you make your picks.

2. Stick with varieties that mature in 72ish days or less. And if you must try something that has a higher number of days to maturity (like most of the heirloom varieties), just get one of those and be sure to grab a few more with shorter maturity dates. (Maturity dates refer to the numbers you see, like “72 days,” on the tag. Technically, this is the number of days it will take a 6-week old transplant to give ripe fruit after being planted outside.)

3. Don’t buy huge transplants with already set fruit. Often at the garden center, I’ll overhear “I’m buying this one since it already has fruit on it. I need as big a head start as I can get!” Actually, buying these big plants just means they’ll take longer to get over transplant shock. Instead buy plants that are about as wide as they are tall, with stems about the thickness of a pencil. If you shop late, and the big guys are all that is available, be sure to (gasp!) pinch off any flowers or fruit before planting so that the plant concentrates on getting its roots adapted and growing (and not on trying to grow that one little fruit). (more…)