I know it’s 80 degrees out there and everyone wants to get a jump on the tomato and pepper growing season, but starting too early is an almost certain recipe for disaster. Learn from my past mistakes and avoid the heartaches I’ve had over the years.
I remember a few years ago that March and early April were very warm like this and I decided to pull the trigger and plant early. Well..low and behold, a nasty Easter freeze happened. My wife and I spent hours building tents out of tarps and plastic sheeting and covering plants with straw…all was in vain though and we lost every plant in the ground…fortunately I had backups in a cold frame with a heater and I was able to re-plant.
Another year we had a great spring and all was well into early May,,the garden looked great and we had a shrimp boil here to celebrate with a bunch of friends. I didn’t pay attention to the forecast because of the party and we had a weird frost that night…it didn’t wipe out the whole garden, just an oval diagonal pattern that took out a dozen tomato plants and nearly killed my giant pumpkin plant…somehow the pumpkin plant recovered, but the tomato plants in the frost path all died. It doesn’t take much frost at all to kill tomatoes and peppers..not much at all.
The temps do not have to drop to 32 degrees in order for it to frost. Saturday morning the low was 40 degrees, but the wind was calm and the sky was clear. I woke up at 4:00 in the morning and for some reason decided to check my plants I had put outside two days before. I noticed a dew was forming and I wasn’t too concerned…I touched the windshield of my truck and it was just wet from dew. I was about to go back inside and I caught something shiny on the roof of the truck…FROST! I quickly grabbed my sheets of Agribond and covered all of the plants with two layers. None died from the frost, but I would have likely lost several hundred plants had I slept in.
Even if we do not get any major frosts or freezes, you need to consider the tomato plant’s needs for temperature and daylight. Right now we have about 13 hours and 40 minutes from dawn to dusk….one month from now we’ll have an extra 1 hour and 15 minutes of daylight for the plants to soak up. You also need to consider that tomato plants don’t grow much at all whenever the soil or air drops below about 50 degrees.. The long range forecast is calling for many nights in the mid-low 40’s….this will all but halt tomato growth. When nights are consistently above 50 degrees…60 degrees is better, the plants will grow vigorously in response. Patience is a gardener’s best friend…loads and loads of patience!
Ok…off my soapbox about planting too early, now for things you can do BESIDES plant tomato and pepper plants in the next month. I don’t have 1,010 but there is no reason to not garden now!
- Amend your garden soil with compost, compost, compost!
- Amend your soil with balanced fertilizers and composted manure if necessary
- Build new raised beds…make them 4 feet wide or narrower for ease of reaching
- Trim away trees and branches that shade your gardens
- Plant lettuce, spinach, radishes, onions, peas, beets, cabbage, chard, kohlrabi
- Measure your bed lengths so you can cover them with Silver Reflective Mulch film (I’ve got plenty for sale this year) to prevent aphids
- Consider purchasing a drip irrigation kit
- Make a plan for your garden to ensure ample spacing of plants…tomatoes need 30 inches or more between them.
- Get online and check out the garden forums at Tomatoville.com, GardenWeb, and many others.
- Cover your garden paths with weed-proof fabric and a few inches of wood chips
Well…I’m sure there are a 1,000 more things you can think of to do in the garden!
For those of you that absolutely want to get your plants early this year, I’ll be open for business beginning the week of April 11th in the evenings after 5 by appointment only (just e-mail me when you want to stop by and I’ll know to expect you) I’ll also be open the weekends of April 16th, April 23rd, 30th, and May 7th.
I’m looking forward to visiting with all of you again this spring and doing anything I can to make your gardens as successful and bountiful as possible! Thanks so much!