Article provided by Becky Garoutte, Greenhouse Production Manager, Rosehill Gardens
On a trip to my local big box DIY store yesterday, it was obvious that spring fever has infected the general public in full force! It simply was not possible to count the number of tomato and pepper plants being carted off by over eager home gardeners. People, people, people! I really do get all the excitement when we get an ‘early spring’, but here are some things you should know about planting veggies, especially the warm weather crops this early:
Tomatoes and peppers require very warm soil and air temperatures for proper establishment and growth. When planted in cool soils, they become weak and very susceptible to a host of diseases. They are permanently stunted and will not reach their full potential when bearing fruit. The taste and heat of many peppers are greatly impacted by temperature as well. Nighttime air temperatures below 55° dramatically reduce the number of flower buds set by both tomatoes and peppers. The soil needs to consistently be about 70°, 4 inches down from the top, before you plant warm season vegetables or flowers. Lower soil temperatures (we are averaging about 62 degrees in the Kansas City metro area) are certain to bring trouble. You may think you are getting ahead, but in fact, you are setting back your garden’s overall health and productivity.
One part of my job as a horticulturist and Greenhouse Production Manager is to grow the right plant for the right place at the right time. When it come to young plants for our garden center, this means selecting the ones that naturally do well for the average gardener in our region, and growing them in such a way to help the gardener have the best possible outcome. I am very fortunate to work for a company that is not pressured to force things to the retail market just because the customer would buy it if it were there. I could plant an early enough crop to sell you twice as many as you should have to plant, but success for both of us is much more rewarding, don’t you think?
Be patient! Wait to buy and plant your tomatoes and peppers (and most other veggies) until at least the first week of May. Buy plants that are healthy and vigorous. I know its tempting to buy early, but oftentimes, in order to have plants that LOOK retail ready this early, growers will use a high nitrogen fertilizer, which makes for a lot of vegetative growth (lots of big leaves) but results in lower fruit yield. By waiting for plants that are allowed to gain size and maturity under low nitrogen fertilization, you will have a stronger, better yielding plant in the garden. A responsible independent garden center that produces its own young vegetable plants rather than importing them from outside your region will encourage you to do the right thing and hold off just a little longer. My team and I am very eager to get our huge 1 gallon tomato plants and gorgeous peppers out to our faithful customers along with all the other summer veggies. There is no need to fuss with fancy contraptions to warm up your plants or try to keep plastic over your soil to get it to the desired temperature sooner. Let your local plant producers do that for you! Patience will reward you and so will your garden.