Tag Archives: gardening

Fall Gardening in the Grand Valley

Fall in the Grand Valley:  leaves turning, rabbit brush blooming, a few chilly nights. Apples have replaced peaches at farm stands. The Mesa has had its first dusting of snow.  Color Sunday has come and gone, and it’s time to prepare your gardens for winter and a strong start for next spring. Here’s your to do list for these last few warm days:

Your lawn. A healthy lawn is more resistant to disease and insects. Prepare it for winter survival, and a strong start next spring with Winterizer from Fertilome.

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Your veggie garden and other annual plants. Once frost has toasted your annuals, it’s time to pull them up. If you’ve had issues with disease or insects in those plants, bag them for the trash. Otherwise, they’re good to compost. Pulling dead plants out lessens the areas problem bugs have to overwinter. This is especially important for your squash plants—pulling and disposing of the dead plant material is the first step toward fewer squash bugs next season.

When veggie beds are cleaned of dead plant material, now is a great time to lay down a layer of compost and turn it in, or plant a cover crop, like winter rye. Veggies are heavy feeders, transferring soil nutrients to those peppers and tomatoes you’ve been enjoying. Amending your soil helps return nutrients to the soil as well as improving soil texture and water retention.

If you have ceramic glazed pottery, it’s a good idea to remove the soil, or move pot and soil to a place where they will not get wet. Wet soil freezes and thaws during the winter and can crack the glaze of your pretty pots.

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Many annual plants, such as marigolds, make seeds that can be collected when dry. Collect these, removing leaves and stems, and store them in labeled Ziploc bags in your fridge to plant next spring after frost danger has passed.

You can also save seed from heirloom tomatoes. There is a bit of a process to follow for success, but totally do-able. This video explains the process clearly.

Potted tropical plants, like hibiscus, jasmine, and geraniums can be brought inside for the winter. Before frost, check them for insects, and treat them with a systemic insecticide to be safe. When inside, place them in a bright sunny room, and water as needed, fertilizing once a month.

Dahlias, gladiolus and other tender, summer-flowering bulbs must be lifted out of the ground. Brush off excess soil and store in a cool, dark, dry place until next spring. Replant them when frost danger has passed.

Perennials. Unless you have perennials you keep in your garden to provide seeds, shelter for winter birds, or those you like for structure or interest in the winter garden, now is a good time to trim them back and prune out dead stems.

Fall planting. Fall’s cooler weather makes it a great time to plant! Trees, shrubs and roses are often found at sale prices. Be sure to amend the soil as you plant and use a root stimulator to encourage strong root growth prior to winter. It’s also a great time to plant perennials, pansies and spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. Pansies often reseed themselves and sometimes will even survive the winter to provide color next spring. Salad greens and root crops can survive a light frost and extend your garden season, especially inside a cold frame.

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Weeds. Continue your weeding vigilance until they are well and truly dead. Weeds, unlike desirable plants, can tolerate a pretty hard frost. Weeding done now makes next spring’s weeding a bit easier. You might also consider putting down a preemergent and watering it in to smother weed seeds laying in wait in the soil.

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Leaves. Rake up leaves and compost or dispose of them, or use a mulching mower to chop them into tiny pieces. Leaving them on the lawn invites fungus and insects. This is the same reason to not use them to mulch your perennials. Leaves have a tendency to layer and pack down, holding in moisture that can rot a perennial.

Rain barrels. Now that Colorado allows for their use, keep in mind that they can split when they freeze. Empty them, clean them of any residual algae or mud, and store them for the winter.

Garden tools. Clean tools and apply a light layer of oil to prevent rust. Store them where you can find them easily next spring!

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Chemicals. Even organic gardeners have some sort of fertilizer and bug killer around. Most chemicals are good season to season if stored properly. Liquids must be prevented from freezing—freezing draws water out of the solution and will not properly go back into the solution when thawed, making your chemical ineffective. Dry or granular chemicals should be protected from moisture. Plastic bins work great for this. Be sure to leave all chemicals in their original containers.

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When the snow flies, you can sit back and enjoy, knowing your garden has been safely tucked in for the winter. Anticipate the next season by keeping track of what worked and didn’t this year and making plans for next season. Seed catalogs and a new gardening season will be here before you know it! Your friends at MGG will be here to help, starting in mid-March!

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Filed under amendments, General gardening, pests, soil

Let’s Talk Tomatoes!

According to a site called Tomato Dirt, 93% of American gardening households grow tomatoes.  Many of our  customers, as well as many of us, have favorite varieties they plant year after year.  Regardless of the preferred type, tomato lovers all seem to agree that nothing beats the flavor of a home-grown tomato.  Both veteran tomato growers and newbies to gardening often have questions about the tons of varieties we grow:  What’s the difference between determinate and indeterminate?  What’s the difference between heirlooms and hybrids?  When is it safe to plant and how do I plant them?  Do I need to prune them?  Do I need to worry about bugs or anything?  So.  Let’s talk tomatoes!

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Determinate vs Indeterminate:

Tomatoes are classified by their growth habit.  Determinate plants, like Roma, Husky Red, and Husky Cherry Red will tend to be shorter and easier to manage than indeterminates.  Most won’t need to be staked and may have a tendency to bear fruit over a shorter amount of time.

Indeterminate plants, like Goliath, Brandywine, and Fantastic will continue growing and bearing fruit throughout the season and will need support of some kind.

Heirlooms and Hybrids:  

Heirloom tomatoes, such as Brandywine, Amish Paste, and Pineapple Hawaiian, are open pollinated and true to seed, meaning you can save seed from them to grow next year that will result in tomatoes identical to those from the parent plant.  Most heirloom varieties were introduced prior to 1940, and tend to be more flavorful and unique in both shape and color than hybrids.  However, they may take longer to mature and produce fewer fruits than a hybrid.

Hybrids, like Goliath, Celebrity and Early Girl, have been bred to be stronger, more resistant to common tomato diseases, more productive, and maintain consistency of size and shape.  While hybrids are the perfect shape for your BLT, they may not be as flavorful as an heirloom.

When is it safe to plant and how do I plant them?

In the Grand Valley, it’s usually safe to plant on Mother’s Day Weekend (later for higher elevations).  Tomatoes are tropical plants that will not tolerate a frost; usually our last frost is mid-May.  Planting them early risks death from frost (unless you have wall of waters) and often doesn’t gain much of a head start–tomatoes need warm soil and warm temperatures day and night before they’ll really take off.  A cool spring often results in not much growth until the weather warms.  Tomatoes are heavy feeders and enjoy organic matter in their soil.  Be sure to amend the soil with an organic compost, such as Soil Pep, Mesa Magic or Happy Frog Soil Conditioner, and include a time-released fertilizer.  Plant your tomato babies a bit deeper than they are planted in their pots; tomatoes will root from the main stem and this deeper planting will result in a stronger plant.  (Big exception to this deep planting in the case of grafted tomatoes, but that’s another post!)

Do I need to prune them?

Pruning tomatoes refer to cutting out suckers–new stems that form in the crotch between a stem and a branch.

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If you plant determinates, no pruning is needed.  Pruning indeterminates is a personal preference thing.  Some growers leave suckers alone for a larger  harvest–more but smaller tomatoes.  Some feel their harvest is better–larger but fewer tomatoes–if they prune.  Pruning is a sort of trial and error process to see what works best for your garden.  Pruning can help control the monster-like spread of an indeterminate, provide better air circulation and make harvesting easier.  According to About.com Gardening:  “As long as you have a strong main stem, it’s fine to leave a few suckers on the plant. The general recommendation is to leave 2 or 3 suckers to improve yield, but not to let every sucker grow. After that there is no general agreement.”  It’s best to prune suckers while they’re still small enough to pinch them off with your fingers.  (Image from About.com Gardening)

Do I need to worry about bugs or anything?

In a word, yup.  There are some viral diseases that tomatoes are not yet bred to be resistant to.  The one you’ll hear the most about is “curly top virus.”  It is transmitted by the teeny-tiny feet of a leaf hopper and is fatal for your tomato.  Tomatoes with curly top need to be pulled out and thrown in the trash–not the compost.  Less fatal, but huge in the ick department is the tomato hornworm.

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Hornworms are the caterpillar of the pretty hummingbird moth and can grow from tiny to gigantic in no time.  They can strip entire branches of their leaves overnight.  The best and easiest solution for them is to watch carefully, pick them off and squish them or drop them into a quart jar of rubbing alcohol.  (I prune off a bit of a branch with my nippers, take the beastie, branch and all, to a dirt place where I have an old shingle that blew off my shed.  I put the shingle on top of the bug and step on it.  Ick.  I know…but I’m never gonna let a bug beat me out of my yummy tomatoes!)  Another common tomato issue is blossom end rot–a black patch that forms on the bottom of the fruit.  This is most often caused by inconsistent soil moisture.  Tomatoes like their soil to be evenly moist–they hate to be wet then dry out, then be wet….  Mulching is a great way to help retain soil moisture.  Another cause for blossom end rot is not enough calcium in your soil.  Crushing up eggshells and working them into the soil around your plants can help, and Fertilome makes a spray to help prevent the rot.  One last issue to talk about: blossom drop.  When daytime temperatures exceed 85F, your tomato can feel stressed and might drop its flowers without setting fruit.  This will right itself as temperatures cool, and once again, Fertilome has a spray that can help.

That bug section got kind of big and scary, huh?!  Don’t be frightened away from growing tomatoes, though.  As picky as they can be, there really is nothing like that first ripe tomato of the season, still warm from the sun, maybe with a little salt…….

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The friendly folks at Mt Garfield are there to help, from selecting the perfect tomatoes for your garden space and culinary desires to finding solutions to any problems that arise.  🙂   Also, new this year–grafted tomatoes!  Squeeee!  So cool!  More on them in another post.  🙂

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Plant Hardiness vs Record Cold (Boy Was it Cold Last Winter!)

Today the snow is melting almost as quickly as it falls.  Not the case for most of the 2012-2013 winter.  The Valley got snow in mid-December that stayed on the ground well into February, held there by one of the coldest winters on record.  Mid-January found us 12 degrees BELOW zero F.  Brrrrrr!  Uncomfortable for us, possibly deadly for some of your plants.

Colorado planting zones

The USDA publishes a map of “Plant Hardiness Zones,” listing the Grand Valley as zone 7a, with winter lows in the 0 to 5 degrees F ABOVE range.

What?!  Your friends here at Mt Garfield think of the Grand Valley as a zone 6, with winter lows usually in the -5 to 0F range in a good year, and lows in the -10 to -5F in a cold year.  This winter’s -12F would place us in zone 5!  These numbers are very important to your perennials, shrubs and trees.

Mt Garfield sells plants that are generally hardy to zone 6–usual for the Grand Valley.  Zone 6 plants should survive as far as temperatures go…usually.  Not all plants survive anyway, because they are living things and susceptible to variations of microclimates, soils, exposure, insect and disease attacks, and water availability.  However, this winter’s low, low temperatures may result in more winter-kill than usual.

As the weather warms and plants begin to break dormancy, you may find some of your perennials, shrubs, roses, fruit, or trees didn’t survive.  Some plants are naturally slow to leaf out in the spring, so check around before pulling a plant out and replacing it.

Gardening is a joy, but can be frustrating at times.  Especially when Mother Nature keeps us in the deep freeze or sends a plague of squash bugs!  Your friends here at Mt Garfield are here to help with fertilizers, insecticides, soils, and healthy plants. Being gardeners ourselves, we understand and share the ups and downs of growing things.  We’re happy for you when your garden thrives, and sad right along with you when winter kills your favorite rose.

Here’s to the start of another gardening season here in the Grand Valley, looking forward to first blossoms and the persistence to keep on gardening, no matter what Mother Nature brings!

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