It is mid-May, and the spring flowers are in full bloom. The air is filled with the smell of summer. The recent rain and fresh snow on the mountain tops has not slowed me down in planting my vegetable garden.
Now I will raise the stakes and push my luck a bit more. Many of my favorite vegetables are warm-season crops– cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and squash. They require both warm soil and higher air temperatures to grow. Warm-season crops are also very sensitive to cold temperatures. For example, basil’s leaves will start to change color when temperatures get below 38 degrees Fahrenheit. The plant will completely die if it freezes.
Living in a higher elevation, over 5,800 feet, I have to decide how much risk I am willing to take when getting a head start in the garden. Since late-May freezes are common in the area, any warm season plants must be protected.
I usually transplant tomato seedlings the first week of May. I plant them sideways to maximize initial rooting area and reduce transplant stress. I remove at least 80 percent of the leaves and plant over 90 percent of the plant sideways, 4-inches under the soil surface. Lastly, I place a Wall-O-Water over each tomato and fill the individual chambers with water.
I place peppers and eggplant in areas where they can get a head start, and I provide them protection too.
With seeds, just plant them when it works best for you. Usually, I like to direct seed beans, corn, cucumbers, melons and squash. They all have different planting times, especially the corn. Try planting areas of corn a week to two weeks apart. This succession planting will ensure not all of your corn ripens at the same time. You will have fresh corn to enjoy for a longer period of time.
If you choose transplants, make sure you harden them off. The term harden-off refers to a transition period we should give all tender, new plants to our landscape. It is a time for seedlings to become accustomed to direct sunlight, cool nights and Nevada wind.
In order to harden-off your plants, start by placing your seedlings or newly purchased plants on the east side of the house to get used to the morning sun. Start with a few hours each day, then increase the time until you feel they can handle going out into the garden.
A tip that makes a big difference is to plant your hardened plants in the evening hours and allow them to become accustomed to their new environment overnight. Do this instead of planting during the day when the sunlight may be too intense, resulting in increased transplant stress on the plant.
Planning is truly the key when vegetable gardening, and taking risks can payoff. But, sometimes you have to replant. No matter how the season starts, enjoy your garden and the fact that soon you will reap its rewards.
Wendy Hanson Mazet is a horticulturist and certified arborist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have questions about your plants? Contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.