Laurel Thompson | Fort Collins Nursery
Mother’s Day has come and gone and that typically means we’ve got the all-clear to plant tender vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and more. Now to decide whether to sow seeds, transplant veggie starts into the garden or both. With Northern Colorado’s short growing season, combining both options is usually best.
SOWING “SPEEDY” VEGETABLE SEEDS
Vegetables that grow quickly, like carrots and radishes, can be sowed from seed directly in the ground right now (or as soon as the soil is workable in spring), with harvest dates ranging 20-50 days after sowing. Cold-tolerant greens including lettuce and spinach can even be planted before the last frost.
These “speedy” vegetables can be planted successively in order to stagger your crop. For example, planting a few rows of lettuce every two weeks will result in a steady production of greens throughout the season. Sowing a new row each time you harvest a row can help keep you on track. Be sure to thin your rows to give the remaining seedlings more room to grow.
TRANSPLANTING VEGGIE STARTS
Many vegetables have a longer harvest period (60+ days), so it is best to transplant them into your garden as established starts. Harden off your veggie starts before planting them by gradually exposing them to the outdoors. Handle transplants gently to avoid damaging the tender roots.
Measure your plantable space and take into account the spacing for each vegetable before you plant. Some vegetables will require more space than others – carrots and beets only need a few inches, whereas zucchini will bush out a couple of feet, and cucumbers, peas, and beans will need over a yard of vertical space to climb. Tomatoes usually require two to three feet of vertical and horizontal space, and most varieties will need the additional support of a tomato cage.
Where you plant vegetables in the garden also matters. Certain plants make good neighbors because they provide shade and/or support, improve nutrients in the soil, attract pollinators, repel pests or help to prevent disease. Plants that climb should be given plenty of space so they don’t choke out other crops. Many varieties of tomatoes and peppers also do well in large pots.
WATERING, FERTILIZING & POLLINATING
Most vegetables need full sun and should be planted where they will receive 6+ hours of direct light. In full sun, vegetables dry out quickly and will need deep watering once or twice per day. Consistency is key to avoiding split tomatoes and dropped fruit. Prevent issues like powdery mildew by avoiding overhead watering – drip systems allow the foliage to stay dry which inhibits many fungal problems.
Fertilizing your vegetable plants helps them grow and produce high crop yields by adding nutrients and soil microbes to your garden. Many fertilizers can be applied when planting vegetable starts in the garden and periodically throughout the growing season. Your local garden center can help you decide which fertilizers will work best, whether you are looking for strong leafy greens or healthy fruit production.
No matter how much water and fertilizer you give your plants, without pollinators your garden will underperform. Plant annuals and perennials to attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to your yard, creating an ecosystem that is productive for your vegetable garden and fascinating to watch!