As we reach the mid-point of summer, it is time to start planning ahead and planting seeds for fall vegetable crops like cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, kale, carrots and brussels sprouts. With lower levels of light, more consistent moisture, and the occasional light frost, cool weather crops can excel well into the waning days of fall. With some careful planning, you can keep your garden productive well into fall and even winter. At Fort Collins Nursery we have a number of great seed varieties from great companies like Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. and Seed Savers Exchange. Before you get started it is important to know the following information:
Average First Frost
In Fort Collins, the average first frost date is October 2nd. For those of you in other surrounding areas you can look up your average first frost date through the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Days to Maturity
To find out the best dates to plant your seeds, you will need to calculate when to plant your vegetables so they’ll mature before being killed by frost and cold. To find the optimal date, simply subtract the days to maturity from the average first frost date in your region. For example, for a vegetable like beets that take 60 days to reach maturity, you would need to plant your seeds between August 3rd based on our October 2nd average first frost. Most seed packs will list information on how many days until the crop reaches maturity. A quick Google search will also yield several examples of vegetable planting guides like this one from CSU Extension.
Certain varieties like broccoli, beans and winter squash are more susceptible to frost while kale and cabbage are more tolerant. If you’re worried about losing your crops to premature frost, you may want to choose from the more cold tolerant crops.
As the summer temperatures start to rise above 85 F., many of our plants will inevitably start to feel the adverse effects of heat stress. Heat stress occurs when temperatures are hot enough for a sufficient period of time to cause irreversible damage to plant function or development. Signs of heat stress include wilting, yellowing leaves and drying up. Plants will also drop leaves,, flowers, blossoms and fruits in an effort to conserve water. Unfortunately there isn’t much that can be done for trees and plants that have sustained heat related injury but there are several things we can do to help minimize or prevent heat injury in the future.
It is important to deal with heat stress as soon as you notice it. First, check the soil several inches below the surface to see if it is already damp. If the soil is damp but your plants still look wilted, do not add more water – many plants simply wilt in intense heat (tomatoes are notorious for this), and will perk up once temperatures drop in the evening. However, if the soil is dry, it is important to water your plants immediately (don’t wait until your next scheduled watering cycle as irreversible damage could set in rapidly). Plants in containers should be watered daily and even twice a day in extreme heat. Make sure to give them a good soaking. Trees and shrubs should be watered regularly and deeply with a long slow trickle to ensure all the moisture is absorbed into the root systems. If water is running off dry compacted dirt, give it a short watering to moisten the surface and hit it again later with a more thorough soaking once the ground is able to absorb. Applying organic mulch is a great way to lock moisture into the soil to prevent evaporation and regulate soil temperature. Shade cloth and ground covers will also provide your plants with a little instant relief.
As vegetables grow in your garden, they remove important nutrients from the soil that are necessary for development. Adding fertilizer will help replace elements like nitrogen and phosphorus to aid in growth and yield. There are many methods of fertilizing and many types of fertilizers out there so you have a number of options to achieve the desired results.
The two basic categories of fertilizer are organic and conventional (synthetic) fertilizer. Both methods will work but there are some pros and cons to consider for each. The major reason to choose an organic vegetable fertilizer is to build up your soil for the long haul. Organic fertilizers do not result in salt buildup in the soil and run a significantly lower risk of causing fertilizer burn on plants. The main disadvantage is that organic fertilizers often come with a higher price tag, and because they tend to dissipate more quickly once applied, may need to be applied more frequently. A conventional fertilizer, by contrast, may cause salts to build up in soil over time. However, many conventional fertilizers are less expensive than organics and are formulated to be slow-release, meaning one application can feed plants over a much longer time period than an organic fertilizer. As always, it is important to do some product research and read the instructions carefully before use. Consult one of our experts if you have doubts on how to use the product.
Please keep in mind that adding nutrients that are not needed can result in deficiencies of other nutrients and can damage your plants. For this reason, over fertilizing can be worse than not adding enough. The only real way to judge your soil’s needs is to have a soil analysis completed. Locally, the CSU soil lab will do an analysis for a small fee and you can pick up a free testing kit here at Fort Collins Nursery.
Now that you put in the time and effort to plant your garden, don’t forget to give your plants the additional support they need to thrive through the summer. Support structures such as garden stakes, trellises and cages encourage a healthier crop and provide many benefits to the plants like proper air circulation and additional sunlight.
For some basic rules and tips on supporting specific plants, check out this link from Burpee.
Looking for some late-summer, early autumn perennial bloomers? Add a colorful chrysanthemum to your flower bed or fall container garden! Fort Collins Nursery offers hundreds of these prolific, hardy and beautifully bushy perennials.
Mums come in a wide variety of colors, from yellow, pink, magenta, red, lavender, and more. Blooms on mums typically last for weeks providing a late-summer boost when other flowers have given out. And did you know that mums’ flowers are edible?
Fort Collins Nursery also offers a great selection of colorful asters, also a hardy late-summer and autumn bloomer. Small, abundant, star-shaped flowers tower on 2-3 foot plants, providing a nice backdrop in perennial beds.
Both mums and asters appreciate full sun, and a good dose of compost when planted. They also prefer to be watered at their base. Watering from above, onto the leaves, can encourage powdery mildew.
Pumpkins, with their edible flesh and long storage life are a warm season crop. They require a long growing season of nearly 85 days, so it’s best to start them indoors from seed. About a week after the last frost (on average May 15 along the northern Colorado front range), pumpkins can be planted outdoors. But be careful, pumpkins do not like their roots disturbed. We recommend starting them in a natural peat-pot (offered in the garden shop) that can be planted directly in the soil.
Choose an area in your garden or yard that receives plenty of sunlight, and has at least 8 ft. x 8 ft. for pumpkin vines to spread. Soil should be rich with organic matter, but not over-fertilized, which can stunt fruit growth.
Pumpkins will start to develop after blossoms are pollinated, so encourage pollinators to visit your garden with other flowering plants. Also avoid using pesticides in and around your garden, since also harm beneficial insects as well as pests.
To increase the size of giant pumpkins, pick a few nice-sized fruits and cut back the vine just beyond them. This will help all the resources of the plant to be devoted to the growth of those remaining pumpkins.
Interested in entering our annual Giant Pumpkin Contest? See our Calendar of Events and check the month of October for the exact date. Get growing!
PlantTalk Colorado – Growing Great Pumpkins
Rocky Mountain Giant Vegetable Growers
Old Farmer’s Almanac: Pumpkins
You Tube: Larry Checkon, the world record holder for the largest pumpkin
One of the most popular additions to any vegetable garden is homegrown tomatoes. Nothing beats the taste of a juicy, sweet tomato that has ripened on the vine.
At Fort Collins Nursery, we offer a huge variety of tomato plants and seeds to satisfy your hankering. Our varieties include: Beefsteak, Cherry, Roma, Brandywine, Lemon Boy, and more! Call us at 970-482-1984 for availability.
Tomatoes are tender plants. We recommend using a Season Extender or Hot Kap to protect against cold temperatures. We also offer frost cloth.
Don’t forget to keep tomatoes off the ground with a sturdy tomato cage, garden stake, tomato tower, or even try a Topsy Turvy, and hang them upside down! Whiskey barrels also make excellent containers for indeterminate tomato plants – they’ll just grow and grow!
Did you know tomato plants like salty soils?
Sunflowers are not only an attractive flower, they also have rich history providing edible seed crops. Sunflowers do best when planted directly in the soil, after night temperatures warm to above 50 degrees. As their name suggests, need plenty of sunlight (minimum of 6 hours per day). They will also turn their flower heads to follow the sun from east to west.
For giant sunflowers, make sure to chose an area in the yard near a fence or support structure. Sunflowers tend to become very top-heavy as seeds develop, sometimes pulling themselves over (credit anna). Watering sunflowers deeply but infrequently encourages deep root development (which will also help them stand upright). Sunflowers can also be utilized for shade and structure for other vegetables in the garden.
In order to keep birds and squirrels from helping themselves to sunflower seeds, paper bags, nylon mesh or nets can be placed over the flower heads. The best bet is to plant a few extra for wildlife to enjoy, and you to enjoy watching them.
Sunflowers tend to attract aphids, which will feed on the plant and cause some stunting. Instead of using a pesticide, which can harm beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies, try spraying aphids off with a jet of water.
Now that most of the planting has been done, summer blooms call us to linger in the garden a little longer. As you’re relaxing outdoors, it’s a great time to think structure and embellish your landscape.
Have a small, tucked away corner? Add a sturdy garden bench to linger and renew your perspective. Lead the way with our decorative stepping stones.
How about a hot, dry patio? Imagine the cooling effect of trickling water from a beautiful and unique patio fountain or a misting system that you can install in minutes and bring the temperature down by up to 20 degrees. The birds will appreciate it, too! You could also encourage more backyard birds with strategically placed bird baths.
Add height anywhere with a freestanding trellis, perfect for climbing clematis, or plant stand, a great way to feature a blooming annual patio pot!
Hardscape features add focal points and year-round interest. Spend some time on our patio and you’ll see!
Our Colorado environment is home to some amazing native shrubs. Not only are these shrubs disease resistant and perfect for our native soil, they attract birds, butterflies and provide year-round interest.
Try adding to your landscape a sumac, Apache plume, serviceberry, rabbitbrush, fernbush, mountain mahogany or buffaloberry.
These shrubs have some very unique features, such as the curly, furry fruit of the mountain mahogony, reddish-orange berries of the buffaloberry or the white clusters of flowers of the serviceberry. After proper placement and establishment, these shrubs require little care.
You won’t find these shrubs outside the southwest region. Adding them to your landscape helps keep the area diversified and encourages the local ecosystem. They can be blended seamlessly with non-native plants, depending on the shrubs water and sun needs.
Ask for a tree and shrub representative to help find these native shrubs to match your landscape needs. We also offer many native trees and perennials, come out and see!