As spring wrestles itself out of winter, it’s time to think about planting warm season vegetables which include some of the classic garden favorites: tomatoes, peppers, beans, sweet corn, melons, peas and cucumbers. It also includes okra, eggplant, winter and summer squash and pumpkins.
Warm season vegetables are very sensitive to frost and easily damaged by cold temperatures. Cold temperatures — below 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit — can be harmful to these plants. The cold can cause injury or stop growth altogether. The results can be mold, rot and bitter flavor. They must be planted outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. Optimal growing conditions for warm season veggies require warm soil and air temperatures. The good news is, because of their deep roots, these plants are generally drought-resistant.
There are several things to consider when planting these vegetables:
Length of growing season – Many vegetables require a long growing season (between 80-100 days) in order to produce fruit. In some parts of the country, this means planting as early as possible to maximize growing season and avoiding intense summer heat that can negatively affect fruit development. Growing seasons vary by parts of the country, which is determined in part by average first and last frost dates. These are important to figure into your planting time, too, as compared to the length of growing season required for what you are planting. Remember, the estimated days to harvest are subject to variables like plant variety, cultivation, weather and many other influences.
Temperature extremes – While warmth is good for these plants, extreme heat is not. Warmer temperatures benefit fruit development, but extreme heat during flowering and pollination are not good for warm season vegetables. Tomatoes, beans and peppers drop their flowers in temperatures above 90 degrees with high humidity.
Climates – The overall climate of your area of course impacts what you can grow and how well things will grow, but you should also take into account the “microclimates” around your home. For example, a shady area may be able to accommodate cool season vegetables while a sunny area would warm soil and provide what a warm season vegetable needs.
Ideal growing temperatures – The best environment to grow warm season vegetables is after you observe a week or so of warm weather before you plant seeds or move a seedling outdoors. These plants need a lot of warmth and between six and eight hours of sun in order to flourish. Corn and bean seeds will not germinate if soils are cool and wet.
Use nitrogen with care – Too much nitrogen will cause flowers and small fruits to fall, thus robbing you of a harvest. Be sure to check guidelines for what you have planted and use caution.
Pollination and insecticides – Some vine plants require pollination by insects in order to bear fruit that turns to vegetables. Consider the impact of any insecticides you may be using that might have a negative effect on honey bees.
It’s an exciting time of year for us gardeners! Keep in mind these tips for growing warm season vegetables, and happy planting!