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Worried about the Oregon wet cold spring

by Matthew
(Portland, Oregon)

Q. I just transplanted my starter tomatoes to my patch garden at work. I started them from seeds. Great seeds - all came up. Now, I'm worried. I moved them to my plot. They're are about 2" high. It's been a week and I've only lost a few, but the ones that made it are not growing. It has been off and on rain and around 60 degrees lately, and it seems it will be that way for a couple more weeks. Is there anything I can do to give them the ideal growing environment now?

A. You hit on a problem many gardeners face sooner or later: how to avoid losing tomato plants when spring weather turns wet and cold. Tomatoes like heat. You didn't mention whether or not you have mulched your plants yet. It's good to hold off on mulching a couple of weeks as it keeps cold in the soil. The exception is black plastic. By spreading it now (and even before planting), you can help the soil absorb heat.

Consider treating plants for blight now as a preventative measure before it appears. Diseases spread readily during wet weather.

If evenings are forecast in the low 50's or cooler, you may want to consider row covers until the weather warms.

Also - take notes! Prevention is the best way to avoid this problem next year. Write down the dates you started seeds and set them in the garden. Plan to allow more time for plants to mature next year, especially if the weather is usually wet and cool in May. Choose tomato varieties that are especially successful in cool, wet areas. In addition, let seedlings get bigger and stronger before setting them out in the garden - 2 inches high is small for a transplanted seedling - 6-8 inches high will make a more successful transition. Make sure you allow 7-10 days for hardening off, too, to let seedlings get used to the outdoors during the day.

Good luck and happy gardening!
Your friends at Tomato Dirt

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