Garden Help Desk: Do I have time to grow a garden? 01

A diagram showing how to thin peaches.

Question: I usually have my beans and tomatoes planted before now, but it’s been so wet almost every day this spring that I haven’t been able to. Can I still plant my vegetables? Will there be time to get anything from my garden?

Answer: This cold, wet spring has been a challenge for gardeners. We know we shouldn’t be working the soil while it’s this wet, and we know that the cold weather isn’t good for tender vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans, but we’re anxious to get things going. We also worry that there won’t be enough days left in the growing season to have a good harvest before the first fall frost.

Planting tender vegetables in cold weather doesn’t really give gardeners a head start, because transplants that aren’t damaged by the low temperatures may just delay their growth until the weather improves, or seeds may rot in cold, wet soil instead of germinating.

Some gardeners intentionally delay planting until the beginning of June because they know their veggies will germinate quickly and grow well with the warmer temperatures. Planting later in June or in July can help gardeners avoid pests like the Mexican bean beetle. Some feel that the flavor of green beans that mature in cooler fall weather are better,

The weather is finally warming up and drying out and unless you are trying to grow a first prize giant pumpkin, there should still be plenty of time to get a nice harvest from your garden.

Q: This is the first year my apple tree has had more than a few apples. How large should the apples on my tree be before I thin them and how many should I take off?

A: Thinning fruit trees is an important part of keeping them healthy and productive for the following reasons:

  • Thinning protects trees from breakage
  • Improves the quality of the fruit
  • Helps to even out fruit production from year to year
  • Can make pest management easier and more effective

A heavy fruit load can bend branches, affecting their future development, or even break the branches as the fruit gets closer to harvest size.

Your apple tree can only produce a limited amount of fruit in a season. When fruit trees carry a heavy load, that fruit production is divided between many smaller fruits. If you thin the fruit your tree, you’ll have fewer apples, but they will be larger and have a better flavor.

While your apple tree is busy filling out the fruit for this year, it is also developing flower buds for next year. Leaving a heavy load of fruit on your tree can reduce the number of flower buds you’ll have the following year.

Pest management is also a little easier and more effective on thinned trees. Pest control sprays won’t give you the best coverage if the apples on your tree are touching each other.

Your tree might do some self-thinning by dropping some of its tiny fruits. That probably won’t be enough, and you’ll need to do some additional thinning. Apples and pears are usually ready for thinning in mid-May and if you haven’t taken care of that, now is the time to do get it done. Thin apples and pears to one fruit per cluster and space the fruits so they are not less than 6 inches apart. You may need to use small clippers or scissors to remove the fruitlets without damaging twigs and branches.

Peaches and nectarines usually need thinning, too. Six inches or more is a good spacing for them, but they can usually be removed by simply giving the fruitlets a twist.

The Utah Master Gardeners invite you to join the 23rd Annual Hidden Garden Tour, which will be held from noon to 8 p.m. June 14 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 15. Visit the website for more information, or call (801) 851-8463.

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