As happens this time of year we’re already talking about all the fruit we’ll be picking, and I expect vegetable plants will soon be for sale with the people planting them envisioning the incredible amounts of produce they will soon have. Just to keep it real though, know that our last average frost here in Moab is around April 15. That’s the average last date, so some years our last frost is earlier and, more importantly, some years the last frost comes later. So, be warned that even here in Moab and certainly in Spanish Valley and Castle Valley we could easily get another 32 degree or below night temperature that, depending on how cold it gets and for how long, could damage fruit that’s developing. Also, even if it only gets to 32 degrees it could kill any warm season vegetable plants you take a chance on planting early.
Mulching around plants
As to questions I’ve been asked recently, I had one about using mulch and whether there could be any problems with its use. I heartily endorse mulch and 2 to 3 inches around trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals helps to keep weeds down and moisture in the soil. I am more a fan of organic mulches like wood chips since they breakdown and add organic matter to the soil, but many people use rocks. Now, rocks will increase the heat effect around your home so that’s something to consider.
As to issues with mulch, they arise mostly when using it around food crops. It’s generally not recommended to use around fruit trees due to the increased insect pest numbers it can bring. With vegetables there are similar concerns, but as long as you take that into account I would say go ahead.
I prefer to plant my vegetables close enough together to achieve good soil coverage, which helps limit soil moisture evaporation, or to use mulch on plants such as tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, where the pests that prey on those plants aren’t likely to care whether they are mulched or not. For squash, cucumbers or melons, having mulch gives squash bugs and cucumber beetles just another place to hide from you, so I would be less willing to use mulch around those.
Blossom end rot
Two different people recently posed another question. It was interesting because it’s a little early to hear this one since it concerns blossom end rot of melons, peppers and other plants like tomatoes. We haven’t even started planting them yet but I do like the proactive approach.
One person had been reading about the problem on the internet and had read that to control blossom end rot on melons you should add calcium. While the internet is cool, there are no rules that websites have to provide good facts or truth, and a lot don’t. Even when it is good factual information, with gardening you need to be sure those facts pertain to where you live.
In this case he was looking at a website from a part of the country where the soils are acidic, meaning the soil has low pH, and adding calcium, usually in the form of lime, does help limit that problem. In Utah though, our soils have a high pH due to having a lot of calcium carbonate already in them. Our blossom end rot is due to a calcium imbalance, which is most often caused here in Grand County by allowing soils to go from wet to dry and back. We can solve our problem by keeping our soils evenly moist around those vegetables. So do not add lime or calcium, even though I have seen it for sale in local stores.
Time will tell but let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed and perhaps we won’t have a late frost that kills our fruit and those early planted warm-season vegetables. I also want to remind everyone that if you have anything you would like me to write about or have questions please call or email me, since those questions help me with future articles.
Thought for the day: “Live life to the fullest, and focus on the positive.” —Matt Cameron.
Previous articles are available at The Times-Independent website, www.moabtimes.com. Have an idea you’d like Mike to consider writing about? Want more information about these topics? Call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at email@example.com.