Garden Help Desk: Early winter weather makes gardeners eager for harvest | Home and Garden

We had several questions about what to do for tomato plants during the past week’s cold weather.

To pick, or not to pick? And what about covering the plants; will it get too cold or will the plants be OK? And doesn’t refrigeration ruin tomato flavor? How cold can tomatoes get before the flavor will be ruined?

Answer: This week, let’s look at some information that will help you make good tomato decisions.

This early in the fall, it’s usually better to leave your tomatoes on the vine. The exception to that, of course, would be if the weather forecast predicts the temperature will go below freezing at your location.

Almost every autumn, we get these really short periods of cool-to-cold temperatures and then have better weather again for a while.

Very cold temperatures can ruin the flavor of tomatoes. That’s why we don’t put our tomatoes in the refrigerator. But what about tomatoes on the vine during cold weather?

If the overnight temperatures are consistently below 40 degrees, tomatoes will develop poor flavor. But if temperatures warm up 55 degrees or more during day, the tomatoes can do some normal ripening and improve the flavor.

If you garden in the cooler parts of Utah County, and you think your garden is at risk of frost this early in the fall, you can cover the vines at night to protect them and remove the covering during the day to let the tomatoes soak up the sun and mild daytime temperatures for a few days until better weather returns.

In warmer parts of the county, where the overnight lows will stay in the 40s, covering isn’t usually necessary.

So, for short-term chilly, but not frosty, weather in the early fall, it’s best to leave your tomatoes on the vine so they develop their best flavor profiles instead of picking them green.

Green tomatoes picked now and taken in to ripen and color up will taste more like the tomatoes you buy at the grocery store in the winter.

Near the end of September, when we start to have consistently cold nights and days that stay cool, tomatoes will feel the effects — growth and ripening will nearly come to a stop and the fruits will develop off flavors.

At that point, there isn’t any benefit to leaving tomatoes on the vine or covering the vines overnight. Keep your eye on the weather forecast, watching for those cold nights and days that don’t really warm up and pick all your mature tomatoes, even if they are only partially colored up or still green.

Question: What kind of fertilizer should I use now for my trees to help them get ready for winter?

Answer: Autumn isn’t a good time to fertilize trees.

Right now, trees, shrubs and perennials should begin getting ready for winter and fertilizing them would stimulate new growth instead. New growth that your trees put on now will be less winter hardy and less likely to survive our winter weather.

What can you do to help your trees, shrubs and perennials get ready for winter?

  • Continue to water deeply, but begin to space the waterings farther apart. Trees should be watered deeply, but only once a week or so during the heat of summer and less often in the spring and fall. Deep but less frequent watering will help your trees make the transition to winter dormancy.
  • Clean up any stubs left from branches that broke during this week’s wind storms. Make nice clean cuts so your trees can close over the wounds more quickly. You can also remove any twigs or branches that look damaged or diseased, but you shouldn’t do any routine pruning until late winter or early spring.
  • Freshen the layer of bark nuggets in your tree ring. A three-inch layer of medium bark nuggets will help to insulate the soil and slow down freezing and also will slow down drying of the soil.
  • Give your trees a deep soak in late November. This is especially important for any evergreens.

Shade trees need very little, if any, fertilizer, so you don’t need to do anything special for them in the spring, but most fruit trees will need to be fertilized every year in the early spring.

The amount of fertilizer they’ll need will depend on how well they grew this year, so take a few minutes to make some notes about how your fruit trees did. Your notes will be your guide to fertilizing next spring.

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