Gambling on Planting Peppers in Colorado May

We spent Mother’s Day Weekend getting more planted in the garden, and this is always a gamble at this time of year. While “plant after Mother’s Day” is a good rule of thumb for our elevation in Colorado, there’s always a chance of one last cold blast after that weekend, particularly if it’s early in the month of May. But, this year, with Mother’s Day on the 14th, and more than a week after the last deep freeze (24 degrees!), we felt pretty confident.  The lowest temperature in the 10-day forecast was a mere 40.

Lunchbox Peppers hoping for no frost!

We purchased 4-packs of Jalapeno, Lunchbox, Anaheim, and Bell Peppers, and a few 2x2s of Kung Pao, Shishito, and Mariachi Peppers at Fort Collins Nursery.  Last year, taking the same gamble, we got them in the ground and the forecast changed for the worse, put up tarps to get them through the cold spell, then watched them lose many of their 4-8 leaves over the next week, and then watched them stall for the next month to give us one of our lowest pepper yields in years.  Bad gamble.

This time would be different. 

We had a beautiful weekend in Fort Collins, with the high getting up to 89 and the sun blazing all day.  We had planted 9 Hot Jalapenos about 3 weeks ago, which sounds insane, but not so when protected by Wallowaters.  The challenge is that we like to plant our Jalapeno’s in a tight formation, often only 4-6 inches apart, making a mini Jalapeno forest. It’s hard to fit more than 9 Wallowaters in our 4-foot by 4-foot planters, and only so many can be fit inside.  We chose to give 9 plants a head start a few weeks ago.

When I set the fresh 4-packs of Peppers from the nursery next to them, they were about twice as large.  Partially from spending an extra week with roots in a really tight space, but still, it’s kind of funny.  What the plants in the ground having going for them is time to really spread their roots, which is the better way to judge their progress.  Better roots, better fruits, always.

So, we decided to hedge our bets, and leave 3 Wallowaters up with single plants, creating a bit of a heat radiator and shield on the rest of the box.

In the second box, however, we plant larger plants farther apart. We planted all these peppers with no protection, and filled nearly the entire box.  Planted into the twilight, on a night with a beautiful sunset. Proud of our efforts, we slept well.

Then, this morning, we wake up to this forecast:

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 10.48.02 PM

Of course, snow and frost. Perfect.

We will continue to follow this forecast, but it’s likely we will have to cover up.  I’ll be able to slip a few Wallowaters over as many as I can, but their footprints will guarantee to leave some uncovered.

Years ago, we planned for this situation, and created a crossbar using PVC tubing (from the irrigation project) to create a structure on which to put plastic or tarps.  We then staple the covering material to the box beneath.  I can use a thin painter’s plastic, which may do the trick when there’s no wind or rain.  A heavier clear plastic (usually 3-5 mils thick) is my next level, and then a tarp on top of that (or instead of that) when there’s a rush or a forecast dropping below 27 degrees.

Gardener’s problems, for sure. But, this is the difference between mature fruits earlier or later in the Summer.

I’ll update later in the week as the forecast continues to adjust.


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