Gardening & Living in Grand Style
Fertilizing fruit trees and growing vegetable transplants...
by Michael Johnson
Utah State University Extension Agent, Grand County
Jan 26, 2017 | 1429 views | 0 0 comments | 127 127 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gardeners must plan ahead — and plant ahead — to grow vegetable plants from seed starts. 										Courtesy photo
Gardeners must plan ahead — and plant ahead — to grow vegetable plants from seed starts. Courtesy photo
I was at the grocery store the other day and saw one of the staff who often asks me gardening questions. That day, this person didn’t ask me anything, so I jokingly asked “Why no questions?” The reply was that it was too cold, so the person was taking a break from thinking about gardening.

We certainly have had some cold weather, although it seems to be a milder winter so far for us. And I definitely believe we all need a break from activities as situations permit. So for those of you still wanting to take a break from gardening, feel free to stop reading now and come back once it’s closer to spring.

Alas, there’s no gardening down time for me as I’m asked questions regardless of the season. Since spring will be here shortly, I’d like to offer some thoughts on gardening tasks I’ve recently been asked about for you to consider.

Fruit tree fertilization

Let’s start with fruit tree fertilization. If your fruit trees are in a lawn area or next to a lawn it’s likely they get enough fertilizer so there’s no need to add more. However, if they are off by themselves or you rarely get around to fertilizing your lawn then, according to my retired colleague from Colorado State University Extension, who continues to help at CSU’s fruit research center east of Dove Creek, it’s time to consider doing so.

The suggested method of fertilization is to add one pound of actual nitrogen, not just one pound of a nitrogen fertilizer, per inch of trunk diameter (the distance from one side of the trunk to the other). Apply this 30 to 45 days before the trees leaf out, which for our apricots would be about mid-March, while other types of fruit trees will follow in the weeks after. While nitrogen is most important my colleague also recommends using a custom 20-8-10 fertilizer so you could add some potassium and phosphorus as well. Now, it’s not likely you’ll find that exact fertilizer, but maybe one with the same general percentages.

Sulfur is also recommended to help lower the soil pH, which is the measure of acidity and alkalinity. It’s possible to buy 90 percent to 95 percent granulated sulfur from places such as IFA, Intermountain Farmers. Our western soils are alkaline and here locally I most often see pH’s in the 7.8 range, but they can be higher.

When pH’s are higher than 7.8 fruit trees are susceptible to iron chlorosis problems. With iron chlorosis, that higher soil pH limits iron uptake even when iron is in the soil. This results in leaf tissues yellowing in between the leaf veins, which remain green. Adding sulfur isn’t a onetime pH changer in the West, it requires somewhat regular applications. That said, you can do without this but it’s relatively cheap and can help.

Starting vegetable transplants

It’s also time to think about starting vegetable transplants if you plan to do so this year. This can be helped by using a cold frame, which was discussed in my two previous articles. If growing cool-season vegetable transplants such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower you need at least five to seven weeks to go from seed to the size recommended for planting outside. Honestly though, that’s if you have ideal growing conditions, so if you are growing them inside the house it could take a bit longer. Assuming planting outdoors by mid-March or so, which is easy to do if covering with a row cover that helps retain heat and stops those early pesky aphids from attacking your plants, you would want to start your seeds by early to mid-February.

Many warm-season vegetables need to be started by mid- to late February depending on when you plan to plant them outside. Of our most commonly grown warm-season vegetables — tomatoes, peppers and eggplant — it takes about five to eight weeks to grow from seeds to transplants ready for planting outside. Other warm season crops such as melons, assuming you don’t just plant the seeds directly in the ground, can take three to four weeks from seed to transplant size.

So start looking at those gardening catalogs. — I just received one today — and get ready for the gardening season.

Thought for the day: “The problem with winter sports is that--follow me closely here--they generally take place in winter.” —Dave Barry

Previous articles are available at The Times-Independent website, 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

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