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For your garden vegetables, June can be the harshest month

Even though it has absolutely nothing to do with horticulture, my daughter, Elena, graduated from Durango High School on May 29 as part of the Class of 2021.

Her name first popped up here in my articles for The Durango Herald in 2008, as I referenced her disdain for potatoes. Now, 11 years later, she is off to the University of Vermont. And she still hates potatoes (but I’m incredibly proud anyway).

Every June, I remind my readers that this is our harshest month, and it coincides with all of us as gardeners getting out and planting all sorts of plants.

For a moment, imagine you are a tomato transplant (stay with me here folks, I promise): You have been spending the first eight to 10 weeks of your life in relative luxury, residing in a warm, humid greenhouse somewhere where you are fed and watered regularly. You are then most likely moved into a nursery at 6,500 feet in elevation, and while it may make you a bit uncomfortable, you are still hanging out under some shade where some nice person comes by and provides you with water and nutrients.

Then come the last week of May, you find yourself in the back of a car off to your new destination, where you are pulled out of your home (container) and shoved into cold, clayey soil. The sun is really intense, the nights are really freakin’ cold and the wind doesn’t ever stop blowing.

“I’ll show them!” you scream (in your best plant-voice), shaking your roots in an all-time tantrum: No more new growth, allow your leaves to be burned by the sun and wilt in the late-afternoon heat. But it doesn’t stop there. You tell your friends – the peppers and eggplant, and the young cucumbers and squash.

The mutiny runs rampant in the garden, and it’s all because you, gardener, decided to plant in late May, even though you had no choice, as the season is maybe 120 days long.

If you want to try to make those warm-season crops happy, and not have to role-play with veggies, think about how you can minimize the environmental challenges that come with early summer in the high desert.

Constructing – or planting – some sort of windbreak can really help those plants that have a lot of leaf surface, such as squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and leafy crops that can quickly desiccate, or dry out, when they are young. Something as simple as planting annual ryegrass in the fall can act as a great windbreak because of its early growth and height. Just don’t let the rye go to seed unless you want that grass there permanently.

A slick way of reducing the damage caused by the desiccating winds, while at the same time providing some protection against cold temperatures, is to use floating row covers, which are lightweight fabrics that lay directly over crops.

Because row covers transmit light, they provide crop protection over an extended period without being removed as well as providing 2 degrees to 4 degrees Fahrenheit of frost protection, and they can screen out some insects. Make sure you stake the edges down and remove the floating row cover from any insect-pollinated crops. Check with local nurseries for availability.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.