Tomato plants can thrive with various methods
by Ronella Stager, Columnist
Apr 11, 2012 | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
You can teach an old dog new tricks. It seems as if every gardener, whether they grow just vegetables or whether they also grow flowers, is thinking of planting tomatoes early in spring.

A big question is when and how to plant and most of us have a method we always follow. I had a tomato grower call me recently and we chatted about the questions surrounding tomatoes. He told me something to keep cut worms from getting his tomatoes that I had never heard. He wraps the stems with aluminum foil. I had never heard of this but sounds simpler than the tin can method I always used. Another grower sets out a few the first week of April and just gambles. Sometimes it frosts and she loses them and sometimes it doesn’t and she is ahead of the game. One way I have always planted tomatoes was taught to me by my grandfather, my Pa. He dug a trench and laid the tomato lengthwise in the trench, just leaving a few inches of the top showing. That way, the roots will grow the length of the stem and that gives it more moisture. His tomato plants were sometimes a foot and a half tall and he would plant them very deep into the soil, just leaving a few inches of the top showing. That is another way for the plant to get more moisture.

After my mother moved into an apartment and had no garden, she loved to start tomato plants in flats made from paper milk cartons. She would have every window filled. My brother-in-law and I ordered the seeds we liked and she would plant them in February so we could set them out May 15th, that magical day for planting. They would be just right to plant by that date. When my grandfather lived on the old farm, he always planted tomato seeds in his tobacco plant bed which would be covered by canvas until danger of frost was over and he always had big strong husky tomato plants.

Pa had a special rich spot down by the creek for his plant bed and stacked up branches of wood all year just for burning on the plant bed spot to kill all weed seeds and insects. My uncle’s favorite true story about Pa was when he was carrying a load of limbs, big and little, to the plant bed fire. When he threw them down, a big copperhead snake was hanging onto his bib overalls. My uncle said he shed those overalls in a second, snake and all. Pa always planted a big garden along the creek where the soil was so rich that anything flourished. He planted lots of corn for the kitchen and planted green beans to run up the corn stalk. Ma never gathered vegetables from that garden, partly because of the copperheads and partly because it was easier for him to take the wagon by the garden to gather everything at one time at the end of the day.

Ma did, however, go to the creek bank to gather “poke” for cooking along with early turnip greens. She used an old wood kitchen stove and cooked those “greens” in a big iron pot on that stove. I wouldn’t eat them then but taste changes and I certainly would eat them now. She always picked a time when Pa was not working in that field to pick her poke but he always found out when she put the greens on the table. Those memories stay with us through a lifetime.

If you have some evergreens that need shaping, now is the time as the new growth gets underway. This is also a good time to shape boxwood.

Trees and shrubs that do better when planted in spring are birches, magnolias, tulip trees, Japanese maples, altheas, flowering almonds, buddleias (butterfly bush), rhododendrons and weigelas.

A few plants that will grow bushier and will grow more side shoots if pinched back are asters, cosmos, zinnias, salvia and chrysanthemums. You just pinch off the growing tips using your thumb and forefinger. You want to continue pinching back mums every two weeks or so until the first of July. Then let them form flower buds for fall blooming.

One big, big important thing to do in April is spray your evergreens for bagworms. If you wait till you see the bags, you are too late.

After daffodils are finished blooming, cut off the dead flower stalks if you wish but don’t tie or rubberband the leaves. They do look pretty ugly but it is important to let them yellow and fall over before cutting. After blooming is when the bulbs are being fed for next year’s blooms.

April is a good time to dig up and replant the suckers that come up around your shrubs. It may take a long time for them to mature but sooner or later, they will. Nandinas usually have some young plants around their base that come up from seeds or from sprouts. They will mature in three years to make wonderful shrubs, either in foundation planting or as specimens of three or more in the garden somewhere.

Several readers have called this week with interesting comments. You can reach me at 270-522-3632.
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