Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reader's Garden Questions

Today I'm answering several garden questions from readers. If anyone has more to add please feel free to leave tips in the comments or email me.

How do I keep my tomatoes from getting too long and leggy. My Dad told me to pinch off some of the new growth but I am not sure where to to pinch them off. My local market wasn't very helpful. ~Regards, Jenny

If you are talking about the seedlings or small plants that you grow or buy yourself, you can use this method when planting to help correct the problem.

Purdue University Extension office:
Dig a trench large enough to accommodate the section of stem you want to bury. Remove any leaves that would otherwise be below the soil. Place the tomato plant at an angle so that the foliage is at least at a bit angled away from the soil surface. As the plant continues to grow, the stem will bend toward the direction of the sun, and, in a few weeks or so, the top of the plant will be relatively upright.

If you mean after it's planted as it grows, then that's another story. Gardeners have been debating the question of "pinching" tomatoes for as long as they've been growing them in the garden. I can tell you that if the tomato you are growing is considered determinate (it should have said on the seed packet or label when you bought it.) then I wouldn't pinch it. Determinate means it will only grow to a certain height and the tomatoes will grow and ripen at about the same time. Some gardeners do pinch indeterminate tomato plants, which are the sprawling type that grow very large.

Pinching is when you pinch out the foliage that starts growing on the sides in the "V" shaped area between the bigger stems of the tomato. These are the suckers. Pinching these side shoots won't make the plant less leggy however, if anything it will make it less sprawling, which is what many gardeners prefer.

The only time it's okay to trim the top of the tomato is very late in the season, around the end of August or so, when you don't want to start any new tomatoes but want the ones already formed to ripen before heavy frost.

Can peppers be grown on top of the tomatoes, in the same container?

I did some research and couldn't find anything on growing these in the same container. My concern would be that they wouldn't get enough nutrients. As it is, the tomatoes grown upside down need to be watered frequently and fertilized more than if they were in the garden. To put two plants together that need a good, fertile soil would be too much I think. I have read that gardeners put nasturtiums or marigolds in the top of the upside down planters. They don't need as many nutrients as a vegetable so that's probably why it works.

I live in Florida and the zone I'm in is 10, last year I got a Lilac from a nursery up north and it got through the hot summers we have down here, but it only gets about an hour of sun in the morning and about a hour and half in the late afternoon and I know that they say that lilacs should be in full sun but with the real hot summers we get down here, would you say that I should put them in full sun or leave them were they are? What is a good fertilizer for the Lilacs, mine are in sandy soil. Thank You, Harry

Harry, I really hate to be the bearer of bad news. Lilacs will never do well in Zone 10 because of the heat, and the lack of cold weather in the winter. Lilacs are traditional to the North but don't thrive in hot climates and will end up dying. You can try leaving them where they are, but I doubt they will bloom. There is talk of developing a Lilac for warm climates, but so far the one they've developed, Blue Skies, hasn't done well for everyone. It's suppose to grow well in Zone 8 where it will get some cold weather in the winter. You could try amending the soil with compost and top soil, but you won't be able to produce the cold it needs in the winter months. I wish I had better news for you.

We have a great article on OFL with tips on growing tomatoes upside down.