Pruning tomato plants

It’s always a good policy to keep tomato plants off of the ground rather than letting them sprawl all over the garden. Leaves and fruit in contact with the soil are more prone to disease problems. Plus tomatoes laying on the ground are often damaged by insects and slugs.

I usually use tomato cages to help raise the plants up but, most of the time, the tomatoes grow so much that they topple the cages and end up on the ground anyway.

This year I’m going retro with my tomatoes by using old-fashioned staking and pruning. Pruning was very popular before tomato cages became the most prominent way of growing tomatoes. There are many gardeners who still prefer this method.

The objective to pruning tomatoes is to train the plant to grow a single main stem.  You do that by pinching off any side shoots or “suckers” that develop in the joint of leaf stems. When left to grow, the suckers form side branches making a bushy tomato plant. Pruning eliminates all side branching.

Sucker shoots grow from the joint of a side leave branch.
Sucker shoots grow fright in the joint of a side leave branch.

You have to be diligent about your pruning or else the plant will tend revert back to it’s natural, bushy growth habit. I think the main reason why pruning fell out of favor was the time involved.

Pruned tomatoes must be staked and tied to a stake at least four or five feet high since pruning stimulates so much upward growth. In late summer you can limit the height by pinching out the tops of the plants.

By staking, I’m saving a lot of space too. I’ve got my plants only two feet apart instead of my usual three or four feet apart.

One other side benefit is staked and pruned plants produce tomatoes up to two weeks earlier than non-pruned plants.



Hostas need time fully develop

If you are like me , you probably have had the experience of buying a plant from a catalog or garden center only to find out it wasn’t quite as wonderful as it looked in the picture. Of course, sometimes sellers tweak  photos a bit to highlight the characteristics of a particular plant.

In the case of hostas however, the differences can be very real and not due to photo manipulation.

Many varieties of hostas require a cold period before they reach their full potential. New hostas are often grown in a greenhouse for the first year and may have not gotten enough exposure to cold temperatures. As a result, during the first year in your garden, they can look very different from a mature plant of the same variety.

Although hostas produce flowers, it is the foliage that attracts gardeners.
Although hostas produce flowers, it is the foliage that attracts gardeners.

Leaf color, texture, size and shape can all look different until the second spring. There are some varieties that require a few years growth before all their characteristics are evident.

Also, keep in mind that hostas are shade tolerant plants. Even though we see hostas planted in sunny areas all the time, they prefer to grow in areas where they are shaded from the hot afternoon sun. Full morning and evening sun exposure will allow hostas to develop properly.

In a year or two your new hosta will look as good as the one in the catalog. I wish I could say the same about the shirts I buy.


Veronica speedwell

This is the first spring for our Veronica gentianoides, sometimes called Veronica Speedwell or Gentian Speedwell. We planted this perennial last fall and it seems to be very hardy since it survived our winter, even after all of those record-breaking cold days and nights.

Gentian speedwell is one of the earliest flowering perennials. Ours started blooming right after the tulips died back and just recently finished blooming.

Its wonderful light-blue flowers are about one-half inch across and are held by a spike 16 inches tall.

This is not a plant that you would notice driving down a bumpy road at 50 miles an hour, unless it was a naturalized area with a large number of plants. It works best in an area where you can enjoy it up close such as along a sidewalk.

Later a seed stalk will develop from the flower stalk on these Gentian Speedwell plants.
Later a seed stalk will develop from the flower stalk on these Gentian Speedwell plants.

You may have noticed that Veronica gentionoides has the same first name as Veronica filiformis, the common lawn weed also called speedwell.  That’s because they are closely related. Don’t worry though, Veronica gentianoides won’t become a lawn weed.

Like many of us, Veronica’s ancestors immigrated from somewhere else in the world. In this case, they were brought here from the middle east — specifically the Caucasus region around Turkey and Iran.

Gentian Speedwell will tolerate some light shade but prefers full sun. Wild populations in the middle east are found in damp fields, which tells us that the plant will do best if kept watered or is grown in a moist area.

There are cultivated varieties for sale, I’m not sure what variety ours are.

Later in the summer after they’re done flowering, the plants will send out creeping roots that will produce new plants. The new plants eventually form into a mat that makes a good ground cover for filling in bare spots in the garden.