Written by Cheryl Rummel, Montgomery County Master Gardener, 2017
With 60+ years of experience, I’m ready to stop making gardening mistakes. Since completing Master Gardener certification in 2012, I make fewer and have adopted a new mantra….don’t make the same mistake twice and help others learn from my missteps, thus the topic of today’s article.
Mistake #1 — Can you have too many tomatoes? You can if you grow more than you can eat, preserve and give away in a two-week period and then must buy them. That happened to me before I learned the difference between determinate and indeterminate varieties.
The growing habit of determinate tomatoes is to grow to a specific size, set fruit and decline, thus limiting harvest season. An indeterminate tomato plant continues to grow until it succumbs to frost or disease. Its vigorous growth habit means more maintenance, staking or providing support and pinching off suckers to improve airflow and ensure the plant has the energy to fruit as well as grow. The reward is a longer harvest season.
But all tomatoes (determinate and indeterminate) are finicky about temperature. Too cold and they will flower but not set fruit. Too hot and their pollen becomes unviable. Ideal nighttime temperature range is between 55 and 75 degrees. Daytime temperatures below 85-90 allow fruiting, but 65-80 is ideal. While we can’t control the temperature, in Texas, getting an early start in the spring is critical.
Also, ensure you purchase plants or seeds with VFN after the cultivar name. That indicates a resistance to Verticillium and Fusarium, two common diseases in Texas. The “N” indicates a resistance to nematodes, but crop rotation is still recommended.
My tomato mistake was many years ago but recently I barely avoided another.
This year’s hard, sudden freeze preceded and seceded by unseasonably warm temperatures did a number on area gardens. Even usually cold-hardy perennials were slow to show signs of life.
Being somewhat of a “neatness” freak, I couldn’t wait to get in the garden and remove the frozen, rotting vegetative matter. I was patient and avoided the temptation of immediately pruning stems and branches so as not to encourage new growth before all danger of hard freeze had passed. The wait was for naught because a second freeze failed to materialize.
Finally, in early March, I was rewarded with new growth on stems of many hardy perennials, including
Turks’ Cap, Lantana, and Oleander. Even perennials, like Angel Trumpet (Brugmansia) that produce growth from their rootstock, were greening out.
That was not the case with my Firebush (Hamelia patens). Sometimes called Hummingbird Bush since it attracts many birds, including hummers. I chalked it up to age (nothing lives forever) and got out my trusty sharp-shooter. After a little digging, imagine my surprise as I noticed signs of growth from exposed roots.
Fast-forward two weeks and it looks like the old girl will be around again this year with its beautiful foliage and prolific red-orange flower clusters. Lesson learned. There are many other gardening chores to occupy my time before I remove any other plants that are slow to show signs of life. Patience is a virtue…if in doubt, don’t pull it out.
For answers to your gardening questions or to get more information on Montgomery County Master Gardeners and our programs, call 936-539-7824 or check our website at www.mcmga.com