Marianne Binetti

It’s time to plant tomatoes, Western Washington gardeners. Here are some tips.

Grow tomatoes and save water, too

Water-saving tips for growing tomatoes in pots or containers. Learn how to use an olla and keep plants happy.
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Water-saving tips for growing tomatoes in pots or containers. Learn how to use an olla and keep plants happy.

The beginning of June can be a fickle season.

Tomatoes, peppers, basil and warmth-loving annuals such as zinnias need to get into the ground for a summer harvest, but some cool night temperatures can still bother heat-loving or tropical plants. Look for the hot spots around your home and garden to make heat-loving plants happy.

Hot spots for cool plants

In Western Washington gardens, the best place to grow tomatoes, basil or pepper is often the front yard. This is because the mass of concrete that makes up a driveway or front porch steps can act like a heat bank to absorb warmth during the day and release it at night to potted plants sitting up against the house or on top of concrete.

Save the hot spot against a building that faces south or west for heat-hungry tomatoes, peppers, basil and flowers like marigolds, zinnias and geraniums. In our climate, it is the cool June nights that get these plants in a pout more than cool daytime temperatures.

Tomato growing tips

Grow tomatoes in the hottest part of your garden. A west- or south-facing wall is excellent. Up against a brick wall or any type of rock, concrete or masonry that absorbs daytime heat will reward you with an earlier harvest and happy plants.

Pick a variety of tomato for our cool summer climate. Early Girl, Sweet 100, Oregon Spring and Husky Gold are old favorites, but there are hundreds of new tomato varieties, including some hardy heirlooms that will adapt to our cool nights. Read the labels as they often tell you how many days it takes for the fruit to mature. We have what is considered a short growing season for tomatoes, so plants that produce within the shortest number of days to maturity will be the most gratifying to grow.

For container gardens, pick tomato varieties with smaller fruit (cherry tomatoes or patio tomatoes) or varieties that are considered determinate or dwarf. Sometimes these are marked with the letter D on the plant tag.

Pay attention to watering. Tomato plants like moist soil in the beginning of the summer but then require a bit less water as their roots spread out underground. Keeping the soil evenly moist will prevent blossom end rot and other fruit problems.

Tomatoes need fertile soil but grow best when it is not too rich.

A lack of calcium or potash will cause growing problems, but too much nitrogen will produce plants with lots of green leaves but little fruit. Consider a slow-release plant food such as Osmocote that provides a slow but steady supply of nutrients. Some gardeners swear by planting egg shells or banana peels into the ground near their tomato plants. Egg shells provide calcium and banana peels potassium, but both take time to break down in the soil.

Bury the stems of your tomato plants. Unlike most plants, a tomato start can grow roots from its stem when planted deeper than it was growing in a pot. This means those rather tall and leggy tomato plants you see at the garden center can be buried up to their necks in the soil, and if you remove the foliage that will be underground, those leaf nodes will sprout roots instead of new leaves and transform into a well-rooted and stockier plant.

You can also dig a ditch six to eight inches deep and put a tall tomato plant on its side so that the top one third of the plant is above ground. Remove the foliage that lies in the ditch and cover with the soil.

Reach Marianne Binetti through her website at binettigarden.com or write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw WA 98022.
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