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Plan now for spring garden

Jan. 11, 2011 at midnight
Updated Jan. 12, 2011 at 7:13 p.m.


By Laurie Garretson

After the busy holidays are over, many of us have the tendency to want to sit back and just vegetate. I don't see anything wrong with that, especially on one of these damp and chilly days. If available to you, January can be a great time to sit by the window with a cup of hot coffee or tea and browse through garden books and seed catalogs. Doing a bit of planning now can make for a better garden come spring and summer.

If a spring vegetable garden is one of your plans, chances are good that you plan to grow tomatoes, as the vast majority of us gardeners do. We love our home-grown tomatoes!

Now's the time to decide on tomato varieties if you're planning to grow from seed. Tomato seeds can be started indoors in a sunny window if you have the space. Seeds can also be grown under a fluorescent light that would need to hang about six inches from the seedlings. If started in a window, remember to occasionally turn the seedlings container so the plants will not lean in any one direction.

Seeds need to be planted about - inch deep in a good seed starting potting mixture. After planting, water very gently, but thoroughly. The seedlings will need to stay moist until they sprout. Placing the container in a plastic bag can work as a mini greenhouse and will help to hold in moisture. The seedlings need to be kept at 65-85 degrees during the day and between 60-65 degrees at night. Give the seedlings 12 to 16 hours of light each day.

Once the seedlings have four leaves, it's time for them to be transferred to bigger containers. You will need to be very gentle with your transplants. You don't want to bruise them or break them. It's important to again use a good potting mix when transferring them to bigger pots. Don't forget to add some organic fertilizer and natural root starter to the potting mix.

Tomato plant stems will root if they are under or on soil. As the seedlings grow and you continue to transplant them to bigger containers, always remove the lower leaves, and plant them so that the upper most leaves are just above the soil level. With more of the stem of the plant under the soil, it now can grow more roots. A larger root system will provide your tomato plants with an adequate support system and will be better able to take in nutrients and water.

As the days begin to warm up and spring gets closer, sit your plants outside during the day and bring them back in at night. This will start their hardening-off period or getting them acclimated.

As you wait for the tomato plants to grow and the threat of cold weather to pass, you can work on getting your tomato cages ready. To really have well-built cages, I find that you really need to make them. Concrete reinforcing wire works well. Cut in five-foot lengths, you will then have a 22-inch diameter cage. If you remove the bottom ring of wire from the cage, you will have "wire legs" that can then be pushed into the ground for support. These cages can then be wrapped with frost fabric and secured in place with wooden clothes pins or wrapped with string. This will give each plant protection from the wind and provide protection from the cold and insects and diseases.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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