Q. I now know I started my vegetable plants way to early and they are getting leggy in the house. Any ideas of what I can do with this problem?
— G. F. of Belleville
A. The best solution is to plant them deeper in the soil. Tomato plants will form additional roots along the stem. Sometimes you may even find small white bumps showing up along the stem. These are secondary roots forming. You can dig a hole deep enough to hold the entire stem up to the first set of true leaves. Or, some gardeners who don’t like to dig to China, dig a trough and lay the plant in sideways and cover the stem with soil. I prefer to dig deeper as you can take advantage of moisture deeper in the soil to help your plants through dry conditions if the stems are not longer than 5 inches. If the stems are longer than 5 inches the soil may be colder and shock the roots. In that case, you lose the advantage and there will be less oxygen available, which is another shock. You should also remove any leaves covered with soil because they will just rot and could harbor a disease. But this planting method works only for tomato plants. Other vegetable plants cannot grow these secondary roots along the stem.
Also, since your plants are leggy this year, make a note to start your seeds later next year and to grow them with more light and at a lower temperature.
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Lately, I have found a lot of gardeners buying tomato plants with flowers and even fruits already formed on the stems. This means the plants are already at the reproductive stage. Yes they may get the first tomatoes in the neighborhood for bragging rights, but you really want a plant that is in a vigorous growth stage as the leaves are still forming. Tomato plants will produce a bumper crop longer when you start them out younger. Remember not to let any fruits on the tomato plant get to the stage of rotting on the vine as this gives a signal to quit flower production. Some gardeners even remove the first “hands” of flowers to frustrate the plant to form more flowers and fruits for later.
For all your other vegetable plants, you may have to stake them to help keep them upright until the stems thicken to support the plant. Or, give them some other form of support, such as a cage. The stems will thicken in time but their reproduction is set back and you will have to wait later for your harvest.
Q. I have large clumps of daffodils and they are getting larger every year. I know they should be divided. What is the best way to divide them and when is the best time?
— M.T. of Bartelso
A. Daffodils do not have to be divided until the flowers are reduced in size and/or in number. You can dig the bulbs right after they have finished blooming and divide the bulbs with the foliage attached. Plant these bulbs within two days or so. Or you can wait until the foliage dies back, but you will have to mark the location if you do. You can divide the bulbs and dry them, then plant these bulbs in the fall. Do not remove any of the tannish thin tissue from the bulbs.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do it now
STRAWBERRIES: Remove blossoms from newly set plants to allow better runner production.
CUCUMBERS: Treat newly planted cucumbers with liquid Sevin to prevent borers and bacterial wilt.