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Ann Wright: March gardening is unpredictable

Photo courtesy UC Master Gardeners

March is an unpredictable month – none more unpredictable than March of last year! This, a new March, is also a bit unpredictable, especially in terms of the weather. In many ways, it is hard to predict what to do in the garden; patience is short as trees are beginning to bloom, days are sunny but cool, and plants are sprouting. Predictably, however, there are a number of things to do to get ready for spring gardening.

Still, we will be patient – spring will be here soon. Despite the continued absence from our community of gardeners, the Master Gardeners of Nevada County are busy planning workshops to offer virtually, answer gardening questions via our website, and tease you from our live radio shows on Saturday mornings (KNCO am radio- 830 on the dial). We are also on social media- Facebook, Instagram and, NextDoor. Master Gardeners are looking ahead to what might be a possibility for a plant sale in the fall – the Mother’s Day weekend spring plant sale has been canceled. And perhaps we will even be able to hold our “Bite Me! Tomato Tasting” event in the fall as well.

Many vegetable-growing gardeners cherish the wonder of the tomato. Now in a range of colors, shapes and flavors, tomatoes have a place in the spotlight for now. Tomatoes are some of the most popular fruits grown in home gardens, and there is an abundant variety from which to choose. However, growing tomatoes is not without a few challenges. Planting disease-resistant varieties that are well-adapted to the local soil and climate helps offset some problems.



The language of “tomato-speak” is almost as beautiful as the colorful fruit. Heirloom varieties suggest tradition, ancestry, color and form. Heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated, which means saved seeds produce fruit that is identical to the parent plant. Sometimes a bit tricky to grow, heirloom varieties are very flavorful – Brandywine and Cherokee Purple are two heirloom tomatoes. Hybrid tomatoes such as Celebrity and Early Girl, are a cross between two parents. Here, two different varieties are cross-pollinated, usually with human intervention.

Grape tomatoes are small, oval shaped berry-like fruit with firmer skin. Grape tomatoes are generally smaller than cherry tomatoes; there are many types of cherry tomatoes, which can be grown in a wide array of spaces. However, despite the small size of these taste sensations, some cherry tomato plants may grow to over six feet in height. Sun Gold and Jasper are two very flavorful cherry tomatoes.



Then there is the massive beefsteak tomato which is a type of its own and may reach a sizeable two pounds. Slicers are generally round, and uniform in shape, also known as a globe tomato. Slicing tomatoes include both heirloom and hybrid varieties. Midget patio or dwarf varieties are compact and well suited to container planting or hanging baskets. Plum is the description of paste or Roma tomatoes which are medium to small in size and shaped like red ovals. San Marzano are quite popular and grow well here. These have thicker walls and fewer seeds than some of the other varieties.

Tomatoes are also described as determinate or indeterminate based on the plant’s growth habit. Determinate or bush tomatoes generally grow more evenly and produce fruit within about four to six weeks. Indeterminate tomatoes produce vines that continue to grow and set fruit throughout the growing season. Many standard size tomatoes are indeterminate.

To help home gardeners learn more about growing these bountiful plants, join the Master Gardeners for a virtual “Totally Tomatoes” workshop at 9 a.m. today, March 20. The Zoom link is on the website (www.ncmg.ucanr.org), and if you have Zoom ready to go, the meeting ID is: 847 5660 0894 and the passcode is 313940. Workshop presenters will provide more information about selecting the best varieties based on taste, needs and gardener skill levels.

The workshop discussion will include how to start tomato plants from seed, the best growing conditions here in the foothills, as well as different growing strategies for healthy tomatoes (such as raised beds, trellising, spacing, crop rotation). Master Gardeners will also include some of their favorite cherry, slicing and paste tomatoes. Finally, pests and diseases that plague tomato plants will be discussed. There will be a question-and-answer session following the presentation. And, as always, the workshop is FREE!

Some other garden activities for an unpredictable March include setting out potato tubers, lettuce, rhubarb, parsley and other cool-season vegetable starts. Direct seed radish, beets, and carrots. This is also a good time to boost the compost pile by adding brown, dried garden waste. The addition of any moist fresh-cut grass or an over-abundance of Miner’s lettuce adds essential rich greens to the compost.

Now is a good time to trim ornamental grasses as new shoots appear. Cut shorter grasses no lower than four-inches from the ground. Taller grasses can be cut six to 10 inches, depending on the species.

Despite upcoming rains, water is a precious resource so water wise planting is important for our Mediterranean climate. Join Master Gardeners for the presentation on April 3, Water Wise Gardening. This will be followed by Functional Irrigation, in 2 parts, April 17 and 24. Check the website for more details.

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.


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