Ann Wright: Oh tomatoes, natives and flowers! |

Ann Wright: Oh tomatoes, natives and flowers!

Ann Wright

Although the weather is hinting of spring, there is still time to plan spring gardens. Nevada County Master Gardeners are busy planning and planting seeds for the upcoming spring plant sale on May 9. Tomatoes are included – lots of tomatoes! 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. To help gardeners learn more about growing these bountiful plants, the Master Gardeners have a workshop happening today. “Totally Tomatoes” is being presented from 10 a.m. to noon TODAY at the Elks Lodge in Grass Valley, 109 S. School Street. Discussions will focus on:

Selecting seed: Heirloom or hybrid, and how to start tomato plants from seed. Heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated, meaning 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 types. Hybrid tomatoes such as Celebrity and Early Girl are a cross between two parents, where two different varieties are cross-pollinated, usually with human intervention for specific qualities.

Tomato type: 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 4 to 6 weeks. Indeterminate tomatoes produce vines that continue to grow and set fruit throughout the growing season. Many standard size tomatoes are indeterminate.

Growing conditions: Seed may be started indoors, about 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost date. Keep in mind that the seedlings will require plenty of light; a sunny south window or supplemental grow lights will provide the needed light. Seed should be sown about ¼” deep and kept warm and evenly moist. Small seedlings can be transplanted into larger pots to allow each new seedling time to grow and strengthen. A week to 10 days before planting outside, after the danger of frost has passed, the indoor-grown plants need to become acclimated, or hardened-off before transplanting. Exposing young plants to an increasing number of hours of outdoor light and temperatures ensures this hardening off period.

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Growing tips for healthy tomatoes will be discussed including the use of raised beds and how to space tomatoes. Tomatoes need plenty of room to grow well, allowing 24 to 30 inches between the plants in a row. Tomato vines can be very heavy and require support structures. Virtually all indeterminate plants require some type of support, and determinate “bush”-type tomatoes may benefit from staking to ensure that tomatoes are off the ground. Different options for support will be discussed at the workshop.

Pests and diseases that plague tomato plants: Common tomato pests include hornworms, tomato fruitworms, whiteflies and leafminers. Information on managing pests can be found on the UC IPM website at .

From tomatoes to natives. There are a number of advantages to adding native plants to the garden. Attracting birds and pollinators is one advantage. Forming a natural ecosystem, native plants and the wild things they attract creates an enriching local environment. And, because native plants have evolved in our dry climate, they (once established), require less water than non-natives. They also establish better protection from diseases, reducing the need for intervention. To learn more about planting natives, the workshop, “Bringing Native Plants into Your Garden” will be presented by Master Gardeners on Saturday, March 14th from 10am to noon at the Elks Lodge in Grass Valley.

Plants (including natives) are generally classified as annual, perennial or biennial. Annual plants generally complete their life cycle in a season where they grow from seed, flower, reseed then die within a year. Perennials continue to grow for several years. A perennial may go through repeated annual flowering cycles and then produce seed before it dies. Horticulturalists often use the term perennial to describe the huge array of ornamental plants that continue to live from year to year. Biennial plants require two growing seasons to complete a growth cycle. Flowers, also classified as annual or perennial, will be the center of a new workshop: “Flower Gardening 101: From Seed to Vase”. This workshop is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 28 – at the Grass Valley Elks Lodge. Join Master Gardeners for an interactive session on starting, planting and caring for flowers grown especially for bouquets and arranging. Our favorite dahlias, zinnias, asters and flower fillers will be discussed. Beautify your garden and home with flowers!

For more information on these workshops or other Master Gardener activities, check the website at or call the Hotline at 530-273-0919. Additionally, Master Gardeners are in the office from 9 a.m. to noon each Tuesday and Thursday at the Veteran’s Hall 255 South Auburn St. in Grass Valley.

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.

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