Just Say NO!!!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Starter plants for the 2009 Tomato Garden? They're here? Already? Seriously? You've got to be kidding! Right?

Gardening Guys N' Gals -- follow Nancy Reagan's good advice: JUST SAY NO!

I must say I was more than intrigued when I received a rather worried email from a rather worried "Pam" in Elk Grove this past weekend. She had been doing some shopping at a nearby Box Store, when she saw THEM.

Yes -- THEM!

THEM -- as in tomato starter plants! Out on display! In Elk Grove! In FEBRUARY! Not just any starter plants either, but her favorites: EARLY GIRL.

And so Pam did what many growers are doing right now, and should not be doing. Pam bought herself some starter plants.

In February no less. And she bought them just in time for ten solid days of rain and cold, wet, yucky weather in the Sacramento Valley.

Intrigued by her email and her request from help, I decided to visit my own "Big Box" store in North Natomas -- the men's toy store -- Home Depot -- to see if what Pam had told me was really true.

Guess what? It's true!

When I walked into the garden section this weekend -- lo and behold -- there I found rack after rack of brand new tomato starter plants. There you could find Early Girls by the hundreds, Better Boys, Big Beefs, Celebrities and even cherry varieties like Yellow Pear.

And it wasn't just tomatoes! Cucumber starter plants were on display! Pepper plants! Bell peppers! Habanero hot peppers! Artichoke starter plants! Herb starter plants!

In short, there was the summer garden, on display and ripe for the taking and purchasing. And I was rather distressed to see that many customers were taking and purchasing on the day that I visited.

But -- there's just one problem.

It ain't summer folks. Not even close. It's still winter. And Mother Nature could have a wallop in store for us for the next month and a half. Then again, the skies could clear and spring sunshine could emerge. It's happened before, right? It could happen again, right? Well, yes and no.

Point is -- we just don't know.

But -- the lesson here gardening fanatics is this: Just Say NO! Don't buy that starter plant. Don't buy that BIG BEEF tomato starter plant, no matter how good it looks or how delicious that tomato in the picture looks. It's a lie. And, if you "buy now," chances are you'll be forced to "buy later" to replace the plant that died from lack of heat, or got drowned from non-stop rain.

Just because the Big Box stores have the plants out now, doesn't mean that you have to buy them. Don't worry. They're not going to run out. I guarantee you that the Early Girls, Better Boys, Big Beefs and other lip-smacking varieties are still going to be in good supply later this spring, when it really IS time for planting.

Just don't jump the gun.

From experience I know that there are two possible scenarios that could result from BUYING and then PLANTING a starter plant in the backyard when it's still this cold and wet.

SCENARIO 1: The plant just sits in the ground. It doesn't look happy. It doesn't grow. It's freezing its pretty little pitooty (do tomato plants have pitooties?) off and isn't going to do a thing for at least a month or two, until the weather warms up. At that point, it will start growing. And this will only happen if you're very lucky.

SCENARIO 2: The plant just sits in the ground. It's very unhappy. It's FREEZING. And suddenly, Mr. Freezing Tomato Plant meets Mr. Airborne Virus. The two sort of join hands, and then you're really in trouble. Mr. Airborne Virus not only adopts your tomato starter plant, but thrives when it warms up and spreads to other starter plants you have planted nearby. Finally, at some point in mid-to-late June, your entire tomato crop kicks the proverbial bucket.

Think that's funny? It's not. It happened to me once -- yes ME! Just because I write a gardening blog doesn't make me Mr. Perfect when it comes to the subject of tomato plants. Just ask the 50-60 starter plants that I managed to kill last spring when I put them outside too soon and they keeled over in one day from too much exposure.

And trust me, having witnessed this in person before, you don't want to watch an entire tomato crop meet its unfortunate end to some nasty disease that could have been avoided to start with. While it's true that Sacramento is home to some of the best growing conditions in the world when it comes to growing tomatoes, we're also cursed with every tomato pest -- airborne and soilborne -- under the sun.

So -- remember -- the lesson for today is JUST SAY NO. And "Pam" in "Elk Grove" is keeping her starter plants indoors -- on a windowsill -- until the proper planting time arrives.


Carri-The Queen Bee said...

Okay, so I admit, I bought a banana pepper plant the other day at one of your mentioned stores :) Now, I know it's not time to put it in the ground, it's nice and safe and sound on my dining room table. My question is even if I hold on to this thing for another month or so before putting it in the ground (or whenever it actually warms up here), is it possible that the plant itself would be stunted anyway- just from being outside at the store, or having it get used to my warm kitchen, etc?

Bill Bird said...

No, you won't stunt it. It will continue to grow Queen Bee. But you may want to go through the hardening off process all over again before placing it in its permanent home in one of those raised beds...

Just to be sure you know...