NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 27, 2013

Tim's Tips: Start growing tomato plants next month

Tim's Tips
Tim Lamprey

---- — Well, another weekend and another snowstorm. This scenario is getting old really, really fast.

I have talked about this in previous weeks, but it bears repeating. If you wish to start vegetable plants in your home, you only need about eight weeks to 10 weeks to get plants to the right size to put out in your garden. As an example, if you want to start tomato plants inside, you should start them around the end of March. Eight weeks from that point puts you at the end of May, which is the traditional time to put tomato plants out in the garden.

If you start the seeds too early, you will wind up with tall and weak-stemmed plants. These plants will take a long time to adapt to being outside and may very well die in the garden. Just be patient a little longer if you want to start those tomato plants in the house.

On the other hand, there are vegetable plants that you can start from seed now. Broccoli, cabbage, head lettuce and cauliflower are plants that can go out into the garden between mid-April and early May.

If you have a window that faces south or west, you will usually get enough sun to allow your seedlings to grow nice and strong. On the other hand, you may need to supplement the amount of light by using grow lights. These lights use bulbs that give off light that is very close to the intensity of sunlight.

There are some nice 2- or 4-foot long grow light systems. The systems that we carry at the store allow you to adjust the height of the light. This is important because you need to keep the light about 2 to 6 inches above the plants. Grow lights need to be kept on for about 12 hours per day. This can vary based on the type of plants that you are growing. The light can be placed onto a timer. This allows you to have a consistent off-and-on cycle.

In order for your seeds to sprout and grow properly, the soil needs to be kept warm. During the day, a sunny window will warm up the soil and the plants will be happy. If you leave the plants in the window at night, the soil will cool down because the sun isn’t there to keep it warm. The simplest way to help your seeding stay warm is to move them away from the window.

Another way you can achieve this is to use a “heat mat.” This is a rubberized mat that contains heating coils. This will keep the soil temperature at about 6 to 12 degrees above air temperature. If you use a grow light fixture and a heat mat, you could even start your seedlings in a spare bedroom or even if the basement.

If you need more information on starting seeds, stop by the store and we can steer you in the right direction.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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Tim Lamprey is the owner of Harbor Garden Center on Route 1 in Salisbury. His website is www.Harborgardens.com. Do you have questions for Tim? Send them to ndn@newburyportnews.com, and he will answer them in upcoming columns.