Ciscoe Morris, Seattle Times garden writer, answers reader questions on moving rhododendrons, growing grafted tomatoes and protecting tomatoes from cold weather.
I receive a lot of questions from readers. As much as I try to answer them all individually, I can’t get to all of them. From now on, I will devote every other column to your questions. I will not be stumped! Email your garden questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: I have a large rhododendron that is blocking my view. Is it possible to move it and when is the best time to attempt it?
A: The best time to move a rhododendron is in spring or fall when conditions are cool and moist. They move easily, even when in full bloom, but never try to move one when it’s putting out new spring growth. Big old rhodies can be incredibly heavy, so if you’ve got to move a honker, invite your strongest friends over by enticing them with the promise of a Brussels-sprouts casserole.
Begin by digging a wide trench around the shallow, tightly knit roots. Next dig underneath the plant while rocking it from side to side until the rootball breaks free. Now dig a gradual slope on one side of the trench and lay a big piece of plywood on the incline.
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Place a blanket around the rootball and station your buffest friends on each end to use it to pull the rootball up the board and out of the hole. Now if you can figure out a way to move the beast across the garden, it’s ready to go into its new home.
One last bit of advice: Don’t feed your helpers until the work is done!
Q: What are grafted tomatoes, and are they really as good as they are hyped up to be?
A: Grafted tomatoes are the rage this year. They’ve been grown with great success in Asia and Europe, but time will tell if they live up to expectations here in the Pacific Northwest.
In a grafted tomato, a variety that produces high-quality fruit is grafted onto a vigorous rootstock known to develop deep roots and also has increased disease resistance and cold tolerance. If all the claims prove to be true, the increased cold tolerance should allow for earlier planting and extended harvest.
The deeper root system will increase water and nutrient uptake and therefore increase fruit production and quality.
Increased nutrient absorption should also reduce blossom end blight, a problem that causes the bottoms of tomatoes to rot. Late blight, the dreaded fungus disease that begins with black streaks, may even be reduced.
On a fun note, you can even get double grafts with two different tomato varieties on a single plant. It’s certainly worth giving grafted tomatoes a try. Keep an eye out for them at plant sales or see if they are in stock at www.territorialseed.com.
Q: How can I protect my tomatoes if the weather remains cold?
A: Planted too early, and left unprotected, it only takes one night of temperatures in the low 40s to maim your tomato. Having said that, there are systems available that can protect tomatoes from cold and allow you to plant your tomatoes much earlier.
Tomato Greenhouse is a simple yet effective cover made of red perforated plastic. It comes in a 20-foot long, 28-inch wide sleeve which you simply cut to the desired length, slip over the standard-sized tomato cage and twist tie the top shut.
The plastic cover allows air and light into the plant while protecting it from cold and rain. The red tint hastens ripening and only needs to be removed in very hot weather. Put it back on in fall for a greatly extended harvest season.
If you really want to get the jump on nature, place a Kozy-Coat around your tomato plant. Also made of red plastic, Kozy-Coat comes with tubes that you fill with water that absorb heat during the day and give it back at night. It’s purported to protect plants from temperatures dipping into the low 20s.
The red tint encourages earlier ripening, so you are practically guaranteed bragging rights for the first ripe tomato in the neighborhood. These products are available at www.territorialseed.com and other online-garden suppliers.
“Gardening with Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.
Ciscoe’s garden happenings
Support your favorite nonprofit while finding plants at these upcoming sales. The first two sales listed offer presale parties where for an admittance fee you can shop early on Friday night with greater selection of plants.
King County Master Gardener Foundation Plant Sale: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the UW Center for Urban Horticulture. Incredible selection of tomato starts, beautiful plants at great prices and gazillions of Master Gardeners to tell you how to plant them, and much more. For additional information go to www.king.wsu.edu/gardening/plantsale.htm
Seattle Tilth Edible Plant Sale: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It is at Meridian Park, behind the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford at 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Seattle. More than 50 varieties of organic tomatoes, and all sorts of heirloom and other edible-plant starts including rare heirlooms will be available. You’ll also find an extensive selection of culinary herbs, edible flowers, and drought tolerant perennials. For additional information go to www.seattletilth.org/special_events
Kubota Garden Plant Sale: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Kubota Garden, 9817 55th Ave. S., Seattle. This is the place to find plants suitable for use in an Asian-themed garden. Come early for incredible bargains and the best selection on pines, Japanese maples and much more. For additional information, go to www.kubota.org/plantsale.htm