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In the Garden

Q: I grew heirloom Brandywine tomatoes for the first time this year. The tomatoes are huge, but they’re green, not turning red at all. Are there any tricks to get them to ripen up?

A. You picked the right summer to try “Brandywine” tomatoes. The problem with growing these delicious heirlooms in our climate is that, like most of the tomatoes that produce big fruit, Brandywines need heat, and unless you have the perfect location with blazing sun all day long, they often won’t ripen, even in a hot, sunny summer like this one.

Having said that, I have some tips to encourage at least a few of the tomatoes to ripen up and turn red. First, stop watering. This will stress the living tweetle out of the plant and cause it to put its energy into ripening the fruit before it kicks the bucket. This is also a good time to remove all of the blossoms and small fruit in order to redirect the plant’s energy into ripening the existing large fruit. Leave the tomatoes on the vines as long as possible, but once rains begin in earnest, harvest the tomatoes and store them at 70 degrees in a single layer, but not touching each other. With a bit of luck, any that have a tinge of red will ripen within about two weeks.

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The tomatoes that are dark green probably won’t ripen up. Don’t toss them. They can be used for fried green tomatoes and chutney. For a real treat, find a recipe for green tomato pie. Serve warm with a big blop of ice cream on top and be prepared to shout “Oh, la, la!” after every bite!

Q: I want to replace one of my large rhodies with a smaller one. Is now a good time to plant and do you have a recommendation for an unusual one that won’t get too big?

A: Fall is a great time to plant a new rhody, and the variety you’re looking for is Rhododendron lepidostylum. It’s the coolest new rhody I’ve seen for a long time and the ideal plant for a plant collector with a small garden. A dwarf, this little rhody forms an attractive mound and will grow to only 3 feet tall and wide in 30 years.

This gem features fuzzy, small leaves with a blue cast that remain colorful in all seasons. Add to that soft yellow flowers that contrast beautifully with the blue foliage, and you’ve got a real winner. Better yet, it blooms in late May and June, when most all of the other rhodies are finished blooming. Finally, it’s hardy to minus 5 degrees and is easy to grow in any open location that provides morning sun or light shade. How could anyone in their right mind resist this plant?

The good news is that this magnificent little rhododendron will be available at the Chimacum Woods booth at the Northwest Horticulture Society Fall Plant Sale on Sept. 12-13. The bad news is that they’re bringing only about nine of them, so get there early on the first day and bring your pepper spray so you can fight your way in to get one before they sell out.

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.

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