Q: I have lots of healthy, green tomatoes that don't seem to want to ripen. They are in the sun, have red plastic under each one, are watered...

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Q: I have lots of healthy, green tomatoes that don’t seem to want to ripen. They are in the sun, have red plastic under each one, are watered daily and have been fertilized with Miracle-Gro a few times. Is there anything I can do to hasten their ripening?

A: You’ve asked the eternal late-summer Northwest gardening question. The problem is that ripening is all about warmth, and we just don’t get as much of it as a tomato prefers.

One of the best ways to push tomatoes along is to cut way down on the watering by the last week of August. This stresses them and hurries the ripening process. But it’s what you do early in the season that counts most.

Here’s advice for next year: Select a type of tomato bred for our shorter growing season, give your plant a head start by buying a larger plant in the nursery or starting it earlier from seed indoors, plant it deep so it develops a good root system, water and fertilize and pinch it back. Early maturing varieties include Celebrity, Oregon Spring, Early Girl and Champion.

You can leave your tomatoes to ripen on the vine until the temperature hovers near 40 degrees at night. Then pick any of the green ones that show even a tinge of color, and bring them indoors to finish ripening (not in the refrigerator).

Q: We live on the beach on the west side of Whidbey. Our landscaping is on the side opposite from the water. Nevertheless, it is a salt atmosphere with occasional high winds and our attendant dry weather. Our rainfall averages about 17 inches per year, as we are in the Sequim rain shadow.

Our landscaper installed wild strawberries as ground cover, which worked for a few years then mostly failed. Most recently, we planted kinnikinnick, which also failed in less than a year. We would very much appreciate any help in identifying a ground cover that will thrive and survive in our garden.

A: Our native beach or sand strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) and kinnikinnick are ideal ground covers for dry, windy areas. But both need to be planted in good soil and watered for the first couple of years. All plants need water and some attention until they are well-established.

Other plants that do well in the harsh conditions you describe include rugosa roses, rosemary, lavender, hebes, carex, erigeron, potentilla, cistus and thyme.

There are excellent nurseries on Whidbey Island that stock plants for island conditions, as well as employ staff well-informed about what grows best there. You might visit Bayview Farm and Garden (2780 Marshview Ave., at Bayview Corner, Langley, 360-321-6789) and Cultus Bay Nursery (7568 Cultus Bay Road, Clinton, 360-579-2329) to gather home-grown advice as well as tough plants.

Q: In moving out to Trilogy, we have tried to landscape our smaller garden area with beloved tried-and-true and easy plants. This summer we put in a Rose of Sharon in good soil in a sunny east- and south-facing location. I watered it quite well, including daily during our hot days.

It has looked as though it is stressed and wilting, with yellowing leaves that eventually drop off. Some leaves remain green, however, and the tree has many flowers. I have never had any problems with a Rose of Sharon before, and I am wondering what might be causing this out-of-character problem.

A: Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is a deciduous shrub with lovely big blossoms. While it tolerates heat and some drought, my guess is your plant is suffering from drought stress. Just like me — I can’t wait until it pours rain! This summer’s weather has been as tough on freshly installed plants as it’s been on gardeners, for it seems impossible to give new plants all the water they need in such dry conditions.

Dose your Rose of Sharon deeply with way more water than you think is necessary, and keep it watered until the rains set in. Don’t give up on it — after a winter of restful dormancy, it’ll probably leaf out happily next spring.

Valerie Easton also writes about Plant Life in Sunday’s Pacific Northwest Magazine. Write to her at P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111 or e-mail planttalk@seattletimes.com with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.