Keep your tomato plants in the sunniest location in the house that you can find. If you are using lights, set them about 2 inches above the top of the plant and keep them at that level. Plants grown under lights need to “go to sleep” — they need about eight hours of darkness every night, so set a timer.
Then there is the unpredictable weather. If the weather turns cold, gain additional warmth from solar heat-collecting water caps. For an even less-expensive method, use gallon milk containers painted black, filled with water and placed near the plants — they’ll collect heat from the sun during the day and disperse it to the plant overnight. A paper bag will help break the wind, but black roofing paper will attract the heat and break the wind. Bushel baskets can be overturned and placed over the tender plants, too.
Will you have the first tomato? You can try, but what difference does it really make? Even if your tomatoes are a week later than your neighbor’s, they will taste especially delicious because you grew them. You’ve never grown tomatoes? Try it this year. While you’re at it, you might start a pumpkin, too. With an early start, you might grow a giant pumpkin and win the prize at the Topsfield Fair next fall.
Q: I want to make some cuttings of my favorite geraniums and ivy and pachysandra. You always mention using a rooting powder called Hormonex — what does it do, and what’s the difference between the powder and the liquid and gel I find at garden centers now? I’ve always used the powder before.
A: These rooting compounds all do the same thing: They promote good, fast root growth, and they’re all quick and easy. If using, be sure to dip the stem to the directed depth and plant it carefully. Don’t jam it into the growing medium, like sand or peat or soil — this would literally wipe the hormone off of the stem as it is pushed into the soil. Instead, first poke a hole in the soil using your finger or the end of a pencil. Then, gently insert the stem into the hole and cover the stem.