, Salem, MA


January 17, 2014

Beware -- This cactus doesn't like change

Q: We used to live in Needham, and there was a house that in the middle second-floor window had a beautiful generations-old cactus. Passers-by would look forward with great anticipation to see it in all its glory in December. It was lovely, and I use the past tense. The house was pivoted on the lot 90 degrees and moved 20 to 30 feet. Well, the cactus was in the same window and was dead the next December. So sad.

A: As your friend has found out the hard way, Christmas cactuses cannot tolerate any change — not in watering, light, heat or temperature and humidity. Now, this doesn’t mean that the plant won’t grow if any one of these change occurs, but it is very stressful. Any one of these stress factors can make life very difficult, along with the absence of heat and water for the duration of the move.

I think it may be time to get a new plant and watch the regrowth, especially the light direction. Such a treasure of a plant!

Q: Can I start my tomatoes now? I figure it’s about four months until I can put them in the garden, but couldn’t I get a head start on our quirky New England weather by starting them indoors now — and give them a leg-up? And more importantly, then I’ll beat my neighbors to the first tomato of summer?

A: NO! Not quite yet! Tomato plants don’t like to live indoors any more than you do! Tomato plants grown from seed need to be carefully timed and not started too early. Your theory is correct — it will be almost four months until you can plant tender plants outdoors — maybe longer! Figure it this way: It takes a few days for the seeds to germinate, plus about six to eight weeks growing indoors. That brings you into May, and that is plenty early for tomatoes on the North Shore. So, wait until late March to start these seeds indoors.

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