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MSU Extension Service

Home Grown is an educational, entertaining, question-answer column seen weekly in "News from the Genesee MSUE Office," a weekly newsletter for Genesee County Master Gardeners. Special thanks to the Genesee, Oakland and Livingston county MSU Extension offices for providing this service.

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This week's HomeGrown

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This warm weather that we have been having on and off this winter is getting me thinking about starting some tomatoes. Can I grow tomatoes from the seeds of tomatoes that I buy at the grocery store? Or, if I get seeds through a seed company, how soon can I get them started?

Yes, it is the middle of winter and your reasoning ability is at itís lowest. But if your tomato desire is particularly strong, go with the proven thing. Buy the seeds from a seed company. When you buy eating tomatoes in the store, you have no idea what you are planting. Many have been bred for the commercial trade to be picked green and ripen during transit. This often gives you a thing that looks like a tomato but is sadly lacking on taste. Tasteless tomatoes that ripen only if picked green may not be the thing to sidle up to your mayonnaise and bacon. Some tomatoes are grown in greenhouses with roots growing in water and fertilizer solution. This is called hydroponics. If your tomato was bred for this kind of growing situation, it may not perform in the garden. Get some seed catalogs. Read the descriptions. Believe me, you have plenty of time. You want to start your seeds about six to eight weeks before you plan to move the plants to the garden. If the plants are big and floppy, they will adapt poorly to the garden. The traditional holiday for tomato transplanting is Memorial Day at the end of May. That puts tomato seed starting somewhere around the end of March, give or take. One package of seeds is going to give more plants than you want so donít start them all. Do grow some extra plants and delight friends and relatives with the extras. Start the seeds in soil-less potting mixture and not soil from outside. If you are trying to get seeds to germinate, donít put the pots on the cold windowsill. The soil needs to stay at a constant 70 degrees. Constant means ďall the time.Ē Windowsills will be almost tropical during the day and turn into arctic habitats at night. If you average those soil temperatures, they will fall woefully short of 70 degrees. Covering the pots initially with clear plastic wrap can hold in moisture to keep the soil nicely damp. When the first seed pops up, pull off the plastic.

I keep seeing this really lovely, tall grass growing in the ditches along the road. Itís really tall and has plumes that look like Pampas grass. My friend said that this is called Road Commission Grass that they plant in the ditches. Where can I get some to plant around my pond?

And do you also want to invite Satan and his tribe of demons to move in too? The grass is really a reed called Phragmites australis. It prefers to grow in low moist areas. It is highly invasive in an evil way. Native plants that support native birds and animals will be pushed out. There will be no nesting or seed eating with this pest. This highly competitive reed will spread wildly and is almost impossible to eradicate. Do you like looking at your nice little pond? Well, look now because when this grass spreads all around the edges, youíll never see it again. You wonít want to fight your way through it because of the saw-tooth edges on phragmites that can scratch or cut you. No road commission would ever plant it. The purpose of a ditch is to catch and drain water. Nothiní is moving nowhere with dozens and dozens of plants per square foot. Visit some nurseries and garden centers in the spring and let them help you choose a grass that will be a friend and not a terrorist.

Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture
Agent 517/546-3950


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