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Originally published Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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In the Garden

It's time to plant tomatoes and trim the laurel hedge

Garden expert Ciscoe Morris says it's time to plant tomatoes, trim the laurel hedge and work on getting rid of snails before they eat tender plants.

Special to The Seattle Times

If you're like me, it's been practically killing you to wait for warmer weather to plant your tomatoes. You were wise to wait. Cold temperatures can easily damage tomatoes, and once maimed, they usually fail to produce well for the rest of the season. We still could experience cold nights, so be prepared to cover your plant with row-crop cover (available at nurseries) if nighttime temperatures dip into the 40s.

Heat is the name of the game. Find the hottest, sunniest spot in your garden. The soil should be well drained and richly amended with organic compost.

Spacing is also important. Cramming them in too closely can result in disease problems. Space at least 30 inches apart and work about a half-cup of an organic vegetable fertilizer into each hole before planting. If your plants are leggy, plant them deeper than they were growing in the pot. The stem will sprout roots. Water evenly to keep the soil evenly moist. If we luck out and get one of those rare hot summers, you could be eating home grown tomatoes by mid-June.

Prune your laurel hedge

If you have a laurel hedge in your garden, you'll probably stay slim. That's because hedges are like people, as they get older they get wider, and you'll be fit from climbing the ladder with shears in hand.

The best time to shear a hedge is right after the spring growth spurt ends. Trimming at this time is easier because the new twigs are tender and easy to cut, and it will neaten up all of that uneven spring growth.

Remember to shear to make the top narrower than the bottom. Hedges allowed to become wider on the top get a top-heavy look and block out sun from lower branches, resulting in bare stems at base. Your hedge will continue to grow and at least one more pruning in midsummer will be needed to keep the monster in check.

Control slugs, snails safely

If slugs weren't bad enough, now most of us also have to deal with snails. We have a choice of slug and snail baits: The newer, safer brands include Sluggo, Worry Free and Escar-Go! These contain iron phosphate as the main ingredient, and are much safer to use around children, pets and wildlife than products available in the past, as well as being more effective.

Apply bait now, before these mollusk marauders make mince meat out of your valued plants.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com. "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About In the Garden

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.
ciscoe@ciscoe.com

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