Tips on pruning holly, starting tomatoes indoors
Ciscoe Morris, Seattle Times garden writer, talks about the proper way to trim a holly tree, starting tomatoes indoors and what a new gardener should see at the upcoming Northwest Flower & Garden Show.
Special to The Seattle Times
Q: I've kept my 10-foot-tall holly tree 6 to 7 feet wide by shearing and shaping the outside of the bush. Three years ago it began dropping the inside leaves to the point that the inside of the bush is almost completely bare of holly leaves. Can you offer advice about this hollow holly?
A: I suspect that the shearing and shaping are causing the problem. Where you cut is where you stimulate new growth. Hence, when you shear every year, new growth occurs only at the end of the branches. Eventually all the crowded growth on the outside of the plant becomes so dense, light cannot penetrate into the middle. Leaves can't survive without adequate light, and before long, the inside becomes a dead zone, resulting in the hollow tree you describe.
The key to encouraging internal growth is to symmetrically thin the exterior branches to allow air and light into the tree. Every year after you shear, cut one-third of the branches back by two-thirds. The holes you create on the surface won't be all that apparent, but they'll allow enough light in to stimulate growth where you made the internal cuts. It may take a few years for new growth to sprout, but if you continue to add thinning to your yearly pruning routine, I suspect you'll see marked improvement over time
Q: I read that now is the time to start tomatoes indoors from seed for planting out into the garden in April. I realize that it will be too cold to plant them without protection. What's the best way to get my tomatoes off to an early start?
A: Generally it's best to start tomato seeds indoors about 6 weeks before you plant them in the garden. Even with protection, you won't want to put them out until early April, so wait until mid-February before you sow. About a week before you plant outside, lay down black plastic and hope for sunshine to heat the soil. Replace the black with red plastic "mulch" before you plant. After planting, surround the plants with red, plastic, water-filled Kozy-Koats available at local nurseries, or online. They absorb heat from the sun to protect the plant down to 22 degrees and the red tint increases tomato production. Fill the chambers with warm water to get your tomatoes off to a toasty start. Once temperatures have warmed up in mid-May or early June, you can remove them. If all goes well, you'll be eating ripe tomatoes way before anyone else in your neighborhood.
Q: I am new to gardening but enjoy it a lot. What type of seminars at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show would be useful as far as general gardening goes?
A: The Northwest Flower & Garden Show is offering 116 seminars this year, all free with the price of a ticket. A good place to begin your decision process is on the show's website: www.gardenshow.com. In the seminar-schedule section, you'll find a legend with a symbol that tells which talks are suitable for beginning gardeners. There are also symbols designating talks for small-space and edible gardening.
Many of the best talks for beginner gardeners are held on the "DIY" stage, where you'll see hands-on demonstrations and learn practical information for use in your home garden. For a big dose of garden inspiration, attend at least one seminar by one of the well-known local or internationally famous presenters outlined in the featured-speakers list on the website. Attend a lot, and you'll be an expert gardener by the time the show ends.
Ciscoe Morris: email@example.com; "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.
About In the Garden
Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.