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The Times
  • David Robson: A pinch can save many inches

  • It takes a strong will to pinch off flowers and fruits, but your young plants will be better off in the long run.

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  • Spring has sprung and leapt straight into summer. Temperatures are not May-like but more like July.
    This has caused problems for those who wanted to plant cool-weather spring crops such as lettuce, radish and spinach. On the other hand, those who want to win the contest for the earliest tomato, or at least tomatoes by the Fourth of July, are well on their way.
    Tomatoes are a warm season plant that thrives when day temperatures are above 80 degrees but less than 95 degrees, and night temperatures are less than 65.
    If you were lucky and planted them in a sunny location and a warm soil, and late frosts didn’t nip the transplants, tomato plants seem to grow several inches per day. You may have flowers already on the plants or even small tomatoes forming.
    Be strong
    Ideally, you should pinch those little flowers and baby tomatoes off the plant to direct more of the initial energy to new growth.
    You should also probably remove flowers from peppers and eggplants until they get firmly established. Plants usually are established a month after transplanting.
    It takes the strongest willed green-thumbed gardener to do this, and only after years of mental fortitude and training — unless you are born with the ability to dissociate potential food for the well-being of the plant.
    Some horticulturalists only dream of that talent, even with liquid fortification.
    Once a plant starts flowering, it shifts out of vegetative growth. Plants don’t develop as deep a root system as they should, nor do they produce as many leaves and stems. The “perpetuating the species” flowering and fruit production is strong. Just look at silver and red maples in the spring — they create tons of the helicopter-like seeds and no leaves.
    Fruiting also can limit flowering, which may be even worse.
    Transplants are worse than those you start by seed directly in the ground. Vegetables tend to be more problematic than annual flowers, whose only goal in our narrow view is to look pretty in the landscape. We don’t intend to eat most of them.
    The transplants are usually grown in a nice loose soil, and then stuck into something less than ideal. The natural response is, “Hey, something is different here that I don’t like. Better set seeds to perpetuate myself.”
    The flowering and fruiting follow.
    The older the transplant, the more likely you’ll see flowers within a week or two after putting the plant in the ground.
    State of shock
    Seeds have to get used to their environment from day one. They’ve never experienced anything different. So, the roots go down, the cotyledons break the soil and the plant starts growing. Unless there is something to shock the seedling, it will keep growing until it reaches maturity.
    Page 2 of 2 - The goal is to avoid any type of shock. Unfortunately, you can’t prevent hail, strong wind, and nibbling animals. Even dragging a garden hose over the young plants may be enough of a signal that all is not well.
    Still, the shock needs to be strong enough wake-up call, not just something casual. Seedlings have a more innate ability to sustain casual shocks that would render a transplant almost helpless.
    In other words, you only have to go after your transplants, whether vegetables or flowers. That means removing the petunia, geranium, zinnia, marigold, vinca and impatiens blossoms, though flowers don’t need to be stripped for three weeks after planting. Just do it when you stick the plants in the ground.
    (It should be noted that pinching the crested celosia or cockscomb is one exception to the rule. Leave those flowers.)
    Even harder than the transplants are the strawberries and fruit trees you plant. Yes, you need to pop off those flowers and developing fruit.
    For everbearing strawberries, which is the type most homeowners plant, keep the plants denuded of flowers and fruit until the first of July. For the June-bearing strawberries, keep the flowers off all year.
    Fruit trees require the strongest fortitude, but you must remove all baby apples, peaches, plums and other fruit for the first TWO years. You need to get the plant established for the long run, not for the short-term gratification.
    Again, this is where liquid fortification might come in handy.
    David Robson is a specialist with University of Illinois Extension. For more gardening information, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/mg.
     
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