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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: It's almost tomato time!

For tomatoes in the open garden, gardener Helen Chesnut sows the seeds indoors between mid-March and early April, for transplanting in May.

Dear Helen: When should I sow my tomato seeds indoors?


For tomatoes that will be growing in the outdoor open garden, I sow the seeds at some point between mid-March and early April, for transplanting in May once night temperatures no longer dip below 10 C.

I sow the patio tomatoes a little earlier, because they can be moved into their containers and kept temporarily in a sheltered place outdoors before being settled into their summer location.

Germinate the seeds in warmth. Once the seeds have sprouted, bright light short of hot, direct sun, cool temperatures, and watering only modestly all contribute to the development of compact, sturdy transplants.

If your transplant growing conditions are less than ideal, delay the seeding until early April, when natural light is brighter for the developing transplants.

Dear Helen: I have been given a package of perennial lupin seed to grow. I’d appreciate some tips on starting the plants into growth.


Probably, at this point, the easiest method would be to sow directly outdoors in very early spring, while the weather is still somewhat cold. Soak the seed overnight in lukewarm water first.

An alternative would be to seed indoors now, after soaking the seeds overnight. Because lupins develop long tap roots and can be difficult to transplant successfully, sow into individual peat or plastic pots, two or three seeds in each pot. Cover the seeds to exclude light. Darkness aids germination. Germination commonly takes two to three weeks.

As the seedlings develop and produce true leaves, that is leaves characteristic of the plant compared with the initial, seed leaves, thin to leave one plant in each pot. Plant out into the garden as soon as they reach transplantable size. Transplants left long enough in their pots to develop crowded and restricted roots usually do not produce robust plants or satisfactory flowers.

Dear Helen: When should I prune my plum trees? I have an old, unproductive purple plum and a Japanese plum.


Because plum trees are fairly prone to diseases, it is safest to prune them in dry, warm weather. Late spring, once fruit has set in productive trees, is a good time to start, by removing old, unproductive wood, thinning congested areas and shortening over-long growth. I aim for an open, spreading shape, thinned enough to allow for free air circulation and optimum sun exposure throughout the tree.

If the purple plum is a prune plum, it will not pollinate the Japanese plum.

Dear Helen: I am planning to grow (from very expensive seeds) parthenocarpic cucumbers in my greenhouse this year. I will also grow regular cucumbers, including the heirloom called Lemon, at the other end of the four-metre long greenhouse. Do I need to hang a curtain around the parthenocarpic varieties to prevent their being pollinated by the others? Bees sometimes do get into the greenhouse.


Parthenocarpic cucumbers have all female flowers that do not require pollination to set fruit. The term translates to “virgin fruit.” The fruits that form are seedless, unless the flowers are pollinated.

These cucumbers are grown in protected environments to prevent seed formation. The result is an extended harvest of high quality cucumbers that are more firm and fully fleshed than the usual type of cucumber.

Most cucumber varieties grown by home gardeners are monoecious, meaning that each plant bears both male and female flowers. The term means “one house.” Each plant houses both flower sexes.

If you are keen on having completely seed-free parthenocarpic cucumbers, either arrange the barrier you describe or grow the other cucumbers out in the garden.


Floral arts. The Mid Island Floral Art Club will meet Thursday at 2 p.m. in St. Stephen’s Church hall, 150 Village Way in Qualicum Beach. Topic for the afternoon is designs with a structure. Guests are welcome. Information at

Bonsai demonstration. Dinter Nursery, 2205 Phipps Rd. in Duncan, is offering a Bonsai Re-potting Demonstration on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. The nursery’s resident bonsai expert will demonstrate re-potting a Japanese maple. The event is free, with no registration required. The demonstration will last from 10 to 11 a.m. Bring your specimens and questions for discussion between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. Dress warmly. The event will be in an unheated greenhouse.

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