Episode 26 – Tips for Selecting and Growing Tomatoes and Shrub Madness Begins!

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

It’s March – that means it’s meteorological spring! Check out the YouTube link below to see our new spring background.

  • Growing tomatoes from seed makes sense because your choice of varieties is much larger than store bought seedlings. Slicing tomatoes are large and juicy, while paste (sauce/roma/plum) tomatoes are drier (concentrated flavor), with fewer seeds, making them ideal for sauce but also excellent for slicing. Cherry tomatoes are bite-sized and come in several shapes like oblong, pear-shaped or round.
  • Check the packet! Determinate, Indeterminate or semi determinate varieties are available.
  • Heirloom tomatoes like Cherokee Purple and Brandywine and the famous “Mortgage lifter” This tomato was developed in the 1930s by M.C. Byles, a West Virginia radiator mechanic who went by the nickname “Radiator Charlie.”  Like millions of others, Byles was negatively affected by the Great Depression.  He came up with a plan to create a larger, better-tasting tomato he could later sell.  He crossbred four tomatoes (a German Johnson, a beefsteak, an Italian tomato, and an English tomato) over six years to create the tomato.  In the 1940s he began selling his tomato plants and the profits allowed him to pay off his house — hence, the name Mortgage Lifter. A 1950s heirloom, ‘Ace 55’ has excellent, fresh tomato flavor and is a lower-acid tomato. An old favorite for canning, 5″–6″ diameter, 6–8 ounce fruits are just the right size to quarter and pack into jars. Yields are exceptional; as a determinate type, the majority of the fruits ripen over a 1 to 2 week period. In areas with a long growing season, sow in succession. Tomatoes are also grouped by use, shape, and size.
  • The seeds are what make an heirloom tomato an heirloom tomato. They are passed down from season to season from tomato plants that produce the best fruit. This process allows certain desirable traits like juiciness, size, shape, or color. Heirloom tomatoes are also often open-pollinated, which means that they are pollinated naturally, by birds, insects, wind, or human hands. 
  • Start tomatoes indoors 6 to 8 weeks before average last spring frost. Ideal soil temperature for germination is 70-90°F. Consider using a heat mat. 
  • Seed Starting Mix Use a lightweight seed starting mix/media, and sow seeds at a shallow, 1/8″-1/4″ depth. Seed-starting mix is sterile (unlike garden soil) and lighter than potting mix. Humidity is important until the seeds have germinated, then air movement will be important along with bright light. Stacey recommends LED lights.
  • Two key word issues to familiarize yourself with are damping off and hardening off.  
  • Feed with water soluble fertilizer once true leaves have developed.
  • Thinning is the process of removing weaker seedlings to allow more room for the stronger ones. It creates healthier plants that produce more. As seedlings grow and you see crowding beginning to happen, gradually thin plants.
  • If they get “leggy” you can deep plant them after hardening off along the stem in the eventual soil where they will be planted. 

Instead of putting just one plant on trial today, we’re putting 64 plants on trial in our Shrub Madness competition. Shrub Madness is a horticultural version of the basketball tournament that happens every March, which we’ve been putting on here at Proven Winners ColorChoice for ten years. Instead of basketball teams, each participant is one of our 320+ flowering shrubs or evergreens. Here’s how it works: for the first week, you can go to the website, ShrubMadness.com, and fill out your prediction bracket. Basically, you’ll create a login – so we can notify if you win one of our many prizes, but more on that in a second – and go through all six rounds of Shrub Madness voting, predicting which variety in each matchup is likely to win the popular vote. Provided you do this while logged in, the program will save all your predictions and you’ll be entered to win the grand prize – a trip to Grand Haven to tour our greenhouses and trial garden and learn, first hand, the story behind Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs.

Shrub Madness opens for voting on Monday, March 6. Starting on that day, you can vote for which variety in each matchup you think should move on to the next round. For the first round, that’s voting 32 times, and that lasts a full week until it’s on to round two, with sixteen matchups, and so on. The variety that gets the most votes is considered the winner for each round, and moves on to the next, until there are only two shrubs standing – the championship starts on March 30 and a new Shrub Madness Champion is crowned on April 1.

So, why would you want to play Shrub Madness? Well, for one, because it’s the gloomiest time of year and who wouldn’t like to spend some time looking at pretty flowers and learning more about shrubs. And two, because there are prizes galore! At the end of each round, we pick winners at random to win quart-sized selections of the current winning plants. At the end of the final round, we pick four winners who will receive gallon-sized collections of the winning plants. And, if you filled out a bracket, the bracket that most closely matches the way voting actually turned out wins a trip to our trial gardens, a $250 gift card for Corona Tools, and one gallon plants for the four shrub finalists.

If you still have questions, not to worry – just visit ShrubMadness.com and you’ll find everything you need to know about how to register, how to play, and how it all works. Don’t miss out on this once-a-year chance to win plants and maybe even a trip to our beautiful trial and display gardens, right at the height of hydrangea season when they are their most beautiful.

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey


This is such a great question and an important way we can connect with plants! While we definitely know people are looking for specific recommendations, it’s also important to consider what/who they wish to commemorate, and the timing of that. It’s always nice to, for example, have a plant that’s in beautiful full bloom when a loved one would have celebrated a birthday, or to lift your spirits on the anniversary of their passing. It’s also nice to consider where someone is from: for example, when my mother-in-law passed away, we wanted to plant an Ohio native tree to remember her by, as she was from Ohio. For births, it’s always nice to choose something that’s spectacular at that time of year so it becomes a part of your celebrations through the years. With all that said, here’s a short list of plants that we love and feel appropriate to this purpose:

Perennials: Summerific perennial hibiscus, Empress Wu hosta, miscanthus grass, peony, Decadence baptisia – all of these are long-lived and have major impact in the garden.

Shrubs: lilac, panicle hydrangea, oakleaf hydrangea, rhododendron, gardenia, rose of Sharon, arborvitae (means “tree of life” in Latin), viburnum.

Trees: serviceberry, crabapple, weeping cherry, weeping blue Atlas cedar, dogwood (both our native Cornus florida and the Korean dogwood, Cornus kousa), elm, weeping willow (if you have the space for it!).

Sorry to hear this, Terry – hibiscus sawfly are the worst! They can be treated with pesticides, if you are so inclined, but if not, the best thing to do is to handpick them, or cut off leaves that are showing heavy damage. Their damage is easy to recognize as it is quite distinctive. It can be a bit more difficult, however, to recognize the larvae themselves, as sawfly larvae turn the exact color of the plant they eat. But once you train your eye to recognize them, you can pick them out more easily.  

It’s not easy to overwinter tropical hibiscus under average household conditions. The house is just too warm, with humidity and air circulation too low for them to truly thrive. So I don’t think the issue was your watering – it’s just a difficult situation, and even more so because of the braided stems. For best results, keep your hibiscus in the brightest, coolest spot in your home. It should not be exposed to freezing temperatures, but nor should it get any blasts of hot air, which can lead to leaf loss. And of course, put it back outdoors as soon as the weather allows so it can recover. Fertilizer is definitely a good idea to get it back on track once it gets outside. 

Branching News - Rick

  • Speaking of tomatoes, let’s “ketchup” on this branching news story: Heinz is looking for people to help the company find a man who survived nearly a month at sea with nothing but ketchup and seasonings, The company said it wants to find him to help him buy a new boat. Elvis Francois as the brave sailor who survived on nothing but ketchup and spices while adrift at sea for 24 days. Well, Heinz wants to celebrate his safe return home and help him buy a new boat…but we can’t seem to find him,” the company said. Francois, 47, was working on his boat in St. Maarten in December when he accidentally started drifting out to sea. The weather had suddenly changed, and he said in a video released by the Colombian Navy, who rescued him, that he had lost his ability to navigate. The story has inspired Heinz to find the man and get him a new boat. Well, now it appears he has been found! The Dominican news outlet “Emo News” posted an interview with Elvis Francois saying they tracked him down on the island of Dominica.
  • In the Southeast, weather has led to some early signs of spring. Some plants have even budded and blossomed out very early. According to research at the USA National Phenology Network, many plants across the southeast have started to show signs of early spring growth. These warmer-than-normal temperatures are going to stick around for a while. Looking at the temperature outlook for March 2 through the 8, temperatures are expected to stay warmer than normal. Just because these warmer-than-normal temperatures are expected to stick around, doesn’t mean that you are in the clear to plant some flowers. WE ALL REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED LAST APRIL! There is bound to be some cold weather ahead yet. Both peaches and blueberries, which are produced in abundance in the American South, depend on a certain number of what’s known as “chill hours” in winter to trigger fruit production in the spring and summer. This season, as of February 19, the total number of chill hours is 746, compared to a historical average of over 1,100. This early emergence with the prospect of cold weather to come may cause problems for some crops this year.
  • Interesting routine that’s caught hold on social media is eating an orange in the shower. The concept is simple: Turn on your shower, grab an orange, get in and start peeling and eating the fruit, enjoying all that citrusy goodness. The shower steam exaggerated the scent. Peeling an orange in a steamy shower helps release that energizing aromatic citrus scent. Tired of winter? Your at-home shower may feel more like a fancy hotel or spa stay, and the smell of orange can be extra delectable.The shower humidity may grab the essential oils of the orange, especially released when peeling it, and circulate the smell around the especially small space of the shower.
  • Two middle schoolers in northern Virginia are proof that setting specific boundaries is a savvy business move. Laminated signs posted throughout Arlington, Virginia, by Marin Kickbush, 12, and his friend Appian Kitchen, 11, are getting a head start on advertising the boys’ warmer weather enterprise: yard work. “MOWIG,” the signs read in bright pink bubble letters underlined in green.  In smaller print, the sign details the boys are also available for other outdoor chores like weeding, sweeping, raking, planting and bush trimming. But the young entrepreneurs recognized to attract their ideal client, they needed to be upfront about expectations. “Only available on weekends,” the sign reads with time tables. “Sometimes we will not be able to mow.”But the young entrepreneurs recognized that to attract their ideal client, they needed to be upfront about expectations.”We didn’t want to walk five miles with a lawn mower,”Also, we have soccer on the weekends (for me) and wrestling and swimming (for Appian) during the week.”
  • Artis Zoo in Amsterdam has taken sustainability to a new level. Working with students from the AMS Institute, the zoo created a park bench made of 65 percent elephant dung and 35 percent recycled plastic. The zoo’s Asian elephants produce around 300 kilograms of poop per day. The zoo was looking for creative ways to deal with this manure. So it recruited five students from the AMS Institute, set up a “living lab” for them, and left them to experiment. Over the past four months, the students dried the dung on improvised pallet constructions and in a specially purchased second-hand magnetron and then pressed it in a heat press. “The result is a sturdy bench,” the zoo said. “The course structure of elephant dung also gives the bench a unique pattern.”Artis made the bench in collaboration with Circulus, a company that has been creating street furniture from “waste products” for some time. If parts of the bench break, Circulus will replace them and return the broken material to a form in which it can be reused. “In this way, we keep the recycling circle as small as possible.”


Pink rose of Sharon flowers bloom on a plant with variegated foliage.

Episode 92 – Weeding by Example

Ah, weeds – maybe the #1 thing that discourages people from gardening. But weeds are interesting and become a lot easier to manage when you apply some basic IPM principles. Featured shrub: Sugar Tip rose of Sharon.

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