Giving Tomatoes A Terrific Head Start

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Great Plants Deserve Great Soil

Like most people, I love tomatoes. Even though my garden lives largely in containers on my back deck, I grow as many kinds of tomatoes as I can find room for. I also pamper them, since these heat lovers would rather be further South than in coastal Washington. In this part of the world, until night temperatures reach the mid 50s, soil temperatures are likewise too chilly to please tropicals like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

Since cold nights can retard plant growth, I pot up my tomatoes and give them a snug home in my sunporch. Though unheated, it stays quite warm, capturing all available sunshine. When the nights warm up, my plants move outside. Since tomatoes are gross feeders, I give them a rich planting medium. Recently, I’ve been mightily impressed with an organic potting soil blend called 420, made by E.B. Stone. This venerable company has been family-run since 1916, providing a very full range of organic fertilizers, soil mixtures, and supplements.

Stoner Soup?

E.B. Stone’s Recipe 420 Potting Soil is pretty amazing stuff. The name may not have anything to do with the fact that ‘420’ is police code for active cannabis use. It may be pure coincidence that this potent soil blend is reportedly beloved by growers of that formerly (in Washington, anyway) controlled substance. The company itself says the blend was formulated for professional flower growers. While I personally have no interest in becoming a professional grower of anything, I sure am loving what this soil blend does for container-grown plants.

In the past, I’ve spent a lot of time and money blending fertilizers and adjusting soil mixtures to keep my potted plants happy. Instead of emptying my big barrels and tubs completely, I usually remove the top 12 or so inches and add a variety of amendments. When I’m ready to plant, I top it all off with fresh potting soil. This year, I just loosened the bottom soil, mixed in some compost, and did the topping off with E.B. Stone’s Recipe 420 Potting Soil. Despite the crazy swings of spring weather, everything responded very quickly with healthy, strong new growth.

Keep That Graft High, Naturally

When I repot my tomato plants, I place the ungrafted ones deep in their new homes and covered their necks with the soil mix. In my unheated sun room, they grow rapidly into sturdy plants with beautiful, firm foliage and plenty of buds. When I repot grafted tomatoes, I make sure they are placed exactly as they were in the original pot. Deep planting will destroy the benefits of grafting, which relies on special root stock to lend the top stock vigor and disease resistance, among other blessings.

My favorite grafted tomatoes are the INDIGO kids, a crop of super foods that are naturally hand bred, not GMO creations. They get their dusky tints from wild tomato species found in the Galapagos Islands and parts of South America. It comes from anthocyanins, those power-packed antioxidants that offer significant health benefits to the plant and to the people who delight in the purple-tinged fruit. All that and they taste amazing, so what’s not to love?

About That Potting Soil

Everything I’ve planted so far is lapping up the goodies in that 420 potting soil. So what’s in it? The E.B. Stone folks call it the Emerald Triangle blend, combining aged fir bark, coir, sphagnum moss, pumice, earthworm castings, seabird guano, crab meal, and humic acids. Enhanced with mycorrhizal fungi and beneficial soil bacteria, the blend might be a tad rich for perennials and woodies, but seems likely to please annuals in any setting, including containers and hanging baskets.

A Blaze Of Blossoms

Since I’m growing some brand new flowers this year, I’m trying the 420 mix on them too. Called Digiplexis Illumination Flame, this new lovely is a cross between European foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)  and Canary Island foxglove (Isoplexis canariensis). Bred for England’s Thompson & Morgan seed company, Illumination Flame is exceptionally vigorous, with vivid apricot and flame colored flowers that look rather like chest-high gladiolas on a spree.

Though perennial, Illumination Flame is a sterile hybrid, so it doesn’t set seed. You are most likely to find potted plants at independent nurseries rather than box stores, and be prepared to have your socks blown off. Big, sturdy stalks boast large, lush foliage, each stem studded with masses of boldly beautiful florets. Because they are sterile, they bloom for most of the summer, with side shoots that keep the show going after the main bloom stalks is spent. Their Mediterranean background makes them susceptible to cold snaps, so come fall, I’ll mulch mine generously with loose, airy straw and leaves to keep them cozy all winter.

And The Winner IS….

Winner of the Best New Plant Award at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show in 2012, Illumination Flame won the Greenhouse Grower’s Award of Excellence in 2013. I can’t wait to see what happens when this already lusty creature discovers the delights of the 420 culture, ooops, I mean potting soil….

To learn more about this handsome new hybrid, check out these links:

This entry was posted in Easy Care Perennials, Garden Prep, Nutrition, Soil, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Tomatoes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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