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    Ask the Master Gardener: Is it too late in the season to plant tomatoes?

    By Helen Vanella, Master Gardeners of Greene County,

    26 days ago

    Q: May is almost over and I have not done any planting in my garden. Is it too late for most things, especially tomatoes, or is there something I can start in June?

    There is still plenty of time to plant warm-season vegetables which can still be planted through June. Many of these will do better if started later when the soil has had a chance to warm up. Plants such as tomatoes and peppers can be stunted by cooler soil and air temperatures, so a later planting date is actually a boost for their growth and vegetables planted later will soon catch up. Most of what we plant in a vegetable garden are actually tropical plants that thrive in Missouri's hot and humid summers.

    Vegetables that can be planted as plants include basil, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet potatoes, eggplants, and peppers as these would take too long if started from seeds outside. Other things that can be directly seeded into the ground include beans (both pole and bush beans), cucumbers, melons, okra, and summer squash. Many of the latter crops that are directly seeded can also be planted in succession well into July, every couple of weeks or so.

    Q: There were ants all over my peony buds before they opened. Was this something I should be concerned about next year? I have also heard that ants are necessary to help open peony flowers, but don't know if this is actually true.

    The story of ants being necessary for the buds of peonies to fully develop and open is another "old wives' tale" that has no basis in fact. Ants or no ants, the blossoms will open when it is time.

    Ants do not harm your peonies and in fact are actually beneficial. Ants help control pests because in the process of eating the nectar, they are also eating tiny pests on the buds, such as thrips and aphids. Ants are attracted to the buds by their nectar.

    Q: Do tomato plants need to be caged or staked? Will they be okay if I just let them sprawl on the ground?

    All tomato plants, especially indeterminate varieties, will do better if either caged or staked. Indeterminate varieties can grow from 6 to 8 feet tall and even determinate varieties can grow 3 to 4 feet, so both would benefit from support. Caging or staking will take less space, make fruit easier to pick, improve air flow and sunlight which helps prevent disease, and produce a higher yield and better quality fruit.

    There are various ways to provide this support including cages, stakes, a fence, or a trellis. Staking might be the simplest method for most people with a few tomato plants. If choosing the caging method, make sure to get cages that are study enough for a fully-grown tomato vine. Most of the commercially available tomato cages are simply not strong enough to hold a large plant, but might work for smaller determinate varieties. The best cages are those made from wire fencing material.

    Readers can pose questions or get more information by calling 417-874-2963 and talking to one of the trained volunteers staffing the Mas­ter Gardener Hotline at the University of Missouri Exten­sion Center in Greene County located inside the Botanical Center, 2400 S. Scenic Ave., Springfield, MO 65807.

    This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Ask the Master Gardener: Is it too late in the season to plant tomatoes?

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