staffordcentreI'm going to be broadcasting from three home and garden shows this spring. Don't laugh at the "spring" reference — two of them are actually in winter months.

The first is this Saturday — the Sugar Land Home & Garden Show at the Stafford Centre.

While the broadcast is 6-10 a.m., the doors to the event open at 9 a.m. That's when you can come in and ask questions live on the air, if you'd like. I will also be doing a Q&A seminar at 10:30 in the big auditorium. Be sure to get there in time to ask all the questions you need answered. If you can't get there by 9 or even 10:30, fear not — I'll be hanging around our broadcast table until about 2 p.m., so you can still hit me with questions and get samples identified one-on-one.

As I mentioned on the radio show last weekend, these three shows will be the last at which I'll be selling my book "1001 GardenLine Questions with Randy Lemmon." Remember, these books are always cheaper at home and garden shows than they are at any retail stores. Plus, you can have them signed. You may already have one, but you can get copies for as little as $10 (if you buy two or more) and "pay it forward" with gifts for family, friends or neighbors you know need a little help greening up their landscapes in 2014.

Despite the Recent Freeze, It's Nearly Tomato Time

tomatoesAhhh!!! Spring is right around the corner, even though we had some nice low-30s nights this week. How do I know? Mostly by the email questions I get.

Every year near the end of January, countless people realize that if they want to get vegetable and tomato gardens going, they have to build the beds now. And this year, there are also lots of questions about different tomato varieties.

Here's a sampling:
Wendy G. asks: Randy, do you recommend the Tycoon tomato? I saw a great article on it and was wondering if it worked in the Houston area?
Answer: Yes, Wendy, the Tycoon does quite well here, according to longtime tomato expert and Montgomery County Hort Agent Tom Leroy. They are determinate (compact bush) tomatoes, so Tom recommends using big old clay pots for this medium-to-large sized tomato.
Donald P. asks: I saw this tomato/potato combo plant. Is that for real? And more importantly, will it work here?
Answer: There have been a catalogue or two promoting a hybrid that produces both tomatoes and potatoes on the same plant. And, it kinda does! They start with a young potato plant and graft a tomato onto it. That way you have potato root (producing the tubers) with a tomato top (producing the tomatoes). In theory it should work. But the problem with this novelty is tomatoes and potatoes like different environmental conditions. Potatoes are planted in the very early spring in the south, and they go dormant (die) as temperatures rise in the early summer. My fear is that as the potato plant dies, so will the tomato top. Another problem: they are very expensive.
Angelo W. asks: I hear you talking about fruit tree sales, but what if I want to do nothing but vegetables this spring. Are there any vegetable sales?
Answer: Yes, but not near as many. Most nurseries and garden centers already sell a myriad of vegetable transplants. Harris County AgriLife Extension has a couple of sales specific to veggies.

Those considering new varieties of tomatoes should consult a list of tomato varieties for 2014 compiled by Elizabeth Barrow, former proprietor of The Papershell — A Garden Gallery. Elizabeth had to suspend retail operations a year ago to care for family members, but she continues to disseminate gardening information. All the varieties on her new list are perfect for this region.

Finally, if you're thinking about a vegetable garden this spring, here is a great set of rules to live by for first-timers. They apply to tomatoes as well, although they're technically a fruit.

  1. 'Tis better to put a 25 cent plant in a $5 hole than a $5 plant in a 25 cent hole. In other words, build proper beds.
  2. Compost, humus or organic matter - You say tuh-mey-toh, I say tuh-mah-toh. Whatever you call it, it's a wonderful thing. Use it!
  3. Ensure good drainage - With our feast-or-famine rainfall, you'll eventually see why this is so important. Or you'll drown your first attempt in a gully-washer.
  4. Let the sunshine in - Pick a spot that can provide up to 6 hours of sunshine. Filtered light won't cut it.
  5. Pick proven varieties - Make sure what you plant is approved for the growing region. In fact, check with your county extension agent for proven varieties.
  6. Cheat Mother Nature - Because of our heat, if you can start 'em early, more power to you. Especially if you're willing to protect them on late-freeze nights. We start cheating in mid-February.
  7. Control your appetite - Don't over-plant. Control that desire.
  8. Feed me, Seymore!!! - Veggies are heavy feeders. (Just ask the Audrey II.) Compost is a good start and a nice addition throughout, but amend that feeding with some kind of fertilizer, be it granular, liquid organic or water-soluble.
  9. Keep your shadow in the garden - Get out there on a consistent basis, looking for insects, weeds and diseases. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  10. Consistency, consistency, consistency - Steady watering and regular feeding are critical. Don't ever allow things to dry up before you water.