COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Tips on tulips, tomatoes and what to do with moss

By Marianne Binetti

The third week of May is safe for setting out bedding plants, planting most veggie seeds into the garden and replanting your window boxes, containers and patio pots.

Weed the beds, compost any winter-weary plants that didn’t survive the winter and don’t forget to mow and edge the lawn. Do not cut back the dying greens of your daffodils, tulips and other spring-blooming bulbs. As the foliage fades on spring bulbs the energy is sent down to the bulb for next year’s flowers. If you cut your daffodil foliage while the leaves are still green, the bulbs may slip into a depression, figure life is tough and refuse to bloom next spring.

Q. As my tulips and daffodils finish blooming I know I must leave the greens to mature and yellow. Problem is, I don’t want to look at this dying mess. I remember at one time you wrote about some ideas for dealing with messy bulbs. Can you tell us again? P.K., Tacoma

There must be 50 ways to leave your foliage cover but the easiest is to just cut all ugly foliage to ground level immediately and then buy fresh new bulbs each fall. Dirt-cheap gardeners who want to recycle their tulips and daffs can carefully dig them from the ground, roots, bulbs, foliage and all and set them in a hidden container or well-drained soil out of site. Let the foliage dry over the summer then replant those same bulbs again in the fall. If you’re dirt cheap and lazy as well, just hide the dying greens by adding a leafy perennial or fast-growing annual to the area. I like to grow hosta in front of daffodils, poppies with tulips and use the fast-spreading Storm petunias to cover large beds of bulbs. But remember that tulips return best if they are allowed to dry out during the summer; so, if you plant thirsty annuals you risk rotting the tulip bulbs. Boulders also make great barriers. Plant your tulips and daffodils behind an emerging rock and the flowers will shine at bloom time but the boulder can block the view as the greens yellow and fade.

Q. What tomato varieties do best in our area? My husband wants to plant Beefsteak tomatoes and I seem to remember this is not the best for here in western Washington. F.G., Kent

A. You win. Just say no to heat-lovers like the Beefsteak tomato that need long, hot summers to ripen. Here in western Washington the quick-to-ripen varieties like Early Girl, Northern Exposure, Stupice, Seattle’s Best and any tomato that ripens in less than 70 days are more likely to turn red before we see frost. The giant tomatoes take longer to ripen than the small cherry and grape tomatoes like Sweet 100, Sun Gold, Napa Grape and Sweet Million. There are plenty of local growers offering many more tomato varieties grown especially for our cool climate. To increase the night temperatures that hasten ripening, grow tomatoes near concrete or rocks that will absorb the summer heat and release it at night. Studies prove that using a red plastic mulch around the roots also will hasten ripening. Sounds strange but it works. You can buy red tomato plant mulch at garden centers.

Q. I used moss killer on my lawn and now the moss has turned black and the lawn looks terrible. Do I have to remove all this dead moss before I replant the lawn? Anonymous, e-mail

A. Yes, removing the dead moss will give your new lawn seed a better chance of taking root. But spreading fresh topsoil on top of the old lawn is one way to skip the raking of dead moss, but you must replace raking dead moss with raking in new topsoil. Now the bad news. Moss will continue to return to your lawn unless you change the conditions. Improve drainage. Add lime to make the soil less acidic and limb up trees to decrease shade. Lawns also need fertilizer at least once a year to outgrow moss. But there is good news. Acceptance of moss as a lawn substitute is picking up green steam and an eco-friendly lawn of mostly moss needs less mowing, feeding and watering to keep it green.

Incredible Edibles: This is a good time to poke bean seeds into the ground. Look for bush beans if you don’t want to worry about staking and remember you can add some color to your harvest by planting beans that ripen to purple or yellow and Scarlet Runner bean plants that bloom with bright orange flowers.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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