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Avoid planting tomatoes when Florida temperatures soar

Outside, draped above the entrance, a big white banner announces, "The Home Depot Garden Club … Valuable tips & more."

But a reader had a tip of her own for the folks at the mega home improvement retailer, also known as the Big Orange Box: don't sell Florida consumers tomato plants in June.

You don't want Floridians throwing rotten tomatoes your way.

Just because it's in the store, doesn't mean you should get it. Many vegetable plants won't survive Florida's summer heat.

At the 22nd Avenue Home Depot in St. Petersburg, racks of tomato seedlings await adoption by Tampa Bay area gardeners — only at this time of year, the state's thermostat is set on bake and heading toward broil.

To the Northerners (like me) and Midwesterners living amongst us: In some parts of the country, this is the right time to plant tomato and other vegetable seedlings. But here in the Florida heat, you might as well prepare a eulogy for those plants.

"For the most part, it's not a good time for tomatoes," said Kim Hutton, volunteer program coordinator and botanist at the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens. "We're definitely different here in Florida."

Florida summers only have two temperatures: hot and hotter.

"If they're going to do it now," Hutton says of would-be tomato plant growers in the Tampa Bay area, "they're going to have to baby it. … But it is pretty hot for them."

Home Depot admits the time has just about gone for tomato seedlings. But it isn't giving up the seedlings without cultivating a bit more interest in what's still on the shelf.

Local garden experts say the best time for planting here is around September and in February.

Home Depot says mid March to June.

"I think the reason we say March is there are a couple of occasions where you can get a cold snap" in February, said Craig Fishel, a spokesman for Home Depot. "In that area the best time to plant tomatoes is March to mid June, after that it gets too hot to plant them.

"Once the season is over, obviously we'd be adjusting our inventory accordingly," Fishel added.

But if you have to have some tomato plants this summer, Hutton says the one that might do best is the Sweet 100 tomato plant.

So here's the Edge:

• Just because a retailer it selling a plant, doesn't mean it's the right time to buy it. Pick vegetable and herbs right for summer planting in Florida. Here are some to consider: okra, sweet potatoes, collard greens, basil, chives and parsley.

• Prepare properly for your plants. Use a good garden soil and a good fertilizer. And make sure the plant has four to six hours of good sun a day as well as good drainage, Home Depot says. The Big Orange Box's gardening tips are at www.homedepotgardenclub.com.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332.

Avoid planting tomatoes when Florida temperatures soar 06/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 5, 2009 8:07pm]

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