Q: We’re planning to do a new vegetable garden next spring, and the space is really overrun with weeds. I’m trying to kill weeds using black plastic and, in my opinion, the cloth should be left over the area for probably three to four weeks, but my husband is saying two weeks is fine. We’re going through all this, and I want to do it right. Any opinion on the amount of time we should leave it on there?
A: Using black plastic to kill weeds will depend on sun exposure and air temperature, but I doubt that you can do it in two weeks. Many gardeners leave the plastic on over the winter. I hope you watered the area well before spreading the black plastic over the area. If not, pull the plastic back and water the ground now. Peeking under the plastic will also give you some idea as to how fast it’s working.
As the ground heats up, you will also be killing many of the weed seeds in the ground. Remember that now that the nights are getting colder, the area cools down each night and has to reheat each morning, so the colder it gets, the longer it’s going to take.
Tell your hubby that the more weeds and seeds he kills now, the fewer weeds he’ll have to dig and remove next season when he finally removes the plastic and begins cultivating and planting the area.
Q: What should I use to prevent weeds from growing in my strawberry garden?
A: Are these new strawberry beds or older establish beds?
You can weed again and again, but it’s not easy on your back.
Use a chemical weed killer — read the label carefully!
Use a weed cloth and drape it around each plant. If this a new bed, lay the weed cloth on the area before planting, then cut slits in the cloth and place the plant through the cloth — it’s easier than draping around existing mature plants.
Use 2 or 3 inches of seedless straw as a mulch — don’t use hay as it carries an awful lot of weed seeds!
Weeding by hand — it’s not easy but it’s cheap, and it works!
Strawberries are a lot of work, but worth every delicious bite!
Q: I really would like to grow a tomato plant in a pot indoors this winter. It was a last-minute thought — I guess I could get seed — but where can I get a tomato plant this late in the year?
A: You probably can’t get a plant, but if there hasn’t been a hard killing frost, you can take a cutting of one you grew this summer (or beg for one from your neighbor). Tomatoes will root easily.
As a last resort, try calling around to local nurseries — sometimes nurseries with greenhouses have a leftover potted patio tomato plant for sale.
Unless you have grow lights or an extremely sunny window with southern exposure, don’t expect much fruit. If you get a flower, be prepared to hand pollinate it with a tiny paintbrush — there are no natural pollinators indoors. Watch out for all of the normal indoor plant pests, especially white fly, spider mite and mealy bugs. Does all this work sound discouraging just for a beautiful, ripe, juicy tomato or two? You’re right on! If you want to be able to harvest a touch of something fresh and green from your sunny windowsill this winter, you’d be better off growing some herbs!
North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger is a periodic feature of Friday’s Living section. Reach Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a self-stamped, self-addressed envelope to her c/o Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.