Planting out tomatoes

Posted: Friday 18 May 2012
by Kate Bradbury

For weeks now, my tomatoes, peppers and aubergines have been sitting indoors waiting to be planted out...

Watering young aubergine plants

I’m starting to get anxious. For weeks now, my tomatoes, peppers and aubergines have been sitting indoors waiting to be planted out, as temperatures have been positively Arctic. I’ve potted the plants into larger containers, kept them well watered and given them a bit of a seaweed feed. But they’re starting to wane (thanks to poor light levels in my flat and a large crop of aphids) and I don’t know what to do.

These are the plants I’m growing for our allotment’s solanum bed. We haven’t got off to a good start. Usually, at this time of year in central London, the threat of frost is gone and forgotten, and average temperatures are quite pleasant. But we've hardly had perfect weather for tender seedlings this spring.

Four weeks ago I stupidly planted out a few tomato plants to see how they would get on. I made them a little cold frame using old sheets of glass. The plants shrivelled and died, either due to frost or sun scorch – who knows, the weather has been so mixed.

Then last week, after the three-week deluge and the temperatures had risen slightly, I planted out some chillies in the same, protective cold frame. These seem to be doing ok, but they’re not thriving. They don’t look like chillies should growing under glass in London in mid-May (this time last year, my outdoor-grown chillies were in flower).

I’m sure the same is happening all over the country, as windowsills and greenhouses become crammed with plants that should have been planted out, if only the weather had been better. Congested plants are more likely to be affected by aphids, vine weevil and red spider mite, and the spread of disease is easier, therefore more prevalent. Those in small pots will quickly use up the nutrients in the compost, so could start looking a bit spindly. But it’s better to have spindly plants than dead ones, so I’m keeping mine under cover for a bit longer.

The trick to keeping plants healthy is to pot them on into fresh compost, rather than just leave them to become pot-bound, and keep them well watered. Try to keep them as well ventilated as possible – if you can, pop them outside during the day and bring them in at night. Add a bit of seaweed solution with each watering, which will help plants cope with stress, and only feed them if necessary (feeding encourages new leafy growth, which will only attract more slugs, snails and aphids).

I don’t think it will be long before temperatures get back to an even keel and we can start planting out. It already feels warmer here today. But in the meantime I’m hoping some ladybirds will fly in and eat those aphids. The aubergines don't look like they're going to make it.

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oldchippy 18/05/2012 at 15:52

Hi Kate that's a gardeners tale woe if ever I heard one.The weather has been so unpredictable this year, let's hope it recover's soon.


Kevin Smith2 18/05/2012 at 16:53

I've got exactly the same problem here. Windowsills full of lanky, soft plants that are slowing being attacked by aphids.

happymarion 18/05/2012 at 17:06

Ah, so that's why my tomato plants went like hotcakes at my Open Day, even after the organiser insisted I put the price up from 30p to 50p! Hard luck, Kate. Perhaps some good friend who lives near can give you some plants?

Nigel Smith 18/05/2012 at 17:20

My greenhouse is bursting at the seams waiting for Mr Sunshine x

figrat 18/05/2012 at 17:22

I have made a decision to live dangerously tomorrow. I'm going to plant out my courgettes. I've had cloches over their allocated slots for about 6 weeks, and they've spent a few days outside, but are looking a bit bored in their little pots. 5 day Forecast here on southern edge of Dartmoor is for night temperatures no lower than 10C. Dwarf French beans planted out about a month ago are fine, (though have been under cloches every night, and during the day when it has been unspeakably vile). Broad beans which I sowed direct in Feb ( under cloche cover) have been exposed to the elements for a month, and are just showing flower buds. Might plant out runners and climbing French beans too. Not risking the tomatoes though.

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