Hortense Answers Questions About Tomatoes, Timeshares and Torrid Temps

Dear Hortense,

I am so excited to be growing tomatoes in one of those Topsy Turvy® planters for the first time this year. Then my daughter came to visit and saw the blooms and said I should pinch those off because they were zapping energy from the plant. So I removed all the blooms. Later the next day, I realized that the tomato actually comes from the bloom and that perhaps I had made a mistake. What should I do?

Tomato-less In S-ville,

Dear Mary,

Sputter. Gasp. What? You pinched the blooms off of your tomato plant? I suspect your daughter was confused because many gardeners choose to pinch off the suckers on the tomato plants. These are the side shoots that grow in the axil between the leaves and main stem. Pinching these off ensures a vigorous plant which directs its energy toward tomato production and not toward growing more and more stems and foliage. Yes, you are right, to grow fruit, the tomato plant needs to flower. Fortunately, more flowers will form and probably have formed on your plants, and you’ll still get tomatoes this season.

Can’t make up questions like this,

Tomatoes, and a few peppers, ready to eat, picked from my garden this week.

Dear Hortense,

Your discussion of zone envy gave me an idea. Why don't we start a garden timeshare program? Gardeners, like me, complaining about two years of drought and 47 50 plus days of 100 degree heat, could swap gardens for a week or two with northern gardeners who are suffering under unusually cold and wet summer conditions and dealing with all kinds of tomato blight. Southern gardeners could smell the lilacs and northern gardeners could smell the Texas mountain laurel. And maybe we'd all go down to the tropics and smell the frangipani.

MSS @ Zanthan Gardens

Dear MSS,

I think this is an interesting idea, but vote that we all meet in the tropics in the winter time, otherwise wouldn’t we all want to switch in the spring, which is the best time to be in your own garden, regardless of where you garden? Isn’t that when the Texas mountain laurel blooms? I know the lilacs definitely bloom in the spring here, though a new lilac, ‘Bloomerang’ is being introduced that also blooms again later in the year. But regardless, I’ll admit it. There is no way I want to spend any time in Texas in August. I saw your picture of the wilting cactus! Whew, it sounds so hot!

Stay cool,

Opuntia cactus blooming at May Dreams Gardens in late June.

Dearest Hortense:

After an unusually cool July, the weather is heating up again. It's supposed to be in the 90's here this weekend, and by 8 AM this morning it already felt like a steam bath outside. How can I get motivated to work in the garden when it's so danged hot outside?? Please don't tell me I need to be outside at the crack of dawn; you know I'm not an early morning person.

Prairie Rose

Dear Prairie,

I find I am in the same predicament as you are in, having to suddenly garden when it is “so danged hot outside” after such a cool summer. Of course, my answer is to get outside at the crack of dawn, which isn’t very helpful for you, and I definitely want to be helpful. So I’ve invited Cindy from My Corner of Katy in hot Houston, Texas to provide you with a more helpful answer. She has quite a bit of experience with gardening in the heat. Last I heard, she was cogitating on the best advice and then apparently ducked into a cool movie theater. I’ve noticed that she does a lot of counting down to fall, when apparently this “danged heat” becomes less of a problem, even for her. And here's her answer for you, straight from the heat of Texas...

Dear Prairie Rose:

We understand and empathize with your dilemma here at Wit's End. The Head Gardener is not a morning person either, and rarely ventures out into the garden before 9:00 a.m., by which time the heat and humidity have already acquired a death grip on the day. Her experience has been that once she makes it through those first hellatious 20 minutes or so, she can tough it out for a couple of hours with the help of a broad-brimmed hat, numerous bottles of water, an occasional dousing with the hose, and careful attention to stay in shadier areas (or as she refers to it, where the sun don't shine). Although she has heard tales that some gardeners deal with the heat by doffing their clothes, the Head Gardener cautions against emulating the Lycoris squamigera, as it tends to alarm neighbors and passersby (so she has heard ... she does not mean to imply that she has any personal experience in this regard, at least not that she's willing to share).

The Head Gardener at Wit's End, aka Cindy

Rise and shine!
Hortense F. Hoelove

Early morning at May Dreams Gardens last year.

If you have a question for Hortense, leave a comment below or send an email!


  1. If you don't get up early in the a.m. to garden this time of year you have to get out late in the evening and combat mosquitoes to do your gardening. Or as I might do it...ignore all until the heat is gone.

  2. Regarding the question about gardening in the heat, another Austin blogger, ESP at East-Side-Patch, swears he wears an "iced turban" as he putters. I've yet to see a picture of said turban, but I'm intrigued.

  3. I have to agree with Cindy~~if I can make myself go outside, eventually I don't notice the heat...the mosquitoes are another thing entirely. gail

  4. Thanks to you, Hortense, and to Cindy for such helpful and tactful answers (i.e., not berating me for being a slugabed in the morning). I guess I'll just have to tough it out! I think MSS has a great idea going--I'd like my timeshare in Austin in January or February, please.

    Oh, yes, three cheers--I finally picked my first ripe tomato today!

  5. This is the Head Gardener at Wit's End, clearing up some confusion: do not mistake me for Cindy/MCOK. Like Hortense Hoelove and Carol of May Dreams Gardens, we are distinct individuals with our own voices, opinions and ideas (mine are the correct ones, no matter what SHE says).


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