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Garden checklist: Plant tomatoes for summer harvest

Happy tomato time. Get those seedlings in the ground. Monday is Sacramento’s unofficial Tomato Planting Day. In an area known for producing great-tasting crops, tomatoes rank as the most popular vegetable (or fruit or berry) for home gardens, too.

Plant seedlings deep – clipping off the lower leaves and leaving only the top leaves and branches above soil. This promotes more root growth along the buried stem – and faster development of tomatoes.

Contrary to reputation, tomatoes are not water hogs. But they do need consistent irrigation to keep them growing and producing. Young plants need about 2 gallons of water per plant a week; increase that amount as the plant grows, divided between two or three waterings a week. Tomatoes grown in containers benefit from a drip system to keep their soil evenly hydrated.

For drought-minded gardeners, cherry tomatoes tend to need less water to produce fruit than large heirloom tomatoes.

Mulch helps keep moisture in the soil and tomato roots comfortable. If growing your crop in containers, line the inside of the pots with several thicknesses of newspaper. That paper lining retains moisture while insulating the pot from summer heat.

• Besides tomato transplants, start setting out seedling eggplants and peppers. The warmer the ground, the faster they’ll grow.

• Now is prime time for planting summer vegetable seed, too. Among those you can plant now from seed: lima and snap beans, carrots, chard, corn, cucumbers, melons, okra, pumpkins, soybeans, squash and watermelon.

• In the flower garden, plant seeds (or transplants) for alyssum, aster, celosia, cleome, cosmos, four o’clocks, marigold, morning glory, periwinkle, rudbeckia, salvia, sunflower, verbena and zinnia.

• Watch out for snails and slugs. They love tender new growth. Go snail hunting with a flash light an hour after dark. Hand-pick the critters and dispose of them.

– Debbie Arrington