This week's 'dig'
Kate at High Altitude Gardening reports a neat thing happening in SLC, UT

You know you're a gardener when...
Blunders with Shoots, Blossoms 'n Roots
Where things either live or die!

Apr 2, 2009

You learn something new every day...thankfully!


I wanted to do a seedling report today because the seeds I started recently have germinated very quickly. I learned something this time around that needs to be posted about. I’ll start with what I’ve sown first.

The babies above are, starting from the right, tomato (only a few up), lettuce ‘Red Sails’, broccoli, basil, the rest is Alyssum and Rock Cress. They were all sown on the 27th and shot up rather quickly!

Watermelon and zucchini squash


Here is the zucchini squash (and watermelon, above) that I started in the Dex paper pots on 3/26- They are holding up very nicely, surprisingly! I did pick this one up by the rim and it tore a little. As you can see, the roots are protruding a lot! More on that later.

Here is the Morning Glory ‘Heavenly Blue’, Sunflower ‘Strawberry Blonde’, Zinnia ‘Queen Red Lime’,  and Cosmos ‘Summer Dreams’. These were started on 3/26. The plug flat is the new 50 cell I purchased from Territorial Seed a couple weeks ago. So far I like it- but when it comes time to potting them on or out in the garden- that will be the test.

So, on to what I learned. When I got up yesterday, I decided that I should check the roots of all these babies. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Some of them were 3 inches long out the bottom of the plug flats! I’ve noticed before when using 200 cell plugs that the roots grow rapidly and the last batch of lettuce I did had to be moved on to a 6 pack way before the first true leaves appeared, or at least I thought they did because of the roots. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. All the books I have that recommend using the plug trays (which I love for growing stuff that will go in hanging pots, by the way) has said to pot them up when the first and sometimes the second set of true leaves appear. But, what about the roots? Putting a large penny nail in the bottom of the 200 cell flat to pop up the seedlings is really easy...except for the roots!

Well, I did a search and found Shane Smith’s site to his book Greenhouse Garden. What a wealth of information this site has! And they have a message board! Well, I asked what to do about my problem with the roots, and had some advice the same day, and I think by Shane Smith! :)


I should have known what the problem was. The plugs flats should not be put in a standard flat/tray so the air can get to them. Air pruning! Just like soil blocks- duh! The roots grow until they hit the air- then they stop. So, by the time the seedlings need to be moved on they have a nice healthy roots system or root ball. You don’t want to leave them in the plugs too long, however, or they the stems will harden and the roots become pot bound. Something veggies and some other plants don’t like much ;).

So, what did I decide to do? I had two choices, as far as I could see. I could just try to pot them on with as little damage to the roots as possible (like I did with the lettuce, last time), or I could take the plug flats out of the standard flats and let the air get to them. I chose the latter. The above picture is after the flat had been exposed to the air for a short time and the roots had already died back a bit- the roots were a lot longer, if you can imagine. I took the paper pots out of their flat as well, for a while, and then returned them making sure the paper pots had room around each one.

Before going to bed, I checked the plants and the roots are browning up. The plants on the other hand, look fine. We’ll see what happens! Lesson learned- no trays for the flats- got it!


Out in the greenhouse the growth continues.

‘Gold Nugget’ tomato and Black-eyed Susan ‘Spanish Eyes’ at back

I’ve pinched out the Black-eyed Susan that is behind the tomato along with the Salvia- or some of them anyway.

Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

Hollyhock ‘Indian Spring’

The Hollyhock are doing really well- I sure wish the weather would hurry up and warm up a bit!

The lobelia has been pinched and needs a bet of a foliar spray with fish emulsion- actually a few of the plants need that to green them up a bit. Most of the plants are greener than they appear in the photos- but they could use a good spray. The tomato is a one of the ‘New Girl’- huge, huh? Like I said, the warmer weather need to hurry up! I am hardening off a couple test plants this week and they’ll go in next week- live or die, protected under a tunnel, of course :)






Here is the other monster tomatoes! I can’t believe with the cooler temperatures that they’ve gotten this big! For those of you that are waiting for your tomato plant- dig a big hole, you’re gonna bury in deep! I started them a little later than last year, but they still got huge- Note to self- start them even later next year!








Here is the trailing lobelia after being pinched- I’m hoping they will get much bushier.

Blue Flax after pinching.


Here are the 2 test tomatoes- poor things today! It was cold! I rigged up a shelter for them to keep a lot of the wind and rain out- but they were not happy.

Well, here’s to hoping for nicer weather for them next week! I hope you all have had a chance to work in your gardens this today, and as always...


Happy Gardening!



  • Daphne

    Wow your tomatoes are huge. I haven't started mine yet. Maybe tomorrow.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Tessa -- I was clicking on the pink "post a comment" above, which still goes nowhere. But this I didn't see and it seems to work fine! Sorry if I sent you on a wild goose chase! :)

  • gardenerprogress/Catherine

    Your dex pots look like they are working really well. You're right those tomatoes are huge. Hope the test plant survives so you can move some outside. Too much rain here for gardening outside today. Maybe tomorrow!

  • DirtDigger (Tessa)

    Daphne- Well, maybe the weather will perk up for you and you can get started on those tomatoes :). I heard you had snow!

    Nancy- Glad you found it! Thanks for letting me know :)

    Catherine- Us too! A lot of rain. This morning started out promising, however. I managed to get some of my beds worked on and grouped some of that Columbine today! The weekend is supposed to be wonderful :)

  • Patsi (Garden Endeavors)

    Amazing ! You don't fool around.
    What a selection of babies. I have to follow to see the results !

  • Randy Emmitt


    Good article and the squash in the dex pot is unbelievable. You sure have a green thumb. We use Territorial Seeds also.

  • Stephanie

    Hi Tessa, Wow! you are really do know how multiplying plants.Those paper pots, do you need to tear them off before replanting? or just place the whole thing into the ground.

  • islandgardener

    I am envious of the early start you are getting -- especially with your tomatoes! I don't have a greenhouse, don't have the space for grower light options, and I don't have many sunny windows to start things early. But, you go for it! Thanks for favoriting me!

  • DirtDigger (Tessa)

    Patsi- Thanks for stopping by! Thanks for joining in to see how this all pans out- it should be interesting!

    Randy- Thanks, but we'll see how green a thumb I have once they are in the ground ;). I'm pleased that the Dex paper pots have held out so far- hopefully they'll do the job all the way! If so they'll be a better fit for plants I start for others- better than the soil blocks that are hard for others to keep watered right.

    Stephanie- No, I won't tear the paper off. I used phone book paper that is quite thin and the roots are already going right through them. I imagine once they have soil they'll take off even more and the paper will break down. I've never had much luck with the peat pots- I've found them not broken down years later!

    Island Gardener- If you don't have any room for light set ups, have you tried winter sowing? I've heard great things about doing it this way, and I plan to try it this winter :). Check out for more info or read my post 'Two great, recent finds'- happy gardening!

  • Frances

    Hi Tessa, that is an impressive greenhouse, your babies all look great. Thanks for that tip about the roots too. I have kept mine in the trays and the roots are all over, making it hard to get them out of the cells without disturbance. Most are already in the ground, frost warning or no, but next year, no trays!

  • Jan (Thanks For 2 Day)

    Life is abundant in your garden, Tessa...your 'indoor' garden, that is...and it will soon transfer to your outdoor garden. Your photos show the tender loving care you have been providing them, and also how they give back to you such joy!

    I have been tending to seedlings myself...which I need to post very soon. I am doing well with them, and they are giving me a sense of wonder in return. I'll write about them soon. And this whole 'experiment' for me has been a great experience. It's the first time ever that I've tended seeds and watched them grow into seedlings and then help them along as they develop into plants. I'm having fun, and so are you. Happy Spring;-)

  • Maureen

    Tessa I am MEGA impressed ! your plants look amazing. I thought I had a lot on the go but you beat me hands down. Don't you find raising seeds a tie if you want to go away ? or do you have someone come in to see to them ? I agree about starting the tomatoes later, I lost my earlier ones and have sown some more.
    Your blog is very informative thank you !
    have a good week-end.
    maureen :)

  • DirtDigger (Tessa)

    Frances- You're very welcome! I'm glad you found it helpful. I can't believe I didn't figure in out myself, since I use the soil blocks too!

    Jan- Thanks! I'm so glad you decided to try starting seeds this year! Very exciting isn't it! I can't wait to see how your babies are doing.

    Maureen- Thanks, and I'm glad you stopped by :). It does tie me to the garden, but I'm already tied and have been for years! We've home schooled out kids for almost 10 years and have 3 dogs- I don't go on trips much, but when I do it's usually alone to visit my sister in TX- the clan takes over watching everything, and I do lose some things :).

  • Kathleen

    Wowee Tessa, things just continue to look better and better in your greenhouse. It's just amazing. I've never heard the tip about letting the roots hit air. So good to know. I will remember it myself as I have the same problem but never researched it like you did. The things we learn blogging. :-)
    Hope you have the beautiful sunny weekend predicted. We are having snow but maybe the sun will come and melt it all quickly.

  • Mother Nature

    Starting seeds keeps my gardener's spirit alive until I can get into the garden. I have a lot of mesclun planted.

  • Stephanie

    Tessa, noted and thank you for dropping by my blog. Have a wonderful weekend!

  • Megan

    I cannot believe how much you have going at once. Sometimes I get notions of starting a lot, but I always fall apart on the follow through. Now that I am newly laid off, maybe I'll have more time to work in the garden, and I'll try my first seeds in 10 years. You're an inspiration.

  • lynn'sgarden

    WOW, Tessa! You can start a greenhouse business! That's alot of plants! Didn't know about the tray issue so thank you! I love that we learn new things even after years and years of gardening :)

  • Amy

    That is amazing, all of it! I'm impressed!

  • Jan (Thanks For 2 Day)

    PS I've entered you 6 times in my give-away. The winner will be mentioned in a post, later today;-)

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