Buy Big or Buy Small: Does Pot Size and Quantity Matter with Tomatoes?

“My friend and I don’t agree with how we buy our plants. My friend buys all her tomatoes and peppers in little packs of 3, 4, or 6. They look so skinny and sickly. I always buy mine in single pots because they are bigger and better and blooming. She tells me I am nuts to spend so much money on the same thing as her. I know my plants will grow better. What do you think? I plan to show her your response, so make it good!



Dear Janelle,

Thanks for your questions. Sorry to burst your bubble, but bigger isn’t always better.

Commercial greenhouses sell single potted tomatoes, peppers, etc. to:

1. Appeal to the customer’s eyes by having them think that big plant with flowers will produce fruit soon.

2. Appeal to the customer’s brain by making them think that the plant will be healthier and better because the single potted plants are always darker green and have such a sturdy stem.

3. Appeal to the customer’s wallet because things that are more expensive are better quality.

Tomato Transplants

The sad thing is, all of these things are untrue when it comes to plants.  There are so many reason why that:

1.  Days to Maturity:  If you have ever looked at a packet of tomato seeds or the plant stake that is included in a pot when you buy the tomato plant at the greenhouse, you will see that it has “– days after transplant”. With tomatoes and other plants that require a boost indoors before being planted outside, the days to maturity is based on the days after transplanting. It doesn’t matter if your plant if 4 inches tall with 6 leaves or 12 inches tall with 16 leaves: it will still take the same amount of days after transplanting to have fruits.

2.  Transplant shock: Transplant shock occurs to every plant when it is taken from one place and put in another. It doesn’t matter if you have a large root mass or a small one — all movement is shocking to the plant. The larger the plant is, the more shock it will have and the longer it will take to recover from the shock because it is an older plant. (For those in the northern states, most greenhouses start single potted vegetables 4-8 weeks earlier than those in multipacks).  So while your large tomato plant is recovering from the rude awakening of being put into your garden, your friend’s little tomatoes will quickly recover and soon be as large (if not larger) than yours and yours will still be recovering and not growing.  In general, the best size plant for transplanting is one that is 4-8″ tall. Any larger than that and you are setting yourself up for a lot of shock.

3. Flowers don’t mean fruit: Just because a tomato is flowering when you buy it doesn’t mean those flowers will have fruit. Flowering is often a sign that a plant is in shock. It’s like the plant is saying, “oh no, things are not right in my current environment, I need to flower and produce fruit because I may soon die.”  Flowering tomato or pepper plants in a greenhouse indicate that your plant has been growing for a long time (probably since February or earlier) and is more than ready to be producing fruit. However, the little pot that it is growing in is a much smaller amount of soil than the plant requires to make fruit. The flowers will usually drop without producing fruit or the fruits that are produced will be small and of low quality. Also, if you plant your transplants soon after purchasing them and leave the flowers on, they will produce fruits, but the plant will focus on producing those fruits only rather than growing larger and making more fruits. It is always best to pinch off all buds and blooms on vegetable plants when they are transplanted into the soil.

4.  Extra Green Color: When you go to the greenhouse, you notice that the larger plants are always much darker green. This is because the greenhouse overfertilizes the single pots to increase their size and make them as dark green as possible. When you get the plant home and don’t continue to overfertilize it, it will go into ‘starvation’ mode and not grow. If you think continuing to overfertilize the plant will help it, you are wrong. Overfertilizing will prevent flower/fruit development. (And if you are wondering how the plants at the greenhouse flowered while being overfertilized, it is due to shock. Same thing won’t happen when the plant is in your garden with plenty of root space, light, and water.)

5. Expense: The truth is, seeds are cheap. Insanely cheap. On average, an open pollinated or heirloom variety will cost about $0.001-0.005/per seed (that’s right, tenths of a cent).  Hybrids usually cost $0.005-0.05/per seed.  While there is an addition cost of fertilizer, water, etc., it doesn’t come close to adding up to the premium price of the single potted plants. And, as a person that used to work in the greenhouse industry, the greenhouse owner is chuckling over the people that buy ‘premium’ plants all the way to the bank.

So, Janelle, unfortunately for you, your friend has it right.

Don’t believe me? Research done by the Samuel Roberts Foundation, Iowa State, and UC Cooperative Extension backs me up on this.

I hope this information helps you out and that you make a wiser decision in the future. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask.



© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Where Are We?

As you may have noticed, there are not too many articles dribbling out of the Horticulture Talk blog for a while.  We apologize for this, and have a really good excuse:

We added a little Sprout to the family!


At times while Sprout #1 was coming about, things were a bit difficult and it is a miracle she is here.  Many days while pregnant, it was a challenge to just stand up. (And this is the part where I remember that others I know who were pregnant at the time would complain about their difficult pregnancies and I would do side eye and throw shade because they didn’t know what they were talking about, okay.  ;-D  )

Due to health issues/difficult pregnancy, things here were not being updated much.  For those that submitted questions during this time, you know that the responses were sent back in a timely fashion, but you likely haven’t seen the question and response posted here yet.  Within the next few weeks/months/as time allows, those will be posted here.  In the meanwhile, you are welcome to submit your current and future questions here (see the link on the side or click this link), on our Facebook page, on Twitter, or email.  They will be posted as I respond to them.

Remember, our site is mostly geared around your questions, so submit away!  And thanks for sticking with us through the posting dry spell!

Why Kill the Asian Lady Beetles?

A lot of people have told me lately that they are ‘saving’ the ‘ladybugs’ in their house to ‘help the farmers’. I am sorry, but are you nuts???

Like wine? Clean food and air? The roof over your head? Then read on!

Melissa Watkins's photo.

FYI folks: These are not traditional lady bugs, but a species known as Harmonia axyridis (Asian Lady Beetle, Harlequin Ladybug, Multicolored Lady Beetle, among others) that was introduced by the USDA and chemical companies into the Midwest in the 1990s. Reportedly, Asian Lady Beetles have heavily fed on soybean aphids (yet another happy little pest introduction from the USDA chemical companies), supposedly saving farmers vast sums of money. However, most farmers I have talked to never see them and neither do their crop scouts. But guess what they do see? Lots of aphids!  What do they do?   Spray just as heavily as before.

Er, ok, so where are the little Asian Lady Beetles if they are not in the field?

If you grow grapes, cherries, or any type of berry, you already have the answer…

images 2imagesIMGA0401

(Photos used with permission of the Universities of Illinois, Minnesota, and California Extensions, respectively)

To read more on this issue, check out Influence of Berry Injury on Infestations of the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle in Wine Grapes over at the Plant Management Network site.

So now you are saying, well, Mertie, that’s great and all, but why should I kill them in my house?

1. They get into food, leave their waste products on your plates, and stain fabric. Eat one and you will never let another live.  As a person that has the misfortune of having them live in the home during the winter, I can tell you that we have at least a couple episodes happen each winter. Most recently I ate one in a grilled cheese. I had four sandwiches to make, and in that small window of prep time, one snuck in. YUCK!

2. They bite and many people have allergic reactions.  It’s like getting a mosquito bite if not allergic, but much worse if you are (a Facebook friend from MN recently had anaphylaxic shock from a bite).

3. Over years, they become a fire hazard. How? Check the insulation in your home. Believe it or not, their dead little carcasses (because most that come in die in your home) are very flammable. Chalk this up to life experience on the time my Grandpa swept them up by the 5 gallon pails and put them out on the burning pile…

4. The bacteria that lives on their dead carcasses is harmful to humans.  The substances cadaverine and putrescine are produced during the decomposition of Asian Lady Beetles and transported throughout the home via ductwork..  A 2005 study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Human Health found a fourfold increase in cadaverine and putrescine in homes in Iowa with high levels of dead Asian Lady Beetles (in excess of 100 bugs per cubic meter of the home; it is estimated that many homes in rural areas of Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota far exceed 100 bugs per cubic meter).  This would put the levels well above recommended levels within a home

Feel like saving those bugs now?


What roses to plant?

“What is the difference between, grandiflora, floribunda &hybrid tea roses? The areas that I have for roses, one area has sunlight from sunrise until around noon& the other area has sun form 2:00 until sunset, the roses I was looking at were, Rock&Roll,Twilight Zone, Sunshine Dream, Ketchup&Mustard,Angel Face,Champlain,Oso Happy Candy Oh, Double Knock Out, Smart& Sassy,Double Delight, Paradise Found, Red Drift, Home Run, Rainbow’s End, Ruby Ruby & Smoke Rings of these what would be best for Zone 5 with the amount of sunlight I discribed? Or maybe you have some other suggestion,I have places for 6 to 7 roses & also I’m looking for roses with not a lot of maintenance. Thank you,

John Zahn

Celina, Ohio”



Hi John,

Thank you for the email regarding roses.  First, let’s start with the different types:

–Grandiflora:  Grandifloras (Latin for “large-flowered”) were the class of roses created in the mid-20th century to designate back-crosses between hybrid teas and floribundas that fit neither category – specifically, the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ rose, which was introduced in 1954. Grandiflora shrubs are typically larger than either hybrid teas or floribundas, and feature hybrid tea-style flowers borne in small clusters of three to five, similar to a floribunda. Grandifloras maintained some popularity from about the 1950s to the 1980s but today they are much less popular than either the hybrid teas or the floribundas. Examples: ‘Queen Elizabeth’, ‘Comanche,’ ‘Montezuma’.
–Floribunda: Rose breeders quickly saw the value in crossing polyanthas with hybrid teas, to create roses that bloomed with the polyantha profusion, but with hybrid tea floral beauty and colour range. In 1909, the first polyantha/hybrid tea cross, ‘Gruss an Aachen,’ was created, with characteristics midway between both parent classes. As the larger, more shapely flowers and hybrid-tea like growth habit separated these new roses from polyanthas and hybrid teas alike, a new class was created and named floribunda, Latin for “many-flowering.” Typical floribundas feature stiff shrubs, smaller and bushier than the average hybrid tea but less dense and sprawling than the average polyantha. The flowers are often smaller than hybrid teas but are carried in large sprays, giving a better floral effect
in the garden. Floribundas are found in all hybrid tea colours and with the classic hybrid tea-shaped blossom, sometimes differing from hybrid teas only in their cluster-flowering habit. Today they are still used in large bedding schemes in public parks and similar spaces. Examples: ‘Anne Harkness’, ‘Dainty Maid’, ‘Iceberg’, ‘Tuscan Sun’.
–Hybrid Tea:  the favorite rose for much of the history of modern roses, hybrid teas were initially created by hybridising Hybrid Perpetuals with Tea roses in the late 19th century. ‘La France’, created in 1867, is universally acknowledged as the first indication of a new class of roses. Hybrid teas exhibit traits midway between both parents: hardier than the teas but less hardy than the hybrid perpetuals, and more ever-blooming than the hybrid perpetuals but less so than the teas. The flowers are well-formed with large, high-centered buds, and each flowering stem typically terminates in a single shapely bloom. The shrubs tend to be stiffly upright and sparsely foliaged, which today is often seen as a liability because it makes them more difficult to place in the garden or landscape. Hybrid teas became the single most popular garden rose of the 20th century; today, their reputation as high maintenance plants has led to a decline in popularity. The hybrid tea remains the standard rose of the floral industry, however, and is still favored in formal situations. Examples: ‘Peace’ (yellow), ‘Garden Party’ (white), ‘Mister Lincoln’ (red) and ‘Double Delight’ (bi-color cream and red).

Roses do like to have full sun, so neither of the locations you have is ideal.  However, the better of the two would be the one that has afternoon sun.

Of the rose you have picked, the Knock Out series of roses is probably one of the easiest and most forgiving type of roses on the market.  Other than that, the others you have listed would all do equally well.  No matter which type you go with, you are going to want to make sure that you have a good spraying cycle set up — roses that are in shade tend to have more disease problems.

I hope this information helps you out.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me.


© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

5 Garden Resolutions from National Garden Bureau’s

Reprinted with permission of the National Garden Bureau:


A new year traditionally brings about resolutions right? Be they for losing weight, being more organized or simply an overall “being better” wish, resolutions are good goals to have. Gardeners are no exception to wishing for the better: better gardens, better planning, better harvests, better record-keeping, etc.

Following are five resolutions that we wish every gardener, no matter their level of expertise, will embrace in the new year:

1. I will embrace nature and garden for the birds, the bees and the butterflies (and the bats too!). One of the most enjoyable benefits of having a garden is being able to enjoy the beautiful creatures who visit it. So plan your flowers and vegetables with that in mind then sit back and enjoy the show! Remember, planting a pollinator-friendly garden is good for the pollinators, good for the earth, good for your veggie garden and good for you!
You can help replenish the population of pollinators by planting a pollinator-friendly garden. Choose appropriate plants for your local area then click here to register your garden.

Help us reach 1 million new pollinator gardens!

2.  I will not blame myself for gardening failures. Oftentimes, Mother Nature is not our friend when it comes to gardening. Or life gets in the way. We do not want you to despair! Simply try again and learn from experience. Your garden, and your gardening friends, are both extremely forgiving.
3. I will not be afraid to ask questions. How else can you learn? Take advantage of the experience of your neighbor, your aunt, the garden center employee or the local extension agent. If they are like typical garden fanatics, they will appreciate your interest and be flattered that you want to learn from them. And learn you will! Click here for a long list of website and blogs that you can use as resources.
4. I will share my passion. We have all seen the studies that show many of today’s gardeners got their start by learning from someone else, usually a parent or grandparent. Can you be that mentor? Will you be the reason your son or daughter serves homegrown vegetables to your grandchildren? Can you be the reason your neighbor plants window boxes for the first time?
5. I will try something new. This is kind of a no-brainer, right? Have you ever met a gardener who didn’t want the newest of the new, for bragging rights if nothing else? But what about really new…like a new growing style or completely new crop of vegetables. Cruise around our NGB member’s websites (a selection of some are below) and we guarantee you’ll find something irresistible that’s out of your usual comfort zone. Look to the AAS Winners for trialed and tested varieties or try a few of the new varieties from our member below!
Johnny's Selected Seed
Territorial Seed Company
Select Seeds 2016 new variety
Brett & Becky's 2016 Bulbs
Park Seed
Bonnie Plants Organic Fertlizer
Looking for all the best in Gardening Products?

Check out What’s New at our Updated 2016 NGB Member Garden Products List HERE


Post Your Questions Here 2016

Need an answer to a horticultural question?  Post your questions here and see them in a future blog post!

Please include your planting zone, state, and information on your general location (are you at the base of a mountain? on top of a hill? in a bog? etc..) when posting your question.

(Please note:  posts will be relocated to the blog entry as they are responded to.)

100+ New Varieties Featured by National Garden Bureau Members

Reprinted with permission of the National Garden Bureau:


The National Garden Bureau’s New Varieties program is quickly becoming the single online, all-encompassing, go-to source for exciting new varieties for the home gardener. Every year, NGB’s members submit their best new varieties for inclusion in this exclusive assortment of annuals, perennials, edibles and other plants that are new to consumers for their 2016 gardens. 

Stunning images along with descriptions and growing information of over 100 exciting new ornamentals, flowers and edibles are now available on the National Garden Bureau website.
This annual program is an important service to garden communicators, garden retailers and home gardeners as NGB’s New Varieties program brings many of the best new varieties from NGB members all together in one easily-accessible location. Gardeners and those who aspire to be gardeners are sure to find many inspiring varieties for 2016 that will appeal to their need for something new.  Garden communicators have one easy-to-use source for both images and descriptions needed for spring blogs, articles, features and shows. To make it even easier to share these new varieties with various audiences, NGB has created a PowerPoint presentation you can download from the SlideShare account.

“I rely on the NGB New Varieties page for several things. It’s my go-to source for new plants for consumers. I know I can find accurate growing info, along with press-ready photos in a variety of sizes & settings. I love that I can search all new intros or just hone in on veggies or flowers, whatever the need may be. Large thumbnails make it easy to select a photo without clicking through multiple pages. It’s a one-stop shop that makes my job easier. When deadlines loom, I appreciate any time savings. Thank you for having such an accessible, user-friendly source!”

Julie Martens Forney
Words That Bloom

Besides being featured on the NGB website these new varieties will also be highlighted over the next twelve months in bi-monthly NGB e-newsletters under “New Varieties” so keep an eye our for upcoming e-newsletters!  In addition, these varieties will be grouped in assorted sets to be featured on Social Media and in various gardening columns and blogs. Pinterest users should look for these New Varieties as they are pinned to our Pinterest boards.

“I have been writing a weekly garden column for The Indianapolis Star since 1989 and the All-America Selections and National Garden Bureau websites have been my go-to places for photographs to illustrate articles and learn what’s up and coming in the garden. First, it was 35mm slides, and now it’s online images, which allow on-deadline downloading, a writer’s and editor’s dream. The photos also are wonderful for PowerPoint presentations.”

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
The Hoosier Gardener

A current list of NGB members who have submitted their most-interesting new varieties can be viewed here

SHOP OUR MEMBERS! This feature on the National Garden Bureau website is an easy way for site visitors to view and shop NGB retail members. Many of these new varieties will be available on member websites as well as in local garden centers.

SHOPPING LIST! NGB website users can select any flower or vegetable variety of interest, and with just one click, add that variety to My List, a printable and exportable wish list right on the NGB New Varieties page. This list is designed to help users keep track of their favorite new varieties and use that list as an aid on their next shopping trip to their favorite online or brick and mortar garden retailer.