Ask the gardening expert

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I started some tomato plants and wonder how soon I can put them outside. What time do you think is right?

I find that I get this question often, every year. Tomatoes are a warm-weather crop that require warm soil and nighttime temps of 50 to 55 degrees. I think it’s pretty early to have seedlings ready to plant, unless you have a greenhouse, or have the right conditions in your home. Plants started too early become “leggy” and weak stemmed. I would suggest you plant the seeds around mid-April, then wait to put them out around the first or second week of June.

There is a small tree in my garden that has been bent to the ground on several occasions this winter by heavy, wet snow. Several branches are broken. I’m wondering if I should keep it?

That would have to be a choice thing. If it was down several times, I can’t help but wonder if it would be better to remove it. There are many tough and attractive ornamental trees that seem to take a snow load better. You might get some advice by contacting the master gardener office at mganswerclinic@clark.wa.gov or 397-6060, ext. 5711

Are sunflower seed shells poison? Will it be a danger to my kitten under the bird feeder where the birds flip them out? Sometimes I’ve eaten a few when I was breaking open seeds.

While not poison to humans or animals, they are not a great thing to eat as the shells are of a fiber (woody) content that mammals cannot digest efficiently.

Celeste Lindsay is a WSU-master gardener. Send questions to mslindsay8@gmail.com.