Ask the gardening expert



I would like to grow tomatoes during the winter months in my basement under grow lights. The temperature stays about 70 degrees and I can leave the lights on any amount of time. It seems that all the other plants I bring in during the winter do fine, so I am wondering if growing tomatoes in containers would pose any special problems. Also, I would like to know if their are any tomatoes that do better than others under these conditions and what type of tomato do you recommend.

As with most plants, lighting for about 16 hours a day should be adequate. You might try some of the varieties suggested for container or patio growing, as these tend to tolerate a restricted root zone a bit better. You may want to monitor or experiment a bit with the lighting, the watering and fertilizing. A small fan to move the air around may also be a good idea. Be watchful for aphids — they can take over a plant in the blink of an eye. I’m thinking there is a lot to learn, so I’m wishing you good luck. I’m thinking you might want to keep notes on the progress of your experiment. Who knows? You may have great luck with them.

I would like to have plants on my deck that I can see all winter. I’d like them to look lush and be about 4-feet tall all winter. I have a 24-inch container that I’d like to use for this. Do you think it’s large enough to grow a larger plant all winter?

You might be limited as far as “lush” plants are concerned. I can see you being able to have some nice-looking dwarf conifers, but feel that the pot is too small to maintain a healthy root system. You would do better with large pots, at least 36 inches or larger.

I would also plant evergreen grasses, and maybe some fern. I have mine loaded with tulips, since the gophers won’t leave them alone when planted in beds. I think this combination would be rather nice all winter.

There are many dwarf conifers available on the market. I am not confident that you will find them this close to the coldest part of winter weather that is coming up. It couldn’t hurt to ask the larger nurseries in the area for ideas. If you can’t find this combo this winter, it’s a project to look forward to in the upcoming spring.

I have fungus gnats in my houseplants. Is there a chemical I can use to treat the soil of the plants? How can I get rid of them? It is too cold outside for my houseplants and I cannot put up with them through the winter. Also, do gnats lay eggs in the soil? If I get rid of them by repotting the plants, how do I make sure the bugs still flying around in my house don’t re-infest the plants?

This is another of the questions I’ve answered many times, but still need to repeat for those who missed it before.

These annoying little insects are a sign that the soil to too wet. If you can, try to keep the soil on the plants slightly damp, not wet. I’ve read that some recommend repotting. I don’t think that’s necessary as long as you don’t keep it too wet. So my recommendation would be to scrape off about an inch of soil and throw it outdoors (where gnats and their eggs can’t survive), and add about an inch of sand or dry grit of some type to the top. As for the ones flying around in your house, they won’t have a “home” to come back to and will perish. Just be careful not to water too much, and that should end that problem.

Celeste Lindsay is a WSU-certified master gardener. Send questions to