B. Rosie Lerner
Consumer Horticulturist







Question and Answer

Q. Do you think some suckers should be taken off tomato plants? I say yes; my son says no. I take off the first three from the bottom of my plant.

A. I would of course love to say that mother is always right! But in this case the answer depends on which method of support is used for the tomato plants. Suckers are the small side shoots that develop into branches, if not removed. Sucker removal is frequently done to staked plants, particularly from below the first cluster of flowers/fruit on the main stem but not for caged or unsupported plants. When staking tomatoes the goal is to have a single stemmed plant tied to a stake for support. If left in place the suckers may break from the weight of their fruit and damage the main stem in the process.

Removing the suckers does help improve air circulation, which promotes fast drying of foliage and reduces likelihood of disease. However, that same foliage helps protect the stem and developing fruit from sunscald (over exposure to light). It is also rather tedious and time consuming to remove the suckers, so not very practical if you have a large planting. Since the suckers will also bear fruit, intact plants may have increased number of fruit, though size of individual fruit may be smaller.

You can find more information in Purdue publication HO-26, "Tomatoes," at in the discussion on staking and caging.

Q. We live a few miles north of West Lafayette. We purchased four Korean boxwoods, intending to plant this summer, but an unexpected waterline problem means we will not be able to plant them this season. They are still in their plastic tubs. Must we plant them here temporarily, or can we store them over the winter in their tubs in a basement or unheated outbuilding? And what about watering?

A. New landscape plants are best planted as soon as possible after they arrive. But if you find planting must be delayed until next year you can make a temporary planting that allows for easy transplanting later. Storing indoors is not a good solution, as it is difficult to keep the plants in proper holding conditions. Dig a hole outdoors that is deeper and wider than the container, line the hole with straw or other loose mulch, and then set the plant container in. Cover with additional mulch and finally with soil, as if you were planting permanently. If possible, choose a lightly shaded area close enough to the house to be able to check on the plants' condition frequently. Water the plants as needed to keep the soil in the planting moist, but not wet. It should be easy to lift the containers out when you're ready to transplant to the permanent location.

Q. I have a poinsettia that I planted outside after frost this spring on the north side of my house. It grew as big as a bushel basket. I dug it up and brought it inside. Now, how can I get it to bloom for Christmas?

A. Poinsettias need about eight weeks of special handling to force them to rebloom. While you're a bit late in getting started there's still time to enjoy them this winter.
Poinsettias are sensitive to photoperiod - the length of the day. Actually, it's the number of hours of darkness that is most important. Poinsettias flower during short days, with long periods of darkness each night. In the home environment even a dim lamp is enough to delay the initiation of flower buds.

To get your poinsettia to reflower, place the plant in complete darkness for 15 hours each day: for instance, between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. A dark closet that is not frequently used is ideal. Any interruption of the dark period, including merely opening the closet door, can result in delayed flowering. During the day the plant should be given a sunny location. You'll find more detailed information at


Writer: B. Rosie Lerner
Editor: Olivia Maddox,