» Archive for July, 2013

Begonias for Summer

Thursday, July 11th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Dig gently to harvest potatoes, a few plants at a time, after foliage yellows and dries up.
    • Garlic should be harvested when the leafy tops turn yellow and fall over; air-dry bulbs, remove tops and store bulbs in a cool place.
    • Meyer lemons with their sweet-scented blossoms, are attractive and easy to grow. Plant one in a container so you can move it to a protected spot in the winter.
    • Fragrant star jasmine is in full bloom right now. Plant one in a semi-shaded spot where you can enjoy its lovely perfume.
    • Start seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other cool-season crops now. Transplant them to the garden next month and they will be producing for you this fall.

Begonias for Summer

As the warm days of summer begin to arrive, begonias really come into their own. There are many different kinds of begonias, but the bedding begonias like the long, warm days of summer and show off their beautiful, waxy foliage and colorful flowers now. Used in containers, hanging baskets and bedding schemes, begonias provide continuous color throughout the summer. They are easy to care for and all grow well in partial shade.

Sometimes called wax begonias, they feature thick, waxy leaves with 1-inch-diameter round flowers. Foliage comes in either green or bronzy-red and the flowers can be white, pink, rose or red. The rounded plants grow to a height of 6-8 inches and are covered with flower blooms from May to September. The taller Encore begonias grow to 12 inches and have larger, 2-inch flowers. There are also varieties with double flowers that resemble fat little rosebuds and others with variegated foliage. The bronze-leaved begonias are better suited to full sun locations.

Wax begonias are nice in large, formal plantings because of their uniform size and compact form. They also make a good border and combine well with other cool-colored flowers in mixed plantings and containers.

Dragon wing begonias are large and bold. Their flowers grow in loose clusters of pink and red bell-like blooms, and bloom throughout summer. Glossy, dark green, wing-shaped leaves frame the flowers. These begonias are popular container plants, and they are often grown in hanging baskets in partial to full shade or filtered sun. They grow to 15 inches tall and somewhat wider.

Water begonias when the soil is dry to the touch. If grown in full sun, keep the soil moist. Fertilize them monthly with a balanced general fertilizer. They are easy to grow and generally pest-free.

The large-flowered tuberous begonias also come into their glory in the summer. Tuberous begonias can have upright or trailing growth forms and are suited to hanging baskets and other containers that provide excellent drainage so that their tubers do not rot. Hanging basket begonias are perfect for shady decks, patios, and balconies. They do best with plenty of filtered light but little or no direct hot sun.

Wax begonias are lovely in shady window boxes. They make a colorful statement and can be combined with coleus for more height and ivy or vinca for a trailing element.

Light up your shade garden with beautiful begonias!

Herbicide Damage on Tomatoes

Friday, July 5th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Dress up for the Fourth! Red, white and blue petunias, verbena or combinations of these with lobelia, geraniums, impatiens and salvia will make a nice display for the Fourth of July.
    • There’s still time to plant summer vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and corn will bear for you if you plant them now.
    • Attract birds to your garden with a concrete bird bath. They come in many attractive styles and make good gifts.
    • Pepper plants should be fertilized when the first blossoms open.
    • It’s time to set out Brussels sprouts for fall harvest.

Herbicide Damage on Tomatoes

There is a new generation of herbicides being used to control broadleaf weeds and thistles on golf courses, pastures and non-crop areas. They are the plant growth regulators picloram, clopyralid and aminopyralid. They go by names like Tordon, Forefront, Curtail, and many others. Two things make these herbicides a popular choice. First, they are persistent, so they do not need to be applied often. Second, they appear to have little to no effect on the health of animals and people.

But they may affect your garden. In fact, ironically, the people most likely to wind up with these materials in their gardens are organic gardeners.

These herbicides can be introduced to your soils through compost, manures, lawn waste, and straw mulches. As little as 3 parts per billion will wreak havoc with tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, lettuce and beans. Even composting will not affect the herbicide, which takes as much as a year in the soil to break down.

These herbicides do not affect grasses and so are used on pastures to control thistles and other unwanted weeds. Contaminated manure and bedding can come from livestock fed crops that were treated with these herbicides. Be sure to ask whether animals have been fed hay harvested from treated pasture.

Dow Chemical, a manufacturer of these herbicides, claims that only a few plants are affected. But we are seeing damage among local gardeners on tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and beans, as well as other plants.

When sensitive plants are exposed to these herbicides, they develop cupped or fern-like leaves and twisted or flattened stems. They do not produce well, though in theory the crop is “safe” for you to eat. Some crops such as the squash and mint families are less sensitive.

If you are experiencing herbicide damage in your garden, do not despair. It may take a long time, 1-3 years, but eventually the herbicides will degrade. In the meantime you can grow grass-family crops including corn, wheat and barley!

Actually, it is important to keep something growing on the affected area. A warm, well-aerated, fertile soil with a near-neutral pH is most favorable for microbial growth and, hence, for herbicide breakdown.

You can grow a lawn, or, if you have contaminated material left, use it on your lawn and then grasscycle. Do not use these grass clippings for compost or mulch, just mow the lawn and leave them to compost on the lawn area.

You can test for contamination in the spring by mixing equal parts of the manure, or compost, with some good potting soil. Fill 3 or 4 pots with the mixture and then plant 3 pea seeds in each pot. Fill some other pots with only potting soil and plant the same seeds in those. Water them in separate saucers and watch their growth for 4 weeks. If you see cupped leaves, fern-like growth on new shoots, or twisted stems, there is still herbicide residue in the compost. Keep it moist and aerated for another year.

If your tomatoes are looking strange, check the source of your “organic” compost. Tomato diseases are one thing, but this is a much bigger problem.