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Archive for the ‘Summer Gardening’ Category

Cyclamen mite damage on sweet peppers

We sure didn’t have much luck with our vegetable garden this year. The tomatoes produced half-heartedly, the summer squash succumbed to disease and vine borers before providing very many squash, and the corn was torn down and destroyed by some critter before the ears had completely filled out!

Rattlesnake pole beans - my favorite!

Rattlesnake pole beans – my favorite!

We did get quite a few cucumbers before disease claimed the vines and I was able to can 42 pints of pickles. The rattlesnake and purple pole beans have also done very well. We were, however, disappointed in the ‘Lazy Housewife’ pole beans that we tried this year. They were very slow to develop and when they did, the beans were tough and leathery. We are just letting them dry on the vines and will use them for dried beans.

Last weekend we harvested all our butternut squash. There weren’t as many as last year but I hope they are as good. The other winter squash we grew was Buttercup. This variety was new to us but it is absolutely delicious! The flesh is a beautiful bright orange and couldn’t be sweeter! This one is definitely a keeper – we will be planting it again next year.

Close up of the rough, scaly skin of one of the affected peppers

Close up of the rough, scaly skin of
one of the affected peppers

Our bell peppers provided some of the strangest looking fruits in the garden. From the top (at the stem end), they looked fairly normal but at the blossom end, the skin was light brown, rough, and hard. In many cases, the whole bottom half of the pepper was like this. I knew it wasn’t blossom end rot because the flesh wasn’t really damaged – it was quite superficial. I had never seen anything like it before.

I thought perhaps it was environmental or maybe a mosaic virus but nothing really fit. Then I wondered if it had something to do with the herbicide drift that injured our tomato plants back in the early summer but the descriptions of herbicide damage to peppers didn’t really match what was going on with our peppers.

Finally, after reviewing photos of pests and diseases of sweet peppers, I found the answer – cyclamen mites! I never would have thought that this was an insect problem. Well, actually, mites aren’t insects but you know what I mean.

Russeted skin covers the whole bottom half of this pepper.

Tough, russeted skin covers the
bottom half of this pepper.

Cyclamen mites (Phytonemus pallidus) are tiny mites that attack many different plants including peppers and tomatoes. As these little pests feed, they inject chemicals into the plant tissue. These chemicals act as growth regulators and cause abnormalities in the foliage and fruit.

Feeding in the foliage causes crinkling and twisting of the leaves and sometimes leads to the formation of larger than normal leaves. I wish I had taken a picture of the foliage because that was another thing I noticed about these pepper plants; their leaves were huge and puckered.

The damage is only skin deep!

The damage is only skin deep!

When cyclamen mites feed on the developing fruit, their salivary secretions cause the skin of the fruit to become tough and russeted. This tan, rough skin was very obvious and fairly extensive on many of our peppers. It mostly occurred at the blossom end and seemed to restrict the normal growth/expansion of the fruit – almost like the pepper was constricted by tight netting.

Though the russeting is superficial, it essentially ruins the part of the fruit that it covers. I did peel some of the tough skin off one of my peppers and tasted it to see if the flavor was affected. I thought it tasted a bit weird but that could have been all in my head. Still, I ended up tossing the majority of the defective portions in the compost.

Some of the peppers had less of the russeting over the skin.

Some of the peppers had less of
the russeting over the skin.

University of Maryland Extension says that cyclamen mites can be a “minor pest of pepper and tomato”. When we lost so many peppers this year, it didn’t seem like a minor problem to me!

I’m sure what they meant is that they aren’t common pests of peppers in the vegetable garden. Apparently, these pests are more common in greenhouse situations. We did purchase a few of our pepper plants from a greenhouse so perhaps we introduced them to the garden that way.

Despite the russeted skin, the walls of the peppers were thick and healthy looking.

Despite the damaged skin,
the walls of the peppers were
thick and healthy looking.

If you notice the damage early on (and recognize it as mite damage), you can control cyclamen mites with a miticide such as Bonide Mite-X and still have a good harvest later in the season.

Even though these mites did a lot of damage to our pepper crop, I must say it was pretty interesting to learn about them. It’s amazing to me that such a tiny critter could cause such dramatic abnormalities in the peppers and their foliage!

I’m just trying to look on the positive side!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Azalea caterpillar feeding on azalea foliage

Azalea caterpillars have consumed much of the young leaves of this azalea

Azalea caterpillars have consumed most
of the young leaves on this azalea

A few weeks ago, we received an e-mail from a fellow gardener in Richmond, VA who had noticed that caterpillars were devouring the current season’s growth on his azalea bushes. After some research, he determined that they were azalea caterpillars (Datana major). He had neither seen nor heard of these caterpillars before and was wondering if they were native to Virginia or an introduced species.

I have never seen these colorful (but destructive) caterpillars either but apparently they can be a major pest of azaleas, especially in the southeast. They are native to the continental US and Canada, but are most common in the southeastern US and the Mid-Atlantic States.

The azalea caterpillar (aka the red-headed azalea caterpillar) prefers to feed on azalea foliage but will also attack blueberries, apple trees, and red oak trees. They tend to feed in large groups and can quickly defoliate their target plants if they are not controlled.

The older azalea caterpillars are very colorful

The older azalea caterpillars
are very colorful

The adult stage is a rather nondescript brown moth but the larval caterpillars are quite colorful. They have a black body with several broken yellow stripes along its length. The head and legs are red. The mature caterpillars are about 2 inches long.

Adult female moths lay up to 100 eggs on the underside of the host plant leaves. The eggs hatch later in the season and the tiny caterpillars begin to feed on the foliage.

The caterpillars go through several instars, growing larger during each stage, and usually continue to feed together in large masses. Because of this tendency to group together while they feed, they can strip a plant of most of its leaves in a short period of time.

Young azalea caterpillars feeding en masse.

Young azalea caterpillars
feeding en masse.

Major damage from these caterpillars is usually observed in August and September when they are larger and eating voraciously. Though the damage from their feeding does not kill the shrub, it is certainly not aesthetically pleasing!

Controlling azalea caterpillars can be as simple as picking them off the shrubs. These are not stinging caterpillars despite the sparse hairs that cover their bodies, however, the problem is that there can be LOTS of them.

If you have a large infestation, you may need to resort to another form of control.

Azalea caterpillars feeding on azaleaWhen the caterpillars are young and small, a liquid formulation of the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) (such as Bonide Thuricide) applied to the foliage will kill them when they eat the leaves. Bt is less likely to harm beneficial insects.

Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew, another naturally derived organic insecticide, is effective in controlling the larger caterpillars when it is sprayed on the foliage. The trick is to cover the foliage that the caterpillars will be eating. Always read and follow the label directions when spraying any pesticide.

Special thanks to Walter Forkey for bringing this caterpillar pest to my attention and sending me some photos. He was able to successfully get rid of them with an approved pesticide and hopefully his azaleas will recover nicely in the spring.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Common dodder covers some host plants

On a walk in the Smoky Mountains last summer, we came across a patch of plants that were covered with what looked like yellow Silly String. It was crazy looking! Strands and strands of fine golden strings were draped over and twining around these poor plants.

Common dodder (Cuscuta gronovii) covers some host plants

Common dodder (Cuscuta gronovii)
covers some host plants

Eric knew what it was right away – dodder; a parasitic vining plant also known as scaldweed, strangleweed, devil’s hair, devil’s guts, love vine, and many other equally descriptive common names.

Dodder (Cuscuta spp.) is an annual plant that is effectively leafless and has contact with the soil only as a young seedling. These plants do not manufacture chlorophyll so they are unable to produce their own food through photosynthesis like green plants can. With the exception of the first few days after germination, dodder is entirely dependent on a host plant for the water and nutrients needed to complete its life cycle – an obligate parasite!

Flowers of common dodder

Flower clusters of common dodder

Despite its lack of chlorophyll, dodder IS a flowering plant and produces many clusters of tiny flowers from June through the fall. If pollinated, the flowers will form seeds just like other like flowering plants. In fact over the course of a season, a single dodder plant is capable of producing thousands of seeds!

Dodder seeds typically germinate in the spring and the seedlings, which have thin, vine-like stems, grow upwards and twine around the first solid object they encounter. Since the dodder seeds generally drop to the ground under the mother plant, the seedlings normally germinate among suitable host plants. For the first few days of growth, the dodder seedlings survive on nutrients stored in the seed. If they do not contact a host plant within 5-10 days, they will run out of food and die.

Dodder stem produces haustoria which penetrate the host stem

Dodder stems produce haustoria
which penetrate the host stem

Once dodder contacts a host plant, it quickly twines around the stem of the plant and small structures called haustoria are produced along the dodder stem. The haustoria penetrate the vascular system of the host and begin to extract carbohydrates and water from its stem. At this point, the dodder plant is completely supported nutritionally by the host. The original (seedling) stem of the dodder eventually withers and this parasitic plant loses contact with the soil.

Once attached to a host plant, dodder continues to grow and reattach in multiple places along the host stem. Individual plants will often spread to nearby host plants creating a mass of stringy orange stems which can cover large areas. This is what we came across on our hike in the Smokies.

A tangle of dodder stems intertwine to form a stringy mat.

Many dodder plants intertwine to
form a tangle of stringy stems.

Parasitic organisms rarely kill their hosts since they rely on them for sustenance. Dodder is no exception and, though they may weaken and stunt the growth of the host plants, they generally do not kill established plants. However, if they attach to seedling plants, they can seriously weaken them and may end up killing these young plants.

If it becomes established in agricultural fields, dodder can cause a significant reduction in crop yield. Alfalfa and sugarbeets are common host plants for some species of this parasitic plant. It can also infest ornamental plants including many perennials and annuals. Japanese dodder (Cuscuta japonica) often parasitizes trees and shrubs, including many types of fruit trees.

Seed capsules of common dodder contain up to 4 seeds each.

Seed capsules of common dodder
contain up to 4 seeds each.

This is one unusual plant!

It can become a serious garden pest and unfortunately it is usually difficult to control. If you pull the stems off the host plant, any haustoria that remain embedded in the host stem will resprout and continue to parasitize the plant. If it is allowed to set seed, thousands of seeds can drop to the ground!

A pre-emergence herbicide can prevent the germination of dodder seeds but these seeds have a hard seed coat and have been found to remain viable in the ground for more that 20 years! Yikes!

One recommendation for control of dodder in the garden is to completely remove all the host plants and replace them with a non-host species. Thus any dodder seedlings that germinate will not find a suitable host and will die off.

If you find this crazy parasite in your gardens, I hope you are able to win the battle against it!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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These days everyone is concerned about proper nutrition and what we put into our bodies; but what about our turfgrass and the plants we grow? How do we take care of their nutritional needs?

Good rich soil provides the perfect growing environment for your plants

Good rich soil provides the perfect
growing environment for plants

Soil is obviously very important to plant growth. It not only provides a physical medium in which your plants grow, it is also a reservoir of nutrients, air, and water – three requirements for plant growth.

Most of the nutrients needed for the growth and development of plants are absorbed from the soil by the roots. Over the seasons, these soil nutrients become depleted and must be replenished or plant health will decline.

Because the makeup of the soil is so important to the health and well-being of your plants, it should become very important to you as a gardener.

Awareness of the properties of your garden soil will allow you to adapt your cultural practices so your soil environment will be most conducive to healthy plant growth, whether it be a flower garden, vegetable garden, or your lawn. The nutrients that will give you a thick, lush, and green lawn are very different than the nutrients required to have a thriving and productive vegetable garden.

Understanding Plant Nutrients

There are 17 chemical elements known to be essential for plant growth, flowering, and fruiting.

Primary macronutrients

Maintaining a lush green lawn requires more nitrogen and correct pH.

Maintaining a lush green lawn
requires more nitrogen
and correct pH

The primary macronutrients, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), are used in the largest amounts by plants and are thus prone to deficiency in soils. These nutrients are the primary ingredients in most garden fertilizers and the percentages of each are prominently displayed on the bag as the N-P-K numbers. These percentages are always presented in the same order – nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium.

Nitrogen is required for healthy vegetative growth (leaves and stems) and is especially important in young plants. High levels promote dark green leafy growth but not fruits and flowers. Thus a fertilizer higher in nitrogen is great for lawns and leafy vegetables but disastrous when you are trying to grow tomatoes!

Phosphorus is important in all functions of plant growth but especially for root development and growth, and in the production of flowers, fruits, and seeds. Starter fertilizers, which can be used when transplanting trees, shrubs, and perennials, are much higher in phosphorus than nitrogen and potassium. They stimulate root growth and help avoid transplant shock. “Bloom booster” fertilizers with 20%-30% phosphorus help promote flower bud formation.

Potassium is important for the overall vigor of plants. It promotes disease resistance, root formation, and cold hardiness. Plants deficient in potassium will have weak roots and stems.

Secondary macronutrients

The secondary macronutrients are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S). These nutrients are very important to plants but are used in smaller amounts than the three primary macronutrients.

Micronutrients

Micronutrients, also known as trace elements, are not nutrients of lesser importance to plant health but those that are required in minute quantities. With the exception of iron and manganese, micronutrients are seldom deficient in our garden soil, however, some can become unavailable to plants when the soil pH is either too high (alkaline) or too low (acidic). Maintaining your soil pH between 6.0-6.5 will keep these nutrients available to the plants. Some fertilizers are fortified with micronutrients.

What’s in YOUR soil?

A bountiful harvest depends on building and maintaining proper soil nutrients.

A bountiful harvest depends on
providing proper soil nutrients.

So your lawn is thin and patchy or your vegetable garden is not producing like it used to or your plants just aren’t blooming? It may well be your soil. You probably need to add fertilizer, but what kind and how much? Is your soil deficient in nitrogen? Maybe phosphorus? Perhaps the pH is not optimal. How would you know?

The easiest way is to get your soil tested. Sound hard? Not really and the analysis from these tests will allow you to make informed decisions on how to improve the soil environment for your lawn and garden plants. If you choose to have your soil tested professionally, you will not only be provided with a detailed analysis of the soil but you’ll also receive specific recommendations for amendments to improve the pH and also nutrient content if necessary.

Easy Online Soil Testing …

ThinkSoilThe lawn care professionals at MyTurfandGarden.com have developed a unique, on-line and very straightforward way to test your soil. It’s called Think Soil™.

A soil analysis from Think-Soil™ will provide essential information on relative levels of organic matter, pH, lime requirement, cation exchange capacity (CEC), and levels of plant-available nutrients contained in your soil.

Simply go to MyTurfandGarden.com, and click on Soil Testing in the top menu. There you can read all about it and see how easy it is.

Follow the instructions or watch the YouTube video demonstrating how to take a soil sample from your garden or lawn. Within days of placing your order, you’ll receive a pre-addressed envelope, a leak proof zip-lock baggie, and detailed instructions. After you collect your soil sample, just place the baggie with the sample into the pre-paid envelope and give it to your postal carrier. There is no cost for shipping.

Once your soil sample arrives at the lab, the test results will be ready for you to review within 36 hours. You will be notified by e-mail as soon as the test results are available.

Beautiful lawns and gardens require proper nutrition and soil properties

Beautiful lawns and gardens require
good soil with proper nutrients
and amendments

In addition, Think-Soil™ consultants are available toll free to help with any questions about your test results and to offer advice on what’s needed to remediate your soil. For the first time you’ll have the information needed regarding how much product is needed, how best to apply it, and when to do it.

For the month of August, Think-Soil™ has an introductory offer of 50% off all soil tests plus no cost to send your soil sample.

Doing a soil test is one of the best ways to insure that you amend your soil to provide just what your lawn, vegetables, and/or your flowers need to thrive.

Remember next month is Lawn Care Month. September marks the beginning of the best season for most lawn projects. Be ready!

“Don’t Guess – Do the Test!”

Until Next Time – Happy Gardening!

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Sad looking tomato plants

I'm pretty sure these Rutgers tomatoes are supposed to be bigger than 2" in diameter!

I’m pretty sure these Rutgers
tomatoes are supposed to be
larger than 2″ in diameter!

My tomatoes are a disaster this year!

Their growth is slow and they are not producing many flowers or fruit. Plus, the fruit that has formed is way smaller than it should be. It’s very disappointing!

I planted about 40 plants which included 9 different varieties, most of which are heirlooms because they are so delicious. Normally by this time of the season, the plants would be lush and full and looming over the top of our 6 foot trellises. There would also be lots of beautiful full-sized tomatoes with many more coming on. Not so this year!

The season started out on a downside when, within a few days of planting out my transplants, we noticed some severe cupping and curling of the foliage especially on the youngest leaves. When I saw it I immediately thought – classic 2,4-D herbicide injury! I wish I had taken some pictures of the damage.

Tomato injury caused by 2,4-D

Tomato injury caused by 2,4-D

It affected all of the tomato plants. I also noticed 2,4-D injury on our grape vines which are growing on the hill above the vegetable garden. Tomatoes and grapes are especially sensitive to broadleaf herbicides. Even light exposures can result in injury to the plants. If an herbicide like glyphosate (Roundup) or one that contains 2,4-D or dicamba is applied in the vicinity of a vegetable garden, it can easily drift onto the plants. Herbicides can drift pretty far if caught by the wind! We hadn’t sprayed anything but we found out later that a neighbor had been spraying a product containing 2,4-D to control thistle in the field right beside our vegetable garden. The spray must have drifted onto our newly planted tomatoes.

Strike One!

 

The spindly vines have a lot of diseased foliage.

The spindly vines have a lot
of diseased foliage.

We planted our tomatoes and most of the rest of the garden on the 21st of May. June had higher than normal rainfall, often in the form of heavy thunderstorms. This wet weather led to disease problems, especially in our heirloom varieties which make up about 80 percent of what we grow. We always have some disease in our tomatoes that wipes out their lower branches but it never seems to affect their production much. This year it was much worse. I am pretty convinced that the herbicide injury weakened and stressed the plants and left them more susceptible to fungal diseases.

Strike Two!

 

Hornworm damage on the Better Boy tomatoes

Hornworm damage on these
small ‘Better Boy’ tomatoes

Though we never seem to have much insect damage on our tomatoes, we have had an occasional hornworm on the plants. So far this year, Eric has discovered two hornworms on the tomatoes but only after they had almost completely defoliated a couple of the plants and chewed a few of the tomatoes as well! They are well camouflaged and it took a bit of hunting before he found and squashed the two culprits. Hopefully there aren’t more lurking among the foliage.

Strike Three!

 

With all these strikes against them, the plants have suffered tremendously. The foliage is sparse and the stems are elongated and spindly. I think this is mainly due to the herbicide injury early in the season.

The 'Pruden's Purple' tomato on the right is deformed and cat faced but at least it is larger.

The ‘Pruden’s Purple’ tomatoes
are small and some are deformed.

Though the plants have slowly outgrown the damage and the new growth is fairly normal, the plants are stunted and few flowers are being formed. The fruit that has formed is mostly remaining very small. I harvested a few medium-sized ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes but most were deformed with severe cat facing (another symptom of 2,4-D injury).

Some of the problem may be environmental, too. I have heard that other people are having similar issues with their tomatoes; slow growth and the production of very few tomatoes that are all small in size. It may just be a bad year for growing tomatoes!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we will be harvesting very many tomatoes this year. We should have enough to enjoy fresh but I’m pretty sure we won’t get enough to can.

The pole beans are doing very well!

The pole beans are doing very well!

On the bright side, the pole beans are doing very well except for 2 or 3 poles where some critter has nipped off the lower leaves. The vines are still strong and producing lots of beans at the top. We planted Rattlesnake beans, a purple pole bean, and a new one for us – Lazy Housewife Pole Beans. Yum!

The cucumbers have also produced well this year. So far I’ve made 23 pints of my famous bread and butter pickles and still have plenty to slice up for my lunches and I’ve even given a bunch away! I’ll be making more pickles this weekend and freezing beans, too!

I’m just so sad about my tomatoes …

Until next time –
Here’s hoping your tomatoes are doing better than mine!

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ButterflyBuddleia

Take time to stop and smell the flowers!

Children can't resist smelling the flowers!

Children can’t resist
smelling the flowers!

Have you ever noticed small children in a flower garden? They tend to immediately bury their little noses into the flowers and smell them.

We adults need to take the time to do the same – and many of us do! Especially when the daylilies are blooming at the nursery, I see so many people, adults and children alike, walking around with the telltale sign of flower sniffing – orange pollen on their nose!

The peonies and iris are blooming in the gardens now and many of these have a wonderful sweet fragrance.

Viburnum carlesii fills the air with its sweet perfume in the spring

Viburnum carlesii fills the air with
its sweet perfume in the spring

When planning a garden, it is important to not only consider form, structure, texture, and color in the flower bed, but also fragrance. Your sense of smell can often bring back pleasant memories of places and times in your past. Whenever I walk past a blooming Viburnum carlesii, I am transported back to my childhood home where a magnificent specimen of these intensely fragrant shrubs grew at the corner of our patio.

What wonderful memories!

What flower fragrances take you back? Roses, lilacs, honeysuckle …
Be sure to incorporate some of those plants into your gardens!

Peony 'Belle Chinoise' has a lovely fragrance

Peony ‘Belle Chinoise’ has
a lovely fragrance

You should plant pockets of fragrant flowers where you will enjoy them the most – near the porch, deck, patio, or poolside. Another good place for a touch of fragrance is along a favorite garden path or beside your sidewalk or driveway. If you place plants with fragrant foliage at the edge of your garden path, the fragrance will be released when you brush against it as you pass by. An interesting idea to keep in mind!

The fragrance of certain flowers is more obvious during various periods of time – when the weather is warm and the air moist, or when the sun goes down and the night bloomers emit their sweetness into the air. I love driving by a patch of wild honeysuckle in the early evening with the windows down – their sweet perfume just wafts into the open windows.
Such a delight!

The beautiful honeysuckle flowers fill the air with sweet summer fragrance

The beautiful honeysuckle flowers fill the air with sweet summer fragrance

Fragrance can be added to the landscape and garden through the use of trees, vines, shrubs, annuals, bulbs, and perennials. There are many fragrant choices in each of these categories.

Some fragrant spring flowers include:

Lilac Sensation

Lilac ‘Sensation’

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Magnolia
  • Calycanthus floridus (Sweet Shrub)
  • flowering quince
  • Daphne
  • Mock Orange
  • Lilac
  • Viburnum
  • Wisteria

Perennials and bulbs:

  • Convallaria majalis (Lily-of-the-Valley)
  • many peonies (like ‘Phillipe Revoire’, ‘Belle Chinoise’, and ‘Le Cygne’)
  • Dianthus
  • Primula
  • many tall bearded iris
  • Jonquils and hyacinths

For summer fragrance, try:

Fragrant flowers of Buddleia attract loads of butterflies

Fragrant flowers of Buddleia
attract loads of butterflies

Shrubs:

  • Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)
  • Clethra (Summersweet Clethera)
  • roses

Vines:

  • Clematis
  • Jasmine
  • honeysuckle
  • moonflower
  • sweet pea

Annual flowers:

  • Snapdragons
  • Cosmos
  • Four O’clocks
  • Nicotiana
  • marigolds
Astilbe bring color as well as fragrance to the shade garden.

Astilbe bring color as well as fragrance
to the shade garden.

Perennials:

  • Astilbe
  • Lilium (oriental lilies)
  • Lavandula (Lavender)
  • Nepeta
  • certain hosta varieties
  • some Monarda and Phlox paniculata hybrids
  • Perovskia (Russian Sage)
  • some daylily varieties
  • Yucca

With the fall comes:

  • Common Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
  • Sweet Autumn Clematis.
Many interesting varieties of lavender are available including a silver edged lavender

Many interesting varieties of
lavender are available including
a silver edged form

Fragrance from Foliage

There are many plants that produce fragrant foliage rather than fragrant flowers but the fragrance is none-the-less intoxicating. Try the many varieties of thyme, lavender, rosemary, basil, the mints, and a host of other herbs. Artemisia, hay-scented fern, sweet woodruff, lemon grass, lemon verbena, heliotrope, and scented geraniums are a few others that will add a pleasant scent to the garden or containers.

And, of course, everyone loves the many fragrant boughs of evergreens that are used at Christmas time to bring a spicy, nostalgic aroma indoors.

Until next time – Don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers!

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Corn crop destroyed by critters

We have had more trouble with critters enjoying our garden this year than ever before!

It is being a challenge to say the least.

End of June - pre-woodchucks

End of June – pre-woodchucks

Healthy pole beans and sweet potato vines

Healthy pole beans and sweet potatoes

It started back in the spring when cucumber beetles infected many of my small cucumber plants with bacterial wilt. I lost probably 50 percent of my original crop before I realized what the problem was and sprayed the plants with Bonide Eight. I had to reseed and also buy some plants to replace the ones that were lost. I kept on top of them after that and ended up with a great crop of cucumbers until disease finally destroyed the vines in mid August. At least I was able to enjoy lots of delicious cucumbers and make lots of pickles!

Most of the lower leaves were eaten

Most of the lower leaves were eaten

Woodchucks have been the worst problem this year. Despite the fence and wildlife netting we have around the garden, somehow at least one managed to get in. We first noticed it when all the leaves of our sweet potato vines were chewed off. Then the lower leaves of the pole beans began to disappear! At least it didn’t bite off the growing tip of the bean vine and they continued to climb up the poles. The plants were just leafless at the bottom.

We searched the perimeter of the garden and found a spot or two where it looked like some critter might have been getting under the fence. In those areas, we took some old fencing, bent it at a right angle, and pinned it down so that it extended about 2 feet out along the ground on the outside of the main fence. We hoped that would do the trick.

The beans had begun to recover by the time I took this photo

The beans had begun to recover
by the time I took this photo

After that, all was well for a while … until one day when Eric noticed that the leaves along the top of the bean trellis were being eaten! Our bean trellis is sort of like a pergola made out of bamboo poles. There are two rows of 8 uprights and then bamboo cross pieces join the two rows along the top. This allows the vines to grow between the poles at a manageable height (once they reach to top of the poles) so that I can easily reach the beans to pick.

It’s a great system but we were baffled as to how the foliage at the top was being eaten! Certainly if a woodchuck tried to climb the poles to get at the top leaves, they would have knocked the poles over or at a minimum torn down many of the vines in the process. Plus, I don’t think the cross pieces could support even the weight of a small woodchuck. Yet the leaves were chewed right off!

The only critter we could think of that might be able (and willing) to do this was a squirrel. Squirrels have been enjoying the foliage and flowers of the petunias on our deck for years. Actually, they have recently switched to the coleus and tomato leaves since there are no petunias left! So it seems entirely possible that squirrels are the bean robbers. How in the world could you keep them out?

They left us only the cobs!

They left us only the cobs!

A few weeks later just as the Silver Queen corn was beginning to ripen, we went out to the garden and found that about two thirds of the corn in the Three Sisters garden had been pulled down and the ears were chewed down to the cob. Normally I would blame this on raccoons but I’m wondering if it was the woodchuck(s) again. To make matters worse, since it’s the Three Sisters garden, when they tore down the corn, they also tore down the rattlesnake beans that were climbing up the corn stalks! We can’t see where they might be getting in – it’s very frustrating.

Destruction in the Three Sisters garden!

Destruction in the Three Sisters garden!

Not much left of this butternut squash!

Not much left of this
butternut squash!

After the corn, the woodchuck started in on the butternut squash. He just got one or two before we discovered this latest attack! Luckily we were able to protect the rest of the squash from being eaten. It was too early to harvest so Eric pulled the squash (still on the vines) together in groups and we were able to set them in plastic crates with another crate wired on top like a little cage. A few of the squash were off by themselves so I just put one crate upside down over them and pinned it down with landscaping pins. This seems to have kept the critters at bay – for now. Hopefully it will last until it’s time to harvest the squash.

Our improvised squash protection cage!

One of our improvised squash protection cages! So far so good!

Oh boy! What next? So far everyone has mostly left the tomatoes and peppers alone. Guess I’d better knock on wood! And at this point the beans seem to be recovering and producing new foliage and flowers. Perhaps the acorns and hickory nuts are beginning to ripen!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Tortoise beetle and larvae

Containers of Coleus, geranium, and herbs along the railing.

Containers of Coleus and geranium,
with herbs in pots along the railing.

We share our deck with lots of containers filled with beautiful plants. They add color and make it a more interesting place to sit and relax! Some of the pots are planted with flowers and foliage plants including some very colorful Coleus and others are planted with herbs that we snip fresh for cooking.

Two of the larger containers are planted with Juliet tomatoes. These miniature “Roma-type” tomatoes are our new favorite small tomato to grow instead of the cherry tomatoes we used to plant. In addition to the two on the deck, we also have two Juliet tomato plants growing in our vegetable garden. A tasty treat to munch on while working in the garden!

Juliet tomato

Juliet tomato

These delicious tomatoes are larger than a typical cherry tomato but bear just as prolifically. Their shape is oblong like a Roma tomato but they are smaller; growing up to 2¼” long and about 1¼” wide. They are meaty little guys and delicious straight off the vine (my favorite way to eat them), in salads, or for use in cooking. Yum!

Juliet is very crack resistant and stays fresh and firm on the vine longer than most cherry tomatoes. They also keep very well once picked but they always produce way more than we can eat fresh.

Juliet tomatoes are deliciously prolific!

Juliet tomatoes are deliciously prolific!

Last year in order to preserve the excess, we simply put them straight into freezer bags and froze them. Just straight off the vine – no processing required. Easy!

Whenever Eric made chili or soup or vegetable stew, he just pulled out a bunch of the frozen Juliet tomatoes, chopped them in thirds, and dropped them right in the pot. The skins can be fished out afterwards (or not) or you can thaw them a bit and slip the skins off before you cut them up. Simple and delicious!

Anyway …

Tomato leaf damage from the tortoise beetle

Tomato leaf damage from
the tortoise beetle

The other day when I went to pick some tomatoes off the plants on the deck, I noticed that several of the leaves were riddled with pretty large, very round holes. I’d never seen damage like this before. I’ve seen holes in leaves but never holes that were quite so uniformly round.

On further inspection, I found a few round, hard-shelled insects on the leaves. At first I thought they were some type of scale insect but when I poked one, it flew a short distance away and landed on another leaf – definitely NOT scale! Then there were some funky stationary ones that I assumed were either larvae or pupae.

Clavate tortoise beetle adult

Clavate tortoise beetle adult

This was a critter I was not familiar with. They didn’t seem to be doing much damage to the plant, just chewing lots of holes in a few of the leaves.

As it turns out, these were clavate tortoise beetles, Plagiometriona clavata. They do look a little like a turtle with a hard shell that covers not only their wings but their head as well. This particular species has a distinctive “teddy bear” shape on the shell.

Apparently these beetles are commonly found on plants in the solenaceous family which includes jimsonweed, nightshade, and also vegetable crops like tomato, pepper, and eggplant. We have four eggplants in a large container on the deck and I also noticed that a few of those leaves had these characteristic, round holes chewed in them. Tortoise beetles are also fond of morning glories which we happen to have planted in containers right beside our pots of Juliet tomatoes. Not surprisingly, many of the morning glory leaves are riddled with little round holes!

Tortoise beetle larva with fecal mass "shield"

Tortoise beetle larva with
fecal mass “shield”

The larvae of this beetle are unusual, too. They have an oval shaped, segmented body that is fringed with white spiny projections. The last segment of their body is modified with a forked projection which collects fecal material. This forked segment with the attached dried fecal mass is held over the body of the larva like a shield. It is thought that this may provide the larvae with some form of protection from predators through either camouflage or possibly as a type of repellent.

All-in-all, this is a very interesting and unique visitor to our plants and definitely not one that I had encountered before.

Always something new to learn in the garden!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Tomato harvest

Well, it’s that time of the year! The tomato questions are pouring in on our discussion board, Andre’s radio show, and over the phone and e-mails. At this point, the questions are mostly concerning problems with the foliage and just a few about the fruit.

One of the most recent discussion board posts brought up an issue that many gardeners may not be aware of …

“I have six different varieties of tomato plants planted in my raised bed. I noticed last week that the leaves had curled upwards. This week I noticed now that the leaves appear to be a little wilted as well as the blooms. The growth also seems somewhat stunted …

There are several things that can cause tomato leaves to curl but this combination of symptoms seemed consistent with herbicide injury.

Tomato injury caused by 2,4-D

Tomato injury caused by 2,4-D exposure

Herbicide drift can be a major problem for tomatoes because they are very sensitive to broadleaf herbicides. Even light exposures can result in injury to the plants. If an herbicide like glyphosate (Roundup) or a product containing 2,4-D or dicamba is applied in the vicinity of a vegetable garden, it can easily drift onto the plants. Herbicides can drift quite far when caught by the wind!

If they are exposed to only small amounts, the plants will usually survive and eventually outgrow the damage. Heavier exposures can be lethal.

Drift is not the only way that tomatoes can be exposed to herbicides.

  • If you spray your tomatoes with a fungicide or insecticide using a sprayer that has also been used to spray an herbicide, there may be herbicide residue left in the tank.
  • Herbicide damage can also occur if tomatoes are mulched with grass clippings from a lawn that has been treated with a weed and feed product or a broad leaf weed killer.
  • Lately, there have even been problems with plant damage resulting from mulches and compost that have been made from hay or manure taken from fields that had been sprayed with the herbicide Grazon.
Characteristic symptoms of glyphosate injury - yellowing at base of leaflets

Telltale symptoms of glyphosate injury –
yellowing at base of leaflets

In this case, as I learned from a later post, it turns out that a neighbor had been spraying herbicides in his yard and the drift had hit the tomato patch. Hopefully over time the plants will recover but flowering and fruit production may be delayed.

The bottom line:

  • Never spray herbicides in windy or breezy conditions
  • Use separate sprayers for herbicides and pesticides
  • Don’t mulch your vegetable garden with grass clippings if you have treated your lawn with a broadleaf herbicide

What else can cause tomato leaves to curl?

Physiological leaf roll is due to environmental stress factors

Physiological leaf roll is due to
environmental stress factors

Curled or rolled leaves can also be a physiological response by the plant to adverse weather conditions; too hot, too dry, too wet, too windy. The overall growth of the plant is usually not affected and the symptoms normally disappear when conditions improve.

Be careful not to over-water tomatoes. Overly wet soil conditions are often to blame for leaf roll.

Mulching your tomatoes will help maintain more even moisture content in the soil and also helps to maintain a more constant soil temperature.

There are several viral diseases such as curly top, yellow leaf curl, and mosaic virus that can cause curling of leaves, as well as stunted growth and pale leaves. There is no cure for these diseases and the plants cannot be saved.

Tomatoes with yellowing foliage and brown patches

Fungal disease is responsible for the majority of the tomato problems we face.

Fungal disease is responsible for the
majority of the tomato problems we face.

Some of the most common tomato problems are caused by fungal diseases. The tomato blights (early blight and late blight), as well as some of the wilt diseases and leaf spot diseases can be devastating to tomato crops. The first symptom is normally the yellowing of the older, lower leaves and branches.

Fungal spores that cause these diseases are found in the soil and on plant debris left in the garden. It is very important to rake up and remove old plants, fallen leaves, and rotting fruit from the garden at the end of the season. This important “housekeeping” task will help to reduce the incidence of fungal disease in the following season.

Mulching around your vegetable plants is another great way to reduce disease. This keeps soil (which may be filled with fungal spores) from splashing up onto the stems and leaves of your vegetable plants. Mulching the vegetable garden has so many benefits that it is worth doing every year!

If your tomatoes are showing signs of disease, prune off the diseased branches and throw them in the trash (do not compost them).

To prevent the disease from spreading to healthy foliage, spray the plants with a fungicide that is listed for use on edibles (Bonide Copper Fungicide, Mancozeb, or Fung-onil). Sometimes it’s good to alternate different fungicides.

Always read and follow the label directions!

Here are a few more tips to help you avoid (or deal with) tomato problems this season. Here’s to a great harvest!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Asparagus beetle damage

Asparagus beetles cause mostly cosmetic damage

Asparagus beetles

The other day I had a call from a gardener who was having trouble with asparagus beetles chewing on his asparagus. These beetles don’t usually do a lot of damage but they can make the spears look a bit ragged especially at the tip. If not controlled, however, a heavy infestation of beetles and their larvae can cause defoliation of the asparagus ferns during the summer. This can weaken the plants and reduce spear production the following spring.

Asparagus beetle eggs and stem damage

Asparagus beetle eggs and stem damage

One of the worst parts about having asparagus beetles is that they lay their eggs all over the asparagus stems. These black cigar-shaped eggs are very prominent, sticking out at a right angle up and down the stalk like little prickers. Not very appetizing to say the least! If you have asparagus beetles, you will have the eggs and lots of them! There are two types of asparagus beetles in our area; the common asparagus beetle (Crioceris asparagi) and the spotted asparagus beetle (Crioceris duodecimpunctata).

Common asparagus beetle

Common asparagus beetle

Spotted asparagus beetle

Spotted asparagus beetle

Asparagus beetle eggs stick out from the stem. Damage to the stem from feeding is also evident.

Damage to the stem from feeding

The common asparagus beetle is the most prevalent and unfortunately is the one that does the most damage to the plant. Most of the time, unless there is a heavy infestation, the damage is purely cosmetic. The beetles feed on the stem leaving shallow grooves and scars on the surface. In some cases, the spears can become disfigured, ragged, and bent over like a shepherd’s crook. However, it’s the presence of those little black eggs sticking out all over the spears that is often the most objectionable part of an asparagus beetle invasion! Luckily, they are fairly easy to rub or scrape off when you are preparing the spears for consumption.

Control of Asparagus Beetles

Our asparagus patch is relatively small so I normally just hand pick the beetles and squish them when I find them. If you have a larger bed, this can become an overwhelming job. If you cut the spears when they are still pretty short (about 8″ or so), they normally don’t have much damage and early harvesting has the added benefit of removing any eggs before they have a chance to hatch.

Lady beetle adult

Lady beetle adult

Natural predators in your garden can reduce asparagus beetle eggs and the caterpillar-like larvae. A small parasitic wasp will attack and destroy the eggs. Lady beetles, which are similar in coloration to the spotted asparagus beetle but are round rather than oval in shape, will consume both eggs and larvae of the asparagus beetle. Another trick is to leave a few of the asparagus unharvested. Asparagus beetles are attracted to mature plants with a lot of foliage so these plants can become “trap” plants and the emerging spears are more likely to be left alone. In large plantings or when there are more severe infestations, pesticide applications may be warranted.

Bonide Neem Oil and Pyrethrin are good organic controls for asparagus beetles. These can be used pre-harvest or post-harvest according to the label directions.

For organic control post-harvest only, Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew which contains spinosad is a good option.

Chemical insecticides to control asparagus beetles include Bonide Eight (permethrin) and Sevin (carbaryl). Be sure to apply according to the label instructions and ALWAYS follow the pre-harvest interval recommendations.

NEVER spray an insecticide (organic OR chemical) when the bees are active. Just because a pesticide is listed as organic doesn’t mean it isn’t toxic to bees and other pollinators. The best time to spray is in the early morning or in the evening when they are less likely to be collecting nectar. Once the foliage begins to yellow in the fall, cut the plants to the ground and throw the foliage in the trash rather than into the compost pile. Weed and rake up all plant debris around the asparagus bed. This will reduce overwintering sites and help lower populations of these beetles the following spring.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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