INTERVIEWS WITH EXPERTS: Dana Althoff, Commercial Grower and Retail Manager

Dana Althoff is the retail manager at a large greenhouse and landscape center in the Midwest. She has a degree in horticulture with minors in business and agronomy.  Dana has experience both as a commercial wholesale grower and in retail sales at several different locations in several different states.

Allium flower Photo by Wanette Lenling

On a sunny Saturday morning, I sat down with Dana at her kitchen table to learn more about her vast experience and love of gardening.   I wanted to find out how she got started in the gardening business and where her love of gardening came from.  I also wanted to know what advice she had for new and experienced gardeners alike.

Dana’s Gardening Tip #1:  “Water it or it’ll die.”

What is your background in gardening?  How did it become an interest of yours?

Dana said she began gardening with her mom and her grandmother as a little girl.  Her mother let her take over the planning, planting, and care of the flower beds when Dana was in the fourth grade just as her grandmother had allowed her mother to do  as a little girl.

As an adult, Dana went on to study horticulture and agronomy in college during which time she worked for her uncle at a whole sale nursery.  Dana recounted the joy she had working in the vast flower fields at her uncle’s nursery.

Do you have a specific plant group that you like to work with?

Dana said she enjoys working with all plants, including annuals and perennials, but she has a particular fondness for hostas.  She said the ‘Sum and Substance’ Hosta is among her favorites.  For those of you that have never seen a ‘Sum and Substance’ hosta, it’s a beautiful giant yellow variety that can reach 2 to 3 feet in height with a spread of 5 to 6 feet!

Dana’s Gardening Tip #2:  “Don’t get tied up with the idea that growing a certain plant is hard to grow.  Just try it!”

Do you enjoy working in the garden on your time off?

Dana said she does enjoy working in the garden at home but only in fair weather.

Planter created by Dana, photo by Wanette Lenling
Planter created by Dana, photo by Wanette Lenling

Working in the retail business requires Dana to work in all kinds of weather so she prefers to be comfortable when working in the garden at home.

I mentioned that one of the assumptions that customers always had of me when I worked at the garden and landscape nursery was that my gardens at home were immaculate.  Dana laughed and said she gets that too.  Dana said that most of her gardening energy is spent at work with little left over for home, so home gardens tend to suffer.  It’s akin to a plumber having a broken faucet at home that never seems to get fixed.

What questions do you get the most frequently and how do you answer those questions?

  1.  Question: “How do I plant this tree?”  Answer:  Dig the hole 2 times as wide as the root ball and plant it no deeper than the root flare.
  2. Question:  ” How do I water this plant?”  Answer:  It depends on what the plant is and where it’s planted.  In general, keep it moist for the first few years, then supplement with water when dry in the years after that.

You have worked as a commercial grower as well as a home gardener.  How is commercial growing different from home gardening?

With commercial growing, you must please the customers so the plants must be of generous size,  a visually pleasing shape, and attractive coveted colors while the home grower must only please themselves.  However, with both types of growing, the gardener must still use diligence in fertilizing and awareness in scouting for the early signs of disease.

What advice do you have for hobby gardeners that would like to start growing in a home greenhouse?

Pansies photo by Wanette Lenling

Start simple.  Start with a handful of different types of plants and be prepared to care for them every day.  There are no days off.  Try growing some plants that are easy to grow from seed like tomatoes and peppers for vegetables and marigolds, petunias, and zinnias for flowers.

Dana’s Gardening Tip #3: “Don’t be afraid to try new things.  Plants die.  Keep going.”

You have worked a great deal with encouraging children to engage in gardening.  What is your motivation?

Container 2 planted by Dana. Photo by Wanette Lenling

Dana explained that she was encouraged at a young age by her mom and grandmother to engage in gardening. She mentioned the fact that some of the kids she worked with have never touched soil before.  She said that during her children’s potting class, kids get the tactile experience of touching and smelling the soil and the plants and working with the plants in order for them to grow in the child’s flower pot creation.

 

Dana’s garden book recommendation:  Small Space Gardening by Melinda Meyers.

Finally, you were trained in horticulture and agronomy before organic gardening became a trend.  How do you feel about organic gardening?

According to Dana, organic gardening has its place.  Dana said she understands the desire to use organic gardening with food plants for safety but not with ornamentals because you don’t eat them. She said she tried using organic methods in commercial growing but she didn’t have any luck with it so she reverted to the use of synthetics.

Big thanks to Dana for taking time out of her busy schedule to sit down with me to discuss gardening, a topic we both love.  Gardening is all about learning whether through your own research or by asking the experts.  Keep learning and growing my gardening friends.

Happy Gardening!

White spirea flower, Photo by Wanette Lenling

Quote of the Day

“Success is no accident.  It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

-Pele, retired Brazilian professional footballer

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INTERVIEWS WITH EXPERTS: Renita Kainz, Master Gardener

Renita Kainz has been a been a serious gardener since her early 20’s.  She has worked in the commercial garden industry for most of her adult life.  In 2008, Renita furthered her experience as a gardener by gaining formal horticultural training in the Master Gardener program.

Tip:  If you would like more information about becoming a master gardener, contact your local extension service for details.

I met with Renita for an enjoyable morning interview, after which she took me on a guided tour to view her large collection of potted plants, landscaped gardens, and amazing backyard greenhouse.  We talked about how she became interested in gardening and how gardening has played a central role in her life.  I asked her a few questions to learn more about her long-term dedication to the hobby she loves so much.

 

How did the interest in gardening begin?

Renita said grew up on a farm in a rural area watching both parents work the ground,  her mother through vegetable gardening and her father through farming.   Then, when Renita was in her teens, her mother brought home a collection of houseplants that tickled Renita’s passion for plants.  Renita said it was in her college days that she dove head-first into gardening herself when she came into ownership of her own large collection of houseplants.

How did that interest become a lifelong activity?

Renita said that in her 30’s, she began work as a seasonal greenhouse worker and once she began working at a greenhouse full-time, she was content and happy.  At that point, her passion for gardening stuck.

“Remember, every gardening year has successes and failures, just like people.”          – Renita Kainz          

Renita’s garden organization participation.

The Garden Plotters

Renita explained that in 2006, she, along with greenhouse co-workers, started a garden club known as the Garden Plotters. The club has evolved into a fun social group that allows members to share their passion for gardening.  The club meets monthly to share ideas, view local gardens, and listen to speakers among other things. The club members also volunteer time, energy, and money to Kuhnert Arboretum.  To date, the Garden Plotters have raised nearly $17,000 for Kuhnert Arboretum with their club’s annual plant sale.

Aberdeen Garden Plotters Photo from Kuhnert Arboretum Facebook Page
Photo courtesy of Kuhnert Arboretum Facebook page.

The 2018 Garden Plotter’s Plant Sale is celebrating its 10th Anniversary.  For more information about the annual plant sale, please check out the club’s Facebook page at Aberdeen Garden Plotters.

Master Gardener Program

Renita started her master gardener training in 2008 and became certified in 2010.  Since then she has been involved with the Prairie Partners Master Gardener Club,  holding office for six years, including serving as president for three.

Hardy Rosarians of South Dakota

Most recently, Renita joined the Hardy Rosarians of South Dakota. This club also volunteers time and resources to Kuhnert Arboretum, having designed and installed the recent rose garden addition which includes 100 roses of 51 varieties that are hardy in South Dakota’s Zone 4 climate zone.

Kuhnert Arboretum rose garden
Kuhnert Arboretum rose gardens. Photo courtesy of Kuhnert Arboretum Facebook page.

Any areas of specialty or favorite type of plants?

Renita said she doesn’t really have a favorite plant or area of gardening which she prefers.  She said that in general she loves landscape plants which include a variety of trees, shrubs, and perennials.  But, Renita said, as a hobby, she has a fondness for airplants, orchids, succulents, and exotic geraniums.

Gardening books Renita recommends:  Silent Spring by Rachel Carson,  The Truth About Garden Remedies by Jeff Gillman, and The Truth About Organic Gardening, also by Jeff Gillman.

Why is gardening organically important?

Renita said she has always loved nature.  She said she prefers organic gardening, as opposed to using synthetic chemicals, because not only do chemicals “smell bad” but as she has learned more and more about synthetic chemicals, she realized just how dangerous they are to people and the environment. Renita pointed out that synthetic chemicals sometimes kill off the beneficial microbes in the soil which help keep plants healthy and strong.

“If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your plants.” –Renita Kainz

What are three frequently asked gardening questions?

Renita said the most frequently asked question is, “How often should I water?” followed by, “What’s wrong with this plant?” and “What can I plant that I don’t have to do anything with?”  These are all very common garden questions that most gardeners face at some point.  The answers to these questions of course, rely on the details of the garden, the plant, or the gardener involved.

Column evergreen with metal flower

What are three gardening tips or hints every gardener should know?

  1.  “Tough love is better than too much kindness.”  Renita and I laughed about this hint because we agree that more plants are killed from too much attention than not enough.
  2. “Don’t be afraid to try anything.”  Renita said that she has killed far more plants than she has ever successfully grown, which I think most gardeners could agree with!
  3. “Do your own research, either through books, magazines, the internet, or by asking experts.”  Renita recommends educating yourself on your topic of interest prior to planting.  She cautioned that in regard to internet searches, it is best to use sites that end in .edu or .org as these sites can usually be trusted for accuracy. Use caution with information from other sites as the information may not be reliable.

What are the benefits of becoming a master gardener?

Renita said that master gardeners are trained in horticulture by experts in the field.  The “job” of the Master Gardener is to pass along this information to educate the public.  She said the experience allowed her to meet like-minded people and the training  satisfied her deep desire to keep learning about gardening, a subject she is very passionate about.

DSCF2544

It was great fun to interview Renita about her passion and expansive knowledge of gardening.  And, I was very honored to have a tour of her beautifully landscaped yard and awesome backyard greenhouse.  I hope this interview stoked your passion for gardening and all the joys that come with it.

The next interview in the Interviews with Experts series is with expert commercial grower and retail operations manager, Dana Althoff.  Until then,

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”

-Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturalist

 

 

Garden Tips and Helpful Hints

Sometimes as a gardener you have small questions that don’t require an extended answer.  Today I’m going to give you five helpful hints and garden tips for everyday garden questions.

 1. How do I know when to water my potted plants?

For most potted annual plants a good rule of thumb is to stick your finger into the soil up to your first knuckle.  If you feel moisture, hold off watering.  If you don’t feel any moisture, go ahead and water.  This is just a general guideline.  It works well for most potted annuals (that have good drainage) but doesn’t work well for plants like succulents which need much less water and plants like ferns which need more. Be sure to educate yourself on the water requirements of your specific potted plants.

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Annuals in a tree stump flower bed

2. Should I dead-head my garden plants?

Unless you want to save seeds, dead-heading garden plants keep them looking tidy and also encourages plants to produce more blossoms.  If you want to save seeds, don’t dead-head your plants.  Leave the expired blossoms on the plant.  Most plants, especially annuals and biennials (that are in their second year of growth) will produce seed heads or seed pods where the spent blossoms are located.  Simply collect the seeds, allow them to dry fully, and put them in containers until you’re ready to use them. (Don’t forget to label your seeds!)

 

3.  Should I mulch my garden and landscape?

You should use mulch in your landscape and garden to not only keep moisture in the ground but to keep the roots of your plants cool. Summer sun will heat up black dirt very very quickly and can damage sensitive roots.  You can use landscape rock or bark mulch in your landscape for a neat appearance and anything from straw to leaves in your vegetable garden which not only keeps moisture in but breaks down into compost to add nutrients to the soil as well.

 

4. When should I fertilize?

The general rule is to apply fertilizer in spring and fall but it depends on the kind of fertilizer you use.  Compost can be added at any time but adding it in the spring when you plant is best.  Slow release fertilizers are usually applied in spring and early fall.  This helps plants get going in the spring and build up nutrients for a winter’s rest.  Liquid fertilizers are generally applied weekly because they act fast and wash away quickly. Always read the label on manufactured fertilizers and follow the directions for proper application.

 

5. And finally, a question I am asked all the time is should you have a gardening buddy?

Yes.  I highly recommend a gardening buddy to cuddle with, oops I mean to visit with, while you enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

Happy gardening!

Quote of the Day

“I take care of my flowers and my cats. And enjoy food.  And that’s living.”

-Ursula Andress, Swiss actress

What Does Heirloom Mean In Gardening?

When you think of the word “heirloom” you may be thinking of your grandma’s china dishes that her mother received as a wedding gift or great-grandpa’s bamboo fishing pole that he used as a child to catch the perch in the lake in back of the cabin where he grew up. These items would be passed down from generation to generation to be cherished.  In gardening the term is actually used quite similarly.  Plants or cultivars of plants used to be passed down from generation to generation in families. They were considered heirlooms.  However, a more modern interpretation of the word “heirloom” in gardening is a plant that is openly pollinated by insects or the wind without mechanical means and the cultivar of the plant is at least 50 years to 100 years old.

 

 

Normally plant tags at the nursery or the plant description in a plant catalog or online will state whether the plant is considered an heirloom. This is a great selling point in gardening today.   Plants listed as GMO’s  or genetically modified organisms are never considered heirlooms so any plant that is listed as a GMO is disqualified from heirloom status no matter the age. Most plants are not labeled as GMO’s because in gardening today, this is not a selling point.  It’s probably safe to say that if a plant is not listed as an heirloom it is probably a GMO or it’s disqualified from heirloom status for another reason.

Any type of plant can be an heirloom.  Vegetables, decorative garden plants, trees, and shrubs can all be described as heirloom plants if they fall under the heirloom status.  There are some great companies, like Harvesting History , that sell heirloom plants and seeds.  I like heirloom plants because the fruits and vegetables tend to taste better than those that have been modified. And, I have found that heirloom flowers tend to have more fragrance than their modified counterparts.

There is a drawback to some heirloom plants, however.  Many times plant breeders breed new plants to make them resistant against disease that the heirloom plants are susceptible to.  For instance, garden phlox is extremely prone to a fungal disease called powdery mildew.  Breeders have created new cultivars of garden phlox to be more resistant to that particular disease.

Vegetables have also been modified to be more resistant to disease but they have also been modified for their looks and uses. For example, Beefsteak tomatoes were created specifically to use on sandwiches because one slice is big enough for the whole sandwich.  And, Roma tomatoes were created to use in tomato dishes because they are more meaty and less juicy so tomato sauces come out richer and thicker.

Trees and shrubs have also been modified by breeders for many reasons. For example, in my garden I have two mock-orange shrubs, one is an heirloom and one is modified.  The heirloom shrub has a single flower which means that there is one row of pedals around the outside of each flower similar to a daisy. The heirloom shrub is much taller than the modified version and it’s rather unsightly but the fragrance from the flowers is incredible.  The modified mock-orange, on the other hand, has beautiful double flowers which makes the flowers look more full and elegant but they lack the gorgeous fragrance of the heirloom flowers.  The modified mock-orange shrub is also rather dainty and quite compact making it an excellent foundation plant for the landscaping around the house.

So basically whether or not to plant heirloom plants comes down to the preference of the gardener.  There are pros and cons to both heirloom plants and modified cultivars.  Do your research and have fun choosing the new plants that are right for you and your garden.  The great fun in gardening is that you get to choose the plants and the design to create the garden of your dreams!

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat.”

-Beverley Nichols, English author

 

 

 

 

 

How to Safely Maintain a Mixed Landscape

Mixing edibles into the landscape with ornamentals creates a beautiful and interesting landscape that is also productive.  However, common synthetic landscape chemicals are not always recommended for use on edibles.  Plants absorb the chemicals we put on them through the roots and leaves.  The presence of these chemicals in and around the edible plant may make the plant and its produce unsafe for you and your family to eat.  So how do you maintain a healthy productive mixed landscape without the use of synthetic chemicals? By using safe organic alternatives to maintain your plants, it is possible to create a beautiful mixed landscape of  ornamentals and edibles without introducing unsafe toxins.

Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are very popular now and can be found at most local garden stores or online sites.  These fertilizers come in liquid, granular, and pellet forms. Use the fertilizer that is right for your landscape.  Some plants, like roses and blueberries, have special nutritional needs. These nutritional needs can be met by simply using specialized organic fertilizers.  Generally however a simple all purpose slow release fertilizer spread over your lawn and landscape twice a year is all it takes to keep your plants healthy and productive all summer long.

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Compost

Compost is always recommended to improve the texture of the soil but it also adds nutritional value and trace elements to the soil that are necessary for proper plant growth and food production.  Compost can be purchased at most local garden stores but for those gardeners that wish to create their own compost or for more information about the nutritional value of compost in your landscape, please refer to my article on compost that will explain the ins and outs of compost and compost production.   Compost. What’s The Big Deal?

*Hint: In home-made compost, use only yard and grass clippings that have not been treated with synthetic chemicals, especially herbicides.  Synthetic chemicals do not break down naturally and may remain in the compost. If herbicides are present in your compost, you could inadvertently kill your entire landscape when the compost is applied.

Herbicides (Weed Killers)

Weeds are the bane of any garden.  Keeping up with the weeding takes a lot of time and energy. The CobraHead Garden Tool makes this job a lot easier.  See my review of the CobraHead at The CobraHead. An Amazing Garden Tool. But to reduce the time it takes to weed by hand, herbicides can be applied to help control the weed population in your garden and landscape. Although there are a great number of synthetic herbicides on the market, they can be dangerous to humans and animals.  Luckily there are a number of natural herbicides available to help control the weeds in your landscape.

CobraHead and Mini CobraHead
CobraHead and Mini CobraHead garden tools

Corn Gluten Meal:  Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of milling corn.  It is a natural fertilizer that also works as a pre-emergent herbicide.  A pre-emergent herbicide stops the plant from taking root once the seed begins to grow.  Be aware that corn gluten meal will stop all seeds from taking root, including garden and grass seeds.  Read the manufacturer’s directions before using this product if you intend to plant seeds in your garden or over-seed your lawn.

Vinegar Vinegar:  An easy and inexpensive herbicide that is common in most households is plain white vinegar.  Vinegar contains acetic acid which is deadly to plants.  Common household vinegar is safe for humans but manufactured vinegar herbicides may contain a stronger vinegar solution which can be hazardous to humans and pets.  If you choose to purchase a manufactured vinegar herbicide, read the manufacturer’s label for instructions prior to use.

Vinegar works as a herbicide by drying up the leaves of the plant.  It works best on young plants and annual weeds.  It does not kill the root of the plant so several applications may be necessary to kill larger plants or perennial weeds.  To use common household vinegar as a herbicide, simply pour full strength vinegar into a spray bottle and spray on the leaves of the undesired plant.  Vinegar will kill all plants indiscriminately so it may help to use a piece of cardboard to protect desirable plants while spraying.  This will keep them safe from the vinegar spray. Repeat as necessary until weeds are gone.

Fungicide

To prevent outbreaks of fungus in the garden or to treat fungus that is already present, there are several organic solutions.  If one of the following solutions does not work, modify the strength of the solution or try another solution as some fungus is more susceptible to certain treatments than others.

Cinnamon:  Cinnamon is a natural anti-fungal.  It works on many types of fungus but is especially good at preventing damping-off disease on seedlings.  To treat new seedlings growing in starter trays, try sprinkling cinnamon on the soil.  Cinnamon can also be made into a “tea” by steeping one tablespoon of cinnamon in a gallon of hot water.  Leave it overnight to cool.  When it has cooled, filter the “tea”, then pour it into a spray bottle.  Spray the “tea” directly on the plants and the soil.  Spray once a week to prevent an outbreak or to treat a current fungal infection.

013.jpg  Milk:  Milk is also naturally anti-fungal.  Milk works on current fungal infections but also works as a preventative as well. Mix milk (2% works best) and water in a ratio of 1:4 in a spray bottle.  Spray it on the affected plant once a week, making sure to spray the underside of the leaves as well.  Milk works best if it is sprayed on the plant in the early morning or in the evening as it needs to stay moist to kill the fungus. Repeat until the fungus is gone.

Cedar Oil:  Cedar oil, which can be purchased at most garden stores, has been shown to have both anti-fungal and insecticidal qualities.  Cedar oil as an insecticide is discussed below.  Cedar oil as an anti-fungal is applied by spraying the affected plant and works similar to the milk treatment.  Read the manufacturer’s label for proper mixture strength and application instructions.

Insecticides (Bug killers) and Deterrents

Insecticides kill bugs, while other products act as a deterrent.  Attempting to kill all the insects in your garden or landscape is not recommended as beneficial insects, like bees and lady bugs are just that, beneficial. They pollinate your vegetables and eat the destructive insects like aphids.  However, killing or deterring detrimental insects will help keep your landscape beautiful, productive, and comfortable to work in.

Dish soap  Dish SoapDish soap in an excellent insecticide.  It is safe and effective for use in the landscape and garden.  Insecticidal soaps may be purchased at most garden stores. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for use.  To use regular dish soap as an insecticide on your plants, mix one tablespoon dish soap with one tablespoon olive oil or liquid vegetable oil in a spray bottle and fill the bottle with water.  Spray down the affected plant being sure to wet the leaves on the top and bottom.  Do not spray plants in direct sunlight as this may cause a condition called sun scald (sun burn) on your plant.  Also, some plants may be sensitive to dish soap so if in doubt, test the dish soap mixture on a small portion of the plant first and wait a few days.  If the plant remains healthy, it is probably safe to spray down the entire plant.

Dish soap insecticide works on contact with the body of the insect and has no residual effects so a few hours after treating your plant, use a hose or spray bottle with clean water, to wash down your plant and remove any soap residue and dead insects.  Repeat this process every three days until all signs of infestation are gone.

Cedar Oil:  Cedar wood smells good and has been used for hundreds of years to deter insects.  Cedar oil, when sprayed on the lawn, will deter fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and many other pest insects. There is a caveat.  Cedar oil will also deter beneficial insects like bees and butterflies so do not use it on plants that are in need of pollination, including garden vegetables and fruit trees, and in butterfly gardens.

Cedar oil is not harmful to plants, animals, or humans. It can be purchased at most garden stores or online.  Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application.

Diatomaceous Earth:  Diatomaceous earth has been used for many years as an effective insecticide.    It is silicon dioxide that comes from the fossilized remains of ancient algae that is mined from the ground.  It is non-toxic and safe for home and garden use.  Diatomaceous earth is generally sold as a powder and remains effective as long as it stays dry.  It can be used in the house any place insects hide or it can be used in the garden either on the ground or as a dust to protect plants from harmful insects.

The powder is comprised of sharp microscopic pieces that cut the insect’s underside causing damage leading to dehydration and death.  It works best on soft bodied insects like aphids and gastropods like slugs and snails. Even though diatomaceous earth is non-toxic, care should be taken not to breath in the dust or get it in your eyes due to the substance’s sharp microscopic texture.  Using gloves and a mask is recommended to apply this product and always read the package instructions for proper use.

Beer or copper for Slugs:  Slugs can be a problem for any gardener.  They chew holes in leaves and can devastate plants in a short amount of time.  As I have already covered this topic thoroughly in a previous post I will simply add the link here:   The Trouble With Slugs  Mixing edibles into the landscape with your existing ornamentals can be extremely appealing visually as well as a productive use of your landscape space. With careful  organic plant maintenance, your plantings will be safe, productive, and very beautiful!

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“You’ve got to out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”

-Will Rogers, American Actor

Bonus Quote:

“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”

-Moliere, French playwright and actor

 

 

 

Ew! Why Is the Bottom of My Tomato Rotten?

If the tomato is still on the vine and the bottom is black or brown and looks rotten,  it is likely a condition called blossom-end rot. Blossom-end rot is  a calcium deficiency in the plant.  This condition can affect tomatoes but it can also affect peppers, squash, eggplant, cucumber, and melons. Look for the tell-tale signs of black or brown rotten spots on the fruit or vegetable.  If you are experiencing this in your garden, don’t worry, you aren’t alone.  Most gardeners have had to deal with this issue at some point in time.

(Note. Affected fruits and vegetables should be not be consumed and should be discarded.)

What Causes Blossom-end rot?

Blossom-end rot is a condition in which there is a lack of calcium in the plant.  There are several possible causes for this issue to develop including the following:

  1.  The soil lacks calcium.
  2. The calcium in the soil  is plentiful but is chemically bound up and unavailable to your plant.
  3. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen derived from ammonia.
  4. Inconsistent moisture levels.

 What is the solution to Blossom-end rot?

Soil PH.  First check the soil ph. If the ph of the soil is wrong, adding more calcium to the soil won’t help.  Testing kits  that check soil ph can be purchased at most garden stores or online for under $10.00.  Follow the directions on the package to test your soil.  Ideally your soil should have a ph of 6.5 to 6.8.  If the ph is not within this range, certain nutrients, like calcium,  will be chemically bound up and unavailable for absorption. If your test shows a ph higher than 6.8, then your soil is alkaline and you will need to add sulfur to lower the ph.  If the ph is lower than 6.5, then you have acidic soil and you will need to add lime to raise the ph. Lime has the added benefit in that it actually contains calcium that your plants can use.

Lack of Calcium.  Second, if you tested the soil and the soil ph is not the problem, then the problem may be a lack of calcium in the soil. Even though as previously stated, lime contains calcium, if the soil ph is within the 6.5 to 6.8 range, then adding lime will throw off the ph.  In this case, add gypsum.  Gypsum adds calcium and it will not change the soil ph, however, it will add salt so follow the directions on the package.  Too much salt in the soil adds a whole new set of problems to the garden that you don’t want.

For a longer term solution to calcium deficiency in your soil, add bone meal or egg shells to the garden.  Both bone meal and eggs shells are comprised of calcium.  These organic forms of calcium need time to break down into a source that is usable by plants so it may take a year or more before results can be seen.

Fertilizer.  Third, the problem may lie with your fertilizer. Fertilizers with a lot of nitrogen, especially nitrogen derived from ammonia, cause the plant to grow too fast and the plant is not able to absorb enough calcium to keep up with its growth rate.  I always suggest organic fertilizers and compost.  These fertilizers come from natural sources and add nutrients and trace minerals slowly  and in amounts that your plants need for proper growth. Synthetic slow release fertilizers are also a good option as they are easy to apply and they slowly release the nutrients your plants need over the course of the growing season. Synthetic liquid fertilizers must be applied again and again over the growing season, they tend to add salt to the soil, and they also promote unnatural growth in plants so I don’t usually recommend them for in-ground gardens. (Container plants are the exception for synthetic liquid fertilizers.)

Watering.  Finally, make sure that you are keeping your garden consistently moist.  Alternating between wet conditions and then extreme dry conditions may interfere with your plant’s ability to absorb calcium.  This is especially true in potted plants. To keep your garden consistently moist it is important to water your garden adequately, regularly, and in the proper amounts.  Watering will depend on the weather and your soil.  Heavy clay soil tends to hold moisture and sandy soil tends to dry out too quickly by wicking water away. Both types of soils should be amended with generous amounts of compost to add organic matter, improve soil quality, and help maintain moisture levels for healthy vital garden plants.

To keep soil consistently moist, soaker hose works best and is easy to use.  Soaker hose is usually black in color and it’s porous.  The water in the hose slowly drips from the entire length of the hose.  Lay the soaker hose along the length of your plant row and turn the water on for about 20 minutes to slowly water your plants.   This time may need to be adjusted depending on your soil structure.  The ground should be wet several inches down but don’t allow standing water to form that doesn’t soak in within a short period of time.  That means there is too much water. Check the soil every few days.  If the soil looks dry on top and it’s dry if you stick your finger in the ground about 2 inches, then water again.

Sprinklers are commonly used to water gardens.  Sprinklers provide adequate water but they can cause problems with disease, especially fungal issues. If you use a sprinkler, always water your garden in the morning. This allows the plants to dry fully before the afternoon sun hits. Watering your garden in the hot afternoon sun  can cause burns (called sun scald) on your plants. Watering at night is also not recommended as it allows water to sit on the plants for a length of time which encourages disease and rot. Watering in the morning is best and can be made more convenient by the use of timers that can be purchased at garden stores or online.

Blossom-end rot is a condition that is easily controlled if you know why it happens and the step to take to cure it.  Every gardener will deal with this issue at some time.  If it happens to you, throw out the infected fruit, go through the steps to check the cause and apply the appropriate remedy.  In no time at all, you’ll have beautiful tomatoes growing in your garden ready to pick for that amazing evening dish!

Happy Gardening!

 

Quote of the Day

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”  – Brian O’Driscoll