As I sit at my desk, watching the snow come down during our first blizzard, I am daydreaming of spring planting. On my desk, gardening books and catalogs lay open to designs I love and plants I would like to have. Graph paper and color pencils are patiently waiting as ideas begin to form. If you are like me, when one growing season ends, it’s time to start planning the next.
I love design. I love planning for new flower beds and borders. I also love to redesign old gardens with new walkways, trellises, or arbors along with flowers. Fences can also add to the landscape by separating large gardens into smaller spaces.
After settling on the new hardscape (walkways, retaining walls, etc.), it’s time to delve into the joy of picking out the new plantings. It’s fun to pick out new perennials such as roses, delphiniums, peonies, and lilies but don’t forget to include decorative trees, like birch and canadian cherry, and shrubs, like viburnum and lilac. Mixing flowers in with trees and shrubs gives your new garden the thoughtful balanced look every designer craves. This is where planning is really important.
Adding trees and shrubs to the new landscaping will create a vision of beauty in your garden, however, there are some things to consider when doing so. Trees and shrubs are more permanent parts of the landscape than annual and perennial flowers. Annual flowers must be replanted ever year and most perennial flowers that come up every year can be easily moved. This is not the case with trees and shrubs. It is important to take into consideration how large a tree or shrub will get at maturity, how long it takes to reach maturity, and the plant’s long term needs. For example, a small white pine tree may look elegant in the landscaping next to a red brick home but within a few short years it will outgrow the space and it will need to be removed. A better option for such a space would be to plant an aborvaete or juniper that grows vertically and slender. This will still give the homeowner the elegant evergreen appearance and the plant will be able to thrive in that space for many years to come.
Color and bloom time for each plant is also a consideration when planning a new garden or landscape. Some plants, like hostas and coral bells, are grown strickly for their foliage texture and color. However, plants like peonies and lilacs, which are grown for their showy colorful blooms, have a definite bloom time. It is important to plan around the bloom time of each plant to allow your garden to have consistent bloom coverage for the entire growing season. To get the most from your garden, plant a mix of flowers and shrubs in the colors you like that start blooming in early spring, like tulips and forsythia, with summer bloomimg plants, like coneflowers and viburnum, and fall blooming plants, like mums and asters. Then, to make sure there is no time your garden color falls flat, add in some annuals for all season color and a show-stopping look.
Planning your new garden or redesigning an old one is fun way to stay in the gardening spirit even when the snow is falling outside. And, creating a good plan ahead of time will give you a beautiful garden or landscape that is colorful and inviting all season long!
Quote of the Day
A black cat among roses, phlox, lilac-misted under a quarter moon, the sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock. The garden is very still. It is dazed with moonlight, contented with perfume…
― Amy Lowell, American poet
Saving garden seeds is easy and inexpensive. I began saving seeds in law school as a way to save money. I bought an organic acorn squash at the local grocery. I ate the squash and dried the seeds. Over the summer, I planted the seeds and I harvested 75 squash to take back to school with me. My supply of squash lasted me the entire school year!
And, saving seeds from plants you love allows you to reproduce your favorite plants over and over again without spending a dime. (Hint* If your plant is a hybrid, plants produced by their seed may look or taste completely different. Look at the plant tag or the seed packet to determine whether your plant is a hybrid. To reproduce identical plants from seed, use heirloom seeds or plants. )
Coneflower seed head
Coneflower seed heads
In order to save seeds from a flowering plant you must stop deadheading to allow the flowers to mature into seed heads. When the flowers shrivel up, seed heads or seed pods will become evident. Allow the seed heads or seed pods to mature and dry on the plant. If the seed heads or seed pods are on a plant that will drop its seeds, like petunias, or blow away, like garden thistle, simple place a piece of nylon stocking over the seed pod or seed head and secure it with garden twine to catch the seeds.
Collecting seeds from a seed head is as simple as snipping the seed head off the flower and shaking or pulling the seeds off . To collect the seeds from a seed pod, however, you remove the pod from the flower stem, open it, and shake the seeds into a container. Or, snip the seed pod off the plant and allow it to fall directly into a paper bag. Seal the top of the paper bag and shake it vigorously. This will shake the seeds lose from the seed pod. Then gather the seeds from the bottom of the bag and place them in a container or envelope. Store in a cool dry area.
If there is moisture remaining on the seeds, such as from dew or precipitation, allow the seeds to dry completely for a few days to a week in a brown paper bag prior to putting them in a sealed container or envelope. Or, lay a paper towel or clean cloth on a cookie sheet and place the seeds in a single layer on cookie tray. Let the seeds dry in a dim, dry, cool area for a week or more before placing the seeds into a container or an envelope. Finally, label the envelope or container and store in a cool dry place.
Seeds from vegetables are generally harvested from the fruit itself, however there are exceptions. Some of the easiest plants to harvest seeds from is the squash or the pumpkin. Simply cut open the pumpkin or squash and remove the seeds and the pulp. Next place the seeds and pulp in a kitchen strainer and wash them with cool water. Continue to rinse under cool water until all the pulp is removed and the seeds are clean. Spread a paper towel or clean cloth on a cookie pan and spread the seeds out in a single layer on the pan careful to remove any small, damaged, or immature seeds. Leave the seeds to dry in a dim, dry, cool place for a week or two. Then transfer the seeds into a clean jar or envelope. Don’t forget to label your container.
Tomato seeds can be saved using the same process as pumpkin or squash. Simply cut open a tomato and squeeze the seeds and pulp out into a strainer. Tomato seeds are much tinier than pumpkin seeds so use a strainer with a fine grid. Rinse them under cool water until the seeds are clean and all the pulp is removed. Lay the cleaned seeds out on a clean cloth or paper towel and allow to dry for a week or two. Periodically during the drying process, run your hands over the seeds to separate the seeds into a single layer to dry completely as the seeds tend to stick together when wet. You can also follow a more rigorous process called fermentation for tomato seeds that I found on Permaculture Research Institute website. I have never tried this method of saving seeds but I’d love to hear your thoughts about this process if you try it.
Carrots and celery, both of which are Biennials , are among a group of vegetables whose seeds are harvested like those of flowering plants, but are harvested after the second year’s growth. The tops of these plants flower and set seed after the second year. To thoroughly dry the seed heads, cut the seed heads from the plant and place the whole seed head in a brown paper bag up to a week to finish drying. When the seed heads are thoroughly dry, shake the bag to release the seeds from the seed heads. Gather the seeds from the bottom of the bag and place them in an envelope or jar to be kept for planting the following year.
These are just a few suggestions on saving seeds for a few different flowers and vegetables. If you have questions about saving seeds from specific plants, don’t hesitate to do a quick online search on trusted sites. Saving seeds is easy, it saves money, and it allows you to reproduce your favorite plants. But remember, hybrid plants don’t reproduce by seed to create an identical plant, but heirloom seeds do, so try ordering seeds from heirloom seed suppliers like Harvesting History
Good luck and Happy Gardening!
Quote of the Day
“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”
-Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturalist and writer
Biennials comprise some of the most beautiful flowers in the landscape. Biennials include such lovely flowers as hollyhocks, sweet william (also called dianthus), and foxglove. But what exactly is a biennial and how do you grow it?
What is a biennial?
To answer the question, “What is a biennial?”, it may help to first define the other types of flowers that are more well known. Annuals are flower that must be planted every year. They grow, set seed, and die within the same season. They don’t come back. Perennials are flowers that grow, flower, die back to the ground, and come back the following year and the year after and so on.
Biennials are odd in that they combine the behaviors of both annuals and perennials. Biennials sprout from seed the first year. The plants focus all their energy on growing sturdy roots and healthy greens but will not flower during the first year of growth. Biennials will then die back to the ground for the winter and come back the following spring. In the second year of growth, the biennials create a stunning display of flowers and set seed. After setting seed, biennial plants die completely and don’t come back. So a biennial grows the first year and dies back to the ground for the winter like a perennial. The following year the biennial will flower, set seed, and die, root and all, like an annual.
How do you grow a biennial?
Because of the interesting growing behavior of biennials, there is a trick to growing them. In order to have beautiful flowers every year when you start biennials, plant biennials by seed for two years consecutively or plant potted biennials for several years in a row. Thereafter, either let the seeds fall to the ground or collect the seeds to reseed the following year. This means do not deadhead your biennial flowers. Instead, allow the flower head to dry up and collect the seeds to replant the following season or allow them to drop to the ground so the plant reseeds itself. This process of planting will give you a never ending supply of biennial flowers year after year after year.
How are biennials special?
Biennials are a special type of plant. They have a fascinating mix of annual and perennial growth behavior. In order to have their flowering presence in the garden every year, the gardener must follow a special process. However, biennials are well worth the effort. They have some of the most beautiful flowers of any garden plant.
It’s September. The nighttime temperatures are beginning to drop. The morning air is crisp and cool. The summer sun is setting, fall is coming, and winter will soon be here. It’s time to begin thinking about preparing your landscape for winter. The question is, “What do I have to do to prepare my perennials for winter?”
First of all, what the heck is a perennial?
One of the questions that first time gardeners always ask is what is the difference between a perennial flower and an annual flower. It’s simple. Annuals have to be planted yearly (annually) and perennials come back up year after year (perennially). Annuals include such flowers as petunias, impatiens, and alyssum. Perennials include such garden favorites as daylilies, hostas, and coral bells. Whereas annuals live for one season, set their seeds and die, perennial plants hibernate during the winter only to burst forth in the spring with new growth when the weather warms. There is also a whole other set of plants called biennials that act like both perennials and annuals! I won’t cover biennials here as I will tackle that subject in an upcoming blog so stay tuned!
In the fall, annual flowers can be dug up and discarded into the compost pile. Their life cycle is complete and they will need to be replanted either by seed or as transplants the following spring. So then, the question remains: “What do I do with my perennials for the winter?”
Do I have to cut down my perennials in the fall?
I have both cut down my perennials for winter and left them up. As a naturalist organic gardener, I prefer to leave my healthy perennials uncut for winter when I can. In nature, as plants die back in fall, the base of the plant is insulated from the cold with the plants own dead leaves and other garden debris like fallen tree leaves. Snow acts as a secondary insulation keeping the ground temperatures stable and creating a barrier between the plant and the biting cold air. With a moderate amount of snow cover, the ground temperature, even near the surface, will actually hover just below freezing. This is why water pipes do not freeze when they are buried underground!
For a more concrete example of layered insulation, think of how a home is insulated with multiple layers of insulation. There is siding on your house under which is sheeting to keep out moisture and drafts and then there is fiberglass or blown insulation in the walls between the studs. Mother nature uses the same concept of multiple layers of insulation to keep plants protected from harsh winter weather.
What do I need to do to protect my perennials when I cut them down for winter?
It is not uncommon for gardeners to cut down all their perennials in fall. It keeps your yard looking neat and tidy and prepares the landscape for next spring. And, if you live in an area with a Home Owners Association, you may be required to clean up your landscape in the fall to stay within the rules of the HOA. There is nothing wrong with cleaning up your landscape in the fall. In fact, if you have had any insect, bacterial, or fungal infestations, you definitely want to remove the greens from at least those plants. Throw this plant material away rather than putting it in the compost pile as it may spread the problem onto next year’s landscape.
If you choose to cut down your perennials, it is a good idea to cover them with a layer of mulch several inches thick to protect them from the winter air. The mulch can be anything from purchased wood mulch to straw or tree leaves. Leave the mulch on the perennials for the duration of the winter. In the spring, carefully rake the mulch away, uncovering your perennials, to allow the spring sun to warm the ground. Your perennials should wake from their slumber and begin to grow.
It is especially important to cover tender perennials, even if you don’t cut them off. A tender perennial is basically a perennial that a gardener is attempting to grow in a climate zone with harsher winter temperatures than what is generally recommended for that plant. For example, a zone 5 perennial grown in zone 4 would be considered a tender perennial in zone 4. The plant will need much more care in zone 4 in order to help it survive the winter, if it will at all. (Please see the following link to learn more about your growing zone: USDA Zone Map ) If you are attempting to grow a plant in a colder zone than is recommended, please do a search on the particular plant you are attempting to grow in order to find out what professionals or other gardeners recommend for winter protection for that specific plant in your specific area. It may save you the heartache of having to replace your plant in the spring.
Perennials with a purpose.
There are some plants you may want to consider leaving up for the winter simply because of their striking beauty or usefulness.
Upright sedum such as ‘Autumn Joy’ and ornamental grasses like ‘Karl Forester’ look gorgeous in the winter landscape. Dried sedum flower heads with a soft dusting of snow covering them add interest to the winter landscape and the movement of ornamental grasses in the winter breeze surrounded by snow is undeniably beautiful. Another noteworthy exception is red twig dogwood. Even though it is a woody shrub and not a perennial flower many people cut it down in the fall. It is definitely worth leaving up for its striking red winter color.
Some other perennials that you may also consider leaving up are flowers with seeds that are consumed by birds like coneflowers and black-eyed susans. Coreopsis, or tickseed as it is commonly called, is also a favorite of winter wildlife. The birds will love the winter buffet and you get to enjoy the view!
A little preparation in the fall on your part is all it takes to insure that your plants have a great shot of surviving the winter weather. It’s well worth the time and effort when you see those same plants bringing your garden to life in the spring.
Quote of the Day
“The spring, summer, is quite a hectic time for people in their lives, but then it comes to autumn, and to winter, and you can’t but help think back to the year that was, and then hopefully looking forward to the year that is approaching.”
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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 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!
Mock Orange Shrub in bloom
hosta with slug damage
Cabbage: Photo by Wanette Lenling
Hemerocallis photo by Wanette Lenling
Quote of the Day
“You’ve got to out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”
-Will Rogers, American Actor
“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”
Daily announcements of fall plant sales have been filling up my inbox recently. “Buy now!”, “Huge sale”, these ads say. My advice is, buy now! Here’s why:
Huge savings for you.
You benefit with extremely low prices from the company trying to clear out its inventory. At the nursery where I used to work, we always had huge fall sales with drastic cuts in prices because any plants we had to keep for the winter had to be stored. Storing all those plants required a lot of labor and work hours for which the company received no profit. Then in the spring, we would have to pull all those plants out of storage again which took a lot of labor and work hours. There is no profit in this for the company, therefore they would rather sell off their inventory at drastically reduced prices than store plants for winter. Therefore You benefit! As the consumer, you get really really low prices for plants that would have cost you double or even triple the price in the spring.
If you buy plants at fall sales, it’s still ok to plant them. In fact, fall is the best time for transplanting many flowers including daylilies, irises, and peonies. Some plants may not look the best because they are no longer actively growing on top but there is still plenty of time for the roots to grow down before winter. Water the plant well when you plant it (or transplant it) and keep it moist until such time as evening temperatures are at the freezing point and daytime temperatures are cool. Then stop watering to allow the roots to dry out. Wet roots rot so you only want the roots to remain moist but not wet for the winter.
In the colder climate zones, cover any new plants or transplants with leaves, mulch, or straw for the winter to ensure they stay insulated and warm for the winter. Also, when you plant or transplant in the fall, don’t fertilize your plants. You don’t want to encourage new growth. It may damage or kill your new plant as winter sets in. You want them stop growing and setting in for winter weather.
Designate an area of the yard for sale plants
For sale plants that don’t have a place in your garden yet, designate an out-of-site area in your yard to heel the plants in for winter and make sure to label them if necessary so you don’t forget what you bought. Over the winter, you can plan and map out your new garden arrangement. Then in the spring, move your new plants to their designated spot and watch them grow!
Hint: Heeling plants in simply means temporarily planting plants until their permanent planting area is ready. For a great demonstration of heeling plants in check out this video I found on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZI6Cb_4AOM
Take advantage of those plant sales. It will save you a lot of money in the end and you may even be able to afford that expensive plant you have been coveting but could not afford until now. Besides, in the spring, think of the fun you get to have creating new areas of the garden without spending a dime!
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:
The soil lacks calcium.
The calcium in the soil is plentiful but is chemically bound up and unavailable to your plant.
Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen derived from ammonia.
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!
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