Gardening Daily Tips July 22

Friday July 22, 2011

Larkspur, Delphinium (Delphinium elatum)

Today’s Featured Plant
Larkspur, Delphinium (Delphinium elatum)

Read the full profile of this plant at

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Q&A: Powdery Mildew

Question: Many of my plants, including bee balm, phlox, and squash, have a white, powdery coating on the leaves. I have researched this and have concluded it is powdery mildew. Do you agree? What can I do to control it and keep it from spreading to other plants?

Answer: It does, indeed, sound like powdery mildew. The bad news is that this fungal disease overwinters on living plants, and can be difficult to eradicate. There’s some good news, though. First of all, specific strains of the mildew affect different types of plants, so, for example, the powdery mildew on your squash won’t spread to your perennials. Also, plant breeders have developed powdery-mildew-resistant varieties of many types of plants, so consider this when choosing new plants. There are some things you can do to minimize problems with powdery mildew. This disease is unique among plant diseases in that it doesn’t require a wet leaf surface to spread. It can thus thrive during hot, dry weather. The general advice to inhibit the spread of fungal diseases is to avoid wetting leaf surfaces. In the case of powdery mildew, however, you can actually inhibit infection with periodic strong sprays of water (not so strong as to damage the plant.) Here are some general rules for control. Start by making sure that your plants are getting enough direct sunlight. (Eight to ten hours a day is generally the minimum for plants that flower or bear fruit.) You’ll also want to make sure that there’s enough room between plants for air to circulate freely. Overcrowding not only makes plants more susceptible to diseases, if leaves touch other plants, those diseases can easily be spread. Some people report success with this home-made spray: Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 2 1/2 tablespoons of ultra-fine horticultural oil in a gallon of water. Apply as a spray as soon as the mildew appears and every 10-14 days thereafter. Be sure to coat all surfaces.

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Q&A: Something Eating My Tomatoes

Question: I believe moles are eating my tomato plants, mainly the fruit. What can I do to keep them away?

Answer: Moles are probably not the culprit. Likely tomato tasters include birds (mockingbirds are especially notorious), varmints like oppossums and racoons (they usually steal the whole fruit, not just take a bite and leave it on the plant), squirrels, and turtles (they can only reach the very lowest fruit). Examine your fruit including where on the plant the damage is seen. I suspect bird pecks are the likely cause but a close examination may indicate otherwise. If birds are the problem, netting to exclude them and scare tactics are the most common remedies. Some gardeners claim that red painted ornaments placed in the bush prior to fruit ripening work by giving the birds the idea that “those red things aren’t worth messing with”. Try it and see if it works for you. Just remember, you have to do it before they get a real taste!

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Q&A: Flowers That Self Sow

Question: How do I find out which of my flowers will self-sow? Should I never pick the blooms? I would love my garden to “naturalize”, so should I wait until a certain time to turn the soil to give the fallen seeds a chance to sprout?

Answer: Quite a number of flowers will readily self-sow, including annuals such as sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) and pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis), and perennials such as purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), Virginia spiderworts (Tradescantia virginiana), gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta), and garden phlox (Phlox paniculata). Note, however, that subsequent generations of flowers may not be identical to the parents, especially if the parents are hybrids. If you want to increase your population of any particular flower, let the seedheads form on the plant and then pluck them off, open the seedpod, and sprinkle the seeds in the garden. If you want to renovate the garden, or till the soil, then collect the dry seedheads and store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark location over the winter months. In the spring, after you’ve prepared the soil, sprinkle the seeds where you want the plants to grow. To naturalize an area, you just need to be able to identify the baby plants so you don’t mistake them for weeds and accidentally pull them out. Try to keep most of the spent flowers picked off during the early part of the summer or the plants will put their energy into producing seeds instead of producing more blooms. Let the very last flowers in the late summer become your source for seeds for the new plants. These end-of-the season seedheads are the ones you should harvest for sprinkling in the garden or saving for next spring.

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Tip: Plan for Affordable Drifts of Bulbs

A natural looking drift of spring-blooming bulbs requires more than a few flowers. To establish an impressive display within budget, contact friends before fall catalogs arrive so you can purchase a large quantity, saving as much as fifty percent. Look for bulbs described as being “naturalizers” or “perennializers.” These types will multiply faster and should be spaced slightly further apart when planting.

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Tip: Leave as Much Foliage as Possible on Lilies

Once they’re finished flowering, cut back lily stalks by one third, leaving the rest of the foliage in place to replenish the bulbs. Or, if you’re cutting lilies for bouquets, cut as short a stem as possible to leave the maximum amount of foliage on the plant.

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80 Comic Strips Now Available by Email!

ArcaMax has added dozens of new comic strips to its Comics page, including Archie, Hi and Lois, and 77 others. Subscribe to as many as you like via email, and start your day with a laugh!

Visit the Comics page and subscribe or read online right away.

— From the ArcaMax editors

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