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Friday, July 29, 2011

Water Regularly to Keep Your Plants Alive

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

Water to Keep Your Plants Alive

My father had a theory about watering plants. He said that once you start watering plants in a dry season, they come to depend on it, therefore, he wouldn’t start. Of course he was right, once you start watering garden plants, they do start depending on you. But the alternative is to let your plants die, or wait so long to begin watering that they are so completely stressed they won’t recover.

Here are some suggestions for keeping your plants alive. With trees and shrubs you planted this spring (or even last fall), they need a minimum of 10 gallons of water a week, allowed to soak in slowly. It’s better if they have two 10 gallon buckets full a week, soaked in slowly. Don’t make the mistake of soaking them every day, too much water is almost as bad as not enough; the roots will sit there in the wet and not grow at all. If you paid out good money for the tree you planted back in the spring, then weekly watering to keep it alive is a good investment in a shade tree of the future.

With lawns, 3 waterings a week, about 2 hours each time, should keep the grass green. However some varieties of grass will go dormant in dry weather. Bermuda grass, for example, will survive the heat and drought and when it starts raining again, will commence growing again. Bluegrass or similar turf grass lawns, by contrast, need a constant supply of moisture, so it’s best to water those every other day.

Roses and tomatoes both do best if watered in early morning. If you are one of those folks who likes to take the garden hose and spray down your roses or tomatoes late in the afternoon, wetting down the plants and shooting a bit at the roots, then you are doing more harm than good. Both roses and tomato plants are prone to fungal problems, and fungus spores love a hot, wet environment. That method of watering insures you will have blackspot and mildew on your roses because the leaves stay wet overnight. It insures your tomatoes will develop wilt faster, and spread quicker, as well. A much safer and more efficient method is to use a soaker hose in your row of tomatoes and soak them for about an hour, twice each week. Or, use the garden hose without a nozzle, and soak around each tomato plant (or rose bush) for 2 minutes, move on to the next one then come back and do the first one again. Aim only at the root area, don’t soak the leaves. If you must use an overhead sprinkler, use it in the early morning so that the air and sunlight evaporates the moisture from the leaves quickly.

For herbs of most any kind, along with beans and carrots, they are less picky about how they receive water. Overhead sprinklers are fine, soaker hoses work well, too. But with peppers and eggplant, they also do best if watered early in the morning rather than late in the evening. Peppers, eggplants and tomatoes are all distant cousins and while peppers and eggplants don’t suffer from as many fungal problems as tomatoes, keeping their foliage dry when you water the roots is best.
The important thing is don’t use my father’s advice. He would let his garden plants suffer until they couldn’t be revived with water. The better method is to water your plants on a regular basis, not daily because the roots need to go a bit deeper. But 2 or 3 times each week, soak the roots of all your plants well and they will have a very good chance of making it through this persistent drought.

Click the “Follow this blog” button, and you will receive a notice each time a new column appears. Stay cool and keep your plants healthy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Worst Garden Year!

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

“Worst Garden Year, Ever”

This week I was in upper Michigan, between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The temperatures should be fairly mild there, but instead, were in the mid-90s. Not nearly as bad as the 105 degrees we had in Taney County, MO the day I left, but still hot for those folks.

My reason for being there was to speak at the International Herb Association conference, which draws people from as far away as California, Virginia, Massachusetts, Florida and Texas. The big topic between events and in the evenings, was how difficult a garden year this is. For everyone. I kept hearing, “this is the worst garden year ever!”

Hearing people from across the country telling their garden woes, somehow eased a little of my own discouragement. This is a tough garden year, for everyone.

First, we had too much rain, too little sunshine and longer cool temperatures than are ideal. From the chilly, wet spring we went directly into heat, wind and drought. Plants in the spring didn’t put down deep roots due to the excess moisture. Then when the rains quit, plants suffered from too shallow roots, which in turn, stressed out the leaves and tops.

When plants struggle, like tomatoes, corn, kale and other crops have in these past few weeks, insect pests launch their attack. Insects can sense when a plant is under stress, and they start chewing.

This year we’ve been struggling with squash vine borers for the first time, coupled with cucumber beetles and squash bugs. Fortunately, Japanese beetles are fewer this year in our garden, due in part, I believe, to the Milky Spore Bacteria I’ve been applying spring and fall. It takes awhile for that to have an effect, but it seems to be doing its job.

We’re getting crops of tomatoes, beans, peppers and more, but not in the quantities we’d expect. When temperatures climb over 90 degrees, tomato plants start dropping their flowers instead of setting fruit. We have soaker hoses in most beds, lots of mulch on everything and using all the organic methods we can to keep plants alive and happy, but it’s hard to do anything about the intense heat.

So, if it’s any consolation to your gardening woes this summer, you’re not alone. Lots of us are in the same boat and gardens everywhere are struggling.

Here's what a friend told me he uses for squash vine borers and says it works pretty well:
When you see the hole at the base of the plant where the squash vine borer has entered, stick a crochet hook into the hole and pull out, and kill the borer. Then pile up soil around the wound on the squash stem. The squash will send out roots into the new soil above where the borer was, and the vine will be saved.

He also sprinkles several moth balls around the base of squash plants just as they begin to bloom. Evidently the moth that lays the egg of the borer doesn't like the smell of moth balls and avoids most of the squash!

Happy gardening!