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Grow disease free tomatoes, here's how

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog 20150606dohomesblight1This tomato is infected with septoria leaf spot. Photo by Doug Oster

By Doug Oster/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Everyone knows homegrown tomatoes are the best. Summer isn’t complete without them. But it’s been challenging the last few seasons to grow disease-free plants.
It’s no surprise that spring temperatures fluctuate from hot and humid to brisk and rainy. But two consecutive wet seasons and another moist, cool spring has gardeners worried about fungal diseases on their most precious crop. Early blight and septoria leaf spot are the first two culprits that start to appear in June and July.
The early diseases start with bottom leaves turning yellow and blotchy, eventually drying to brown and dropping off the stems. Then the disease works its way up the plant. Most times tomatoes can survive and produce fruit, but not as well as healthy plants.
The first thing gardeners can do is to give the plant everything it needs at planting time and plenty of space between plants (5 feet if possible). A planting hole filled with compost will keep the plants strong and it’s also a natural fungicide. The organic soil amendment is available in bags or by the truckload. Many gardeners make their own by composting food scraps and garden refuse.
Another line of defense is a layer of mulch, which provides a barrier between soil-borne spores and plants. Removing some lower leaves helps too; spores thrown up by splashing rain will have farther to go. Those fungal spores are always in the soil and when things are both cool and wet, they thrive.
Leaves which stay wet for a day or so invite infection.That’s why you should always water tomatoes in the morning, to give the foliage time to dry out.
Keep the plants off the ground too. Grow them in cages or up stakes. At planting time, I surround mine with a homemade cylinder of concrete reinforcing wire 5 feet tall. A tomato stake attached to the cage stops a huge tomato plant from toppling the cage in August.
One of the best ways I’ve found to avoid fungal issues is succession planting. After the first crop is planted, find space for some more plants to be added every week, all the way until July 1.
I first discovered the technique after some of my invaluable (wife’s favorite) ‘Sungold’ cherry tomato plants were crushed by a black cherry tree during a nasty mid-June thunderstorm.There were three more scraggly plants in the greenhouse that I planted on July 15. I’d never planted that late, but the plants loved the warm soil and air temperatures. By the end of the season, when my earlier crop was succumbing to fungal diseases, those plants were thriving. They all had the same weather from June 15 on, but the greenhouse plants didn’t go through the cold, wet spring that the early ones did.
When choosing plants for later plantings, go with varieties that are bred to ripen early. Cherry tomatoes, ‘Early Girl’ and patio tomatoes are all good choices. Each plant tag will be labeled with days to maturity. ‘Sungold,’ for instance, is ready in a little over 50 days from transplant. Planting it on July 1 will give the plant time to mature before frost.
Serenade is a great, easy to find organic fungicide that is effective in combating many fungal issues. It’s a biological control with targets the spores themselves and stops them from reproducing. It’s a safe alternative to chemical fungicides. Another way to deal with fungal problems is choose many different tomato varieties to grow. Each one reacts differently to diseases.
If plants contract one of the early diseases, remove the infected foliage and treat with the Serenade. They usually put on fresh growth where those yellow leaves were and should keep producing.
Crop rotation is also important; don’t plant tomatoes in the same place every year. In my garden, there’s only one place with enough sun for the plants. I add lots of compost, and then plant, mulch, cage and hope for a dry “Italian summer.”
The weather is really the most important factor in keeping tomatoes healthy. A hot, dry summer is what tomatoes love and also gives fruit the best flavor.
One of the worst things that can happen in the tomato garden is late blight, which is fatal to the plants. Several seasons ago, our gardens were decimated by an epidemic. Late blight looks very different than the earlier diseases. It turns leaves, stems and fruit black, often starting at the top of the plant. It’s airborne and relatively rare. I’ve only dealt with it three times in as many decades.
Since the spores are spread by the wind, we usually have a warning that it’s coming. That’s when plants should be treated with fungicide as a preventative measure. There are also varieties that are late blight resistant. ‘Legend,’ ‘Defiant,’ ‘Mountain Merit’ and others are bred to fight off the disease. Any infected plant must be removed and destroyed to stop the spread of late blight.
Most importantly, identify the disease before taking action, regardless of what the plants look like. Blossom end rot is another disease that turns the bottoms of tomatoes black and is sometimes mistaken for late blight. I’ve known gardeners who have pulled all their plants thinking they had late blight, when it was something else.
By the way, blossom end rot is prevented by keeping the soil evenly moist. It often affects container plants that dry out between waterings.

When the weather doesn’t cooperate, tomatoes can be a little bit of a challenge, but worth  the trouble to taste warm, ripe fruit while standing in the garden this summer.

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#SettingTheSEEN: M is for Mattress!

Written by Natalie Bencivenga on .

This week on Setting the SEEN, Sara Bauknecht and I hang out at The Mattress Factory Museum on the North Side to preview (one of my favorite events of the year) The Urban Garden Party. The theme is "M" is for Mattress...so you can imagine how people are going to interpret that! (I hope to see plenty of Michael Jacksons, Madonnas, and Marilyn Monroes!)

And until next time...we'll be seeing you!

Follow @NBSeen on Twitter and @NatalieBenci on Instagram to keep up with #wheresNataliePG

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Free hummingbird feeder and class at Penn Hills Lawn and Garden Saturday

Written by Doug Oster on .

20070429do hummingbird 450Foxglove is one of the plants hummingbirds are drawn to. Photo by Doug OsterI'll be joined by my old friend Bob Mulvihill from the National Aviary on Saturday at 11 a.m. to teach you everything we know about hummingbirds at Penn Hills Lawn and Garden.

Bob will explain how to use feeders to bring them close to the house and teach important facts about the birds.

I'll go over all the plants which can be grown to help feed and attract hummers.

I also have some cool hummingbird feeders to giveaway courtesy of Cole's Wild Bird Seed.

Please call Penn Hills Lawn and Garden Center at 412-241-0411 to register for the free class.

 

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Here's how to grow roses organically

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog carlotta wet roseThere's nothing like the beauty of a rose. Photo by Doug Oster

Roses have a reputation for being hard to grow, but make them happy and they will reward you with decades of beautiful blooms.

In this segment from KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live, I demonstrate how easy it is to be successful when growing roses.

Roses are really pretty easy to grow if you make them happy. First thing is to find the right place for them. Most like full sun, but they will limp along with less than nominal light. My garden doesn’t have full sun, so I plant them where they get as much as possible and also choose varieties that don’t mind a little shade like ‘Zephirine Drouhin.’ That’s the thornless climber I brought on the show. Decades ago I saw it in a Park Seed catalog and fell in love with the plant. Sometimes those early crushes capture us for a lifetime. I’m compelled to grow the rose in my garden. I planted a second one this spring, but baby rabbits have done a number on the plant. Hot Pepper Wax will prevent any further damage.
Flower Carpet roses are tough and beautiful. Knock Out roses are pretty easy to grow too. One of the most popular roses this year is Anna’s Promise, named for a character from Downton Abbey.

Roses should be planted in good soil amended with compost and fed monthly with Rosetone, an easy to find, inexpensive, organic granular fertilizer.

Chewing insects like Japanese beetles can be easily controlled with an organic product called Capt. Jack’s Dead Bug Brew from Bonide. Most good garden centers will carry it. It can’t harm us, our pets, good bugs or the environment.

The most problematic disease is called black spot and it’s easily prevented using a homemade remedy called the Cornell Mixture. Take one gallon of water and mix in a tablespoon of baking soda, tablespoon of horticultural oil (available at garden centers) and a drop of unscented dish soap. Put the mixture in a sprayer and treat the plant every couple weeks if the weather is wet, cold and or humid.

Serenade is a commercially available organic fungicide which also works great.

Find the right rose for you to love, it will return the affection time and time again in the form of flowers and fragrance.

All the plants on the show came from Hahn Nursery.

Stop and smell the roses might be a cliche, but it’s more relevant today than ever.

 

 

 

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Free Annual Hosta Show Saturday at Soergel Orchards (cool, rare plants for sale too)

Written by Doug Oster on .

 blog beautiful unknown hostaHostas come in many sizes and forms and you'll see most of them at the Annual Hosta Show at Soergel Orchards. Photo by Doug Oster

The Daffodil and Hosta Society of Western Pa. are holding their annual Hosta Show on Saturday June 6, 2015 at Soergel Orchards from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

If you grow hostas, you can compete for ribbons at the event. Registrations for the competition are accepted on Friday June 5 from five until eight p.m. and Saturday June 6 from eight until 10 a.m.

The competition is open to members and non-members of the organization. After the leaves are judged the show is open to the public. Gardeners can get a look at a wide variety of plants and ask questions about how they grow too. The judging is usually later in the day.

I attended the show last year and the hostas for sale were amazing. Get there right at 10 a.m. if you want to get your hands of something special. There's been a trend towards hostas with red stems (petioles), I wish I would have been there earlier as they were all marked sold. Still, I picked up a few other cool varieties for the garden.

For more information about the show, contact Jim Kalka at 724-933-3382.

 

           

         

           

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