3 Signs That Leaf Curl isn’t the Death of Your Tomato Plants

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Many of us gardeners are impatient when it comes to growing things. We plop plants or seeds into the ground and want to be harvesting next week. Perhaps it’s the influence of today’s “immediate gratification” technology, but when our plants finally begin to grow and then look somewhat sickly, panic and worry can set in.

I recently had such a panic when my tomato plants’ leaves started to curl. Fortunately, I’m learning patience and waiting for them to come out of their funk. Things still look promising for a good harvest.

To begin with, I followed a popular recommendation that you plant your tomatoes deeply. These illustrations show the visible plant before and after planting. I also include them as reference for the growth they’ve shown in photos below.

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Tomato plant before planting

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Tomato planted deeply for better root growth and strength

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tomato plant leaf curl

Leaf Curl

The leaf curl shown here is what got me worried. It first started about a week after I put them in the ground. However, this is what I discovered it meant and what I hope provides you some relief as well.

Leaf curl in tomatoes means that the plant has realized its root system is not developed enough to withstand the warmer season to come. In an effort to concentrate more of its energy to root growth, the leaves curl, effectively reducing the foliage surface exposed to the sun.

I like the idea that a plant can take care of itself, provided you continue a regular and normal watering regimen. Here’s what you can look for to assure yourself that your tomatoes will survive.

 

  1. Color – As long as the foliage remains a healthy green color, things are well hydrated and fine.

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    Curled tomato leaf shows good green color and soft, leathery texture

 

  1. Texture – It’s normal and good for the leaves to have a soft, leathery texture.

 

 

  1. New Growth – Always a good thing! Just remember to pinch the suckers. Your plants don’t need any more energy-robbing issues than they’re already going through.

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I hope you don’t have this issue with your tomato plants, but if so, I hope that yours come out of it like mine appear to be.

As for the patience thing … I still want fresh tomatoes TOMORROW!

Thanks for reading.

Wishing you happy and healthful gardening.

Darren

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How to Keep Your Columbine Plants Blooming Year After Year

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One of my favorite garden flowers is the Columbine. If you’ve read some of my posts before, you know this has a lot to do with how easy they are to grow and propagate. I’m lazy and frugal that way, I guess. But I also find great enjoyment in the success of seeing my plants grow and keeping my favorites from year to year by propagating them myself.

columbine foliage

Two years ago I bought a couple of established columbines for a flower bed. One didn’t fare so well, but the other has been a joy and is still doing well. It’s been through two winters without mulching and has come back each spring with vigor.

Last fall I discovered, quite by accident and curiosity, that I could harvest the seed pods that had formed from the wilted flowers. (I got a little lazy with my deadheading). I planted several seeds in pots and placed them in my greenhouse for the winter. I’m happy to say that last week I transplanted 8 new columbines into the flower bed to keep the mother plant company!

Propagation Options

Growing my new plants from seed was truly as easy as I’ve explained here. Although germination of seeds will take anywhere from 15 – 30 days, the only care they need is a bright window and regular watering to keep them moist, just as you would care for most other plants.

columbine white

An alternative propagation method is to divide the plants when they are mature. I would only advise this for potted columbine because uprooting the plant is much easier than digging it out of the ground. Simply pull apart the plant with care and place each in new locations.

Columbines are prolific re-seeders and are supposed to self-propagate quite readily if you don’t deadhead the flowers. But, I never had such luck with mine. Perhaps you have or will. If so, more power to you!

Reasons to Love Them

Besides the fact that they’re easy to grow and have beautiful foliage and color variety, here are some other reasons to enjoy columbine in your garden:

  • They’ll fill that partly shady spot perfectly or do just as well hanging in a basket on the patio.
  • They’re loved by bees and hummingbirds. We all need pollinators and who doesn’t love hummingbirds?
  • They’re a perennial and cold-hardy to zone 3. No need to mulch in winter for us here in zone 7!
  • They come in an assortment of colors like white, pink, blue, purple, and combinations of these. You’ll surely find the perfect, complimentary color for your garden.

columbine pink & purple

Life Span

Now that you know how easy columbine are to grow from seed or division, there’s one last thing to remember to keep your blooms coming every year.

The life span of the columbine plant is only 3 – 5 years. I didn’t realize this until recently and I’m lucky that I started my new plants for this year. My mother plant is on its third year and might not come back next year.

The other important part to know about this plant is new plants won’t flower until their second year. So, if I lose the mother after this year, I can rest assured that I’ll have eight others bursting with blooms that season anyway!

I hope you’ll try it out for yourself. Just keep these tips in mind:

  1. Plant in a partly shady spot, avoiding afternoon sun, in moist but well-drained soil. (Columbines are actually quite drought resistant, so don’t panic if you forget to water once in a while).
  2. Deadhead for prolific reblooming.
  3. Gather seed pods after the frost. Keep them in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks before planting (it’s a dormancy thing).
  4. Be patient after planting seeds. You’ll see them after 20 – 30 days.
  5. Remember the biennial nature of the columbine and plant new seeds every other year.

Thanks for reading. Wishing you happy and healthful gardening.

Darren

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March Plant of the Month?… Shamrock Plant, of Course!

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You don’t need the luck of the Irish to grow this nifty plant. The shamrock plant (also known as wood sorrel) is easily grown in pots indoors or out. The luckiest are those who live in the southern hardiness zones where winter freezes aren’t a problem and can grow these jewels outside in the yard.

The shamrock plant, despite the association with St. Patrick’s Day, is actually native to South America. It has unique tri-lobed leaves and provides white or pink blooms. It loves bright, indirect light, but will tolerate some shade. You’ll also want to provide it with well-drained, but regularly moist soil. The only exception to the moist soil is during dormancy.

shamrock plant

Give It a Rest

The shamrock plant grows from a tuber (or bulb) and like other plants of this kind, it needs a rest two or three times per year. It’s a kind of brief dormancy and you’ll know when it’s time by the appearance of the foliage. When the leaves start looking more thin and weak than usual, stop watering and allow the leaves to turn brown. Once they have all turned brown, pull off all the leaves and store the plant in a cool, dry place for about 3 months.

After this time, water the plant well to make sure the soil is moist again. You can add a houseplant fertilizer or compost tea if you like. Let the soil nearly dry out completely before watering again. This will prevent you from overwatering. Shamrock plants hate wet feet!

Keep the soil moist, not wet, and in about two weeks you should see new growth appear. This is when you can divide and multiply!

Double Your Luck!burgundy shamrock

If one shamrock plant is great, why not grow more with no more expense than your time? Here’s how to be successful at that:

  1. Once new growth appears after dormancy, gently lift the tubers out of the pot, taking care not to damage the new foliage starts.
  2. The new bulbs you see growing from the sides of the mother tuber are what you use to propagate. Split them off from the mother with roots and new shoots attached.
  3. Plant each new bulb section in a pot of its own in a soil based potting mix just below the surface; roots down, shoots up.
  4. Water the propagated plants thoroughly. Some recommend fertilizing on a 3-week schedule with a liquid houseplant fertilizer, but be careful. Over-fertilization will cause foliage to yellow and die back.
  5. Place the new plants in a brightly lit area, but avoid harsh, direct sunlight on the leaves. Keep the soil moist as you would with a mature plant.

The shamrock plant grows best in daytime temperatures between 60°-70° and overnight temperatures between 55°-65°. It’s a wonderful springtime plant with unique foliage that signals the arrival of spring in the brightest way. Best of luck and I hope you enjoy yours.

Thanks for reading. Wishing you happy and healthful gardening.

Darren

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10 Garden Vegetables for Hot Weather

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Yes, I know that it’s still February and winter is still hanging on tightly. But this past week has been unseasonably warm in my area and it got me anxiously looking forward to summertime gardening. Besides, hasn’t anyone ever told you that if you’re cold you should think warm thoughts? Well, here are mine.

This list of garden veggies that thrive in hot conditions are just some of my favorites, both to grow and eat. Whether you choose to grow some or all of them, I recommend that you consider the instructions on the seed packet for planting or research on your own if you’re buying established plants for transplanting. But I’ve included some interesting facts about each one to help you enjoy them more.

Hardiness zone 7 (where I am) covers a huge geographical area of the country, so planting dates will vary drastically. You can check out your hardiness zone by clicking on the link I have in the left sidebar under “blogroll” or by contacting your local horticultural center.

As for the area here in central Oklahoma, these plants all require warm soil and mild overnight temperatures that remain above 60°F. It’s usually wise not to plant any of them before April 15th.

The “Hot” List

  • Tomatoes:  If you start them from seeds indoors, grow them to at least 8” before transplanting. Bury the plants deeper than they are in the pots.  Some even say you can plant them past the bottom few rows of leaves. After they are about 3 feet tall, remove the leaves from the bottom 1 foot of stem. These leaves are the most susceptible to fungus and disease. To help with fruit production, be sure to pinch the suckers. Spraying weekly with compost tea is effective for warding off fungus diseases.
  • Peppers:  Just pick a variety. All peppers do well in the heat. They are self-pollinators though, so don’t plant sweet and hot varieties too close together. Cross-pollination by insects can occur. This won’t affect your crop, but it will affect the genetics of the seeds. Something to keep in mind if you save your own seeds.
  • Eggplant:  It’s a good idea to start these seeds indoors about 8 weeks before the last expected frost and don’t transplant them until at least 2 weeks after the last frost. Eggplant requires warm soil and overnight temperatures of at least 65°F. It’s a very heavy feeder, so side dressing with compost or fertilizer twice a month helps.

Did You Know?  Peppers and eggplant are part of the tomato family!

  • Squash:  Another food hog. Squash needs regular fertilization or composting. It can be a rangy plant, but you can “train” the vines by moving them a little each day in the direction you want them to grow. Also, burying the vines with a couple inches of soil will encourage secondary root growth. Pruning every third vine without fruit can add size to the existing fruit, but the drawback is fewer vines means less possible production.
  • Watermelon:  Yet another heavy feeder … getting the idea that big fruit = big appetite? Watermelon needs high nitrogen until flowers form. Then, you should switch to high phosphorous and potassium. This kind of attention to fertilizer types is why I prefer the easier (or lazier) use of compost. Keep the soil moist at all times (after all, it’s watermelon). Covering the vines with a few inches of soil will promote secondary root growth and add many pounds to the fruit.
  • Cucumbers:  This plant has good nutrients for skin, hair, and nails. (No wonder it’s in so many health and beauty products.) By nature, it’s a climbing vine and trellising helps with fruit health and increased production. Cucumbers have a shallow root system, so it’s advisable to water frequently and weed by hand. It also produces male and female flowers on the same plant. Hopefully, you have natural pollinators to do the work, but you can help them by using a brush to move male flower pollen to the female flower (see my post on “Fruitless Cucumbers?”).

Did You Know?  Watermelon and cucumbers are part of the squash family!

  • Corn:  This plant is wind pollinated, so close planting helps the male tassels contact the female silks. Harvest when you see fat, dark green ears with brown tassels. Squeeze to test for firmness and a rounded, not pointed tip. A punctured kernel should spurt a milky liquid if it’s ripe.
  • Snap Beans:  Beans and most other legumes work together with bacteria in the soil to produce their own nitrogen. So, after planting in a rich soil, there’s usually no need to continue feeding after growth. They are a very prolific producer. Healthy plants can rebloom and give a second (even a third) production of beans.
  • Okra:  These plants produce an irritant to the skin. The “spineless” varieties can be less offensive, but it’s still a good idea to wear gloves if you’re particularly sensitive. Okra is a fast grower and can reach heights of 6 feet! Harvesting encourages additional production and the pods should be cut from the stem when they are between 2 and 4 inches long. Longer fruit can become woody and tough.

Did You Know?  Okra flowers resemble hibiscus because they are in the same family, along with cotton and hollyhocks!

  • Cowpeas:  Also (and more popularly) known as black eyed peas, this legume also produces its own nitrogen. The young, tender leaves are edible and can be added to salad or cooked like spinach. Don’t forget to freeze some for your New Year’s Day helping.

That’s it!  When summer turns up the heat, I hope that you have at least some of these great vegetables in your garden to enjoy growing and eating.

Thanks for reading. Wishing you happy and healthful gardening.

Darren

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Spider Plant … Not as Scary as It Sounds

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Don’t like spiders?  Then you can call it by its other common name, an airplane plant (if you’re afraid of flying as well, I’m out of ideas).   By either name, this houseplant is a wonderful and easy plant to grow that provides cascading beauty and even helps improve your home air quality! images[8]

The “spider plant” name comes from the most recognizable feature of the plant that is the “babies” hanging from offshoots of the mother plant.  They appear as spiders dangling from a stout web.  The alternative name of “airplane plant” (perhaps created by an arachnophobe) refers to the dangling young plants as resembling twirling propellers.

No matter what you decide to call it, this plant is a great hanging basket addition to your indoor growers.  The spider plant needs bright light, but not direct sunlight.  It also will do well in a cool room, but you must water it at least once a week to keep it healthy and green.

If you notice brown tips and edges on the foliage it is likely due to a watering condition.  Obviously, if the soil is dry, water more frequently than once a week if necessary to maintain moisture.  However, if the soil is adequately moist, then the chemicals in the water may be to blame.  Don’t worry.  This is a sturdy plant.  You can tear (recommended rather than cutting with shears) the brown off of the plant and continue your watering regimen with distilled water.  The chemicals that caused the browning will not kill the plant if you continue to use tap water, but the brown foliage condition will return.

Making Spider Babies

As for propagation, it’s a breeze.  You know those “babies” bungee jumping over the edge of the pot?  That’s where you start. images[9] (2)

Hardcore gardeners (unlike me) will recommend that you provide a small pot filled with soil for the babies to take root while still attached to the mother plant.  However, putting the babies into the soil immediately, whether attached to the mother or not, requires you to stay very attentive to watering … probably daily.  If the soil dries out for even one day, the plant will not survive to adulthood.

So, my preferred method is lazier, but more assured of survival for the new plant.  Just like many other species that I’ve talked about (wandering Jews for example); you can place the babies in water until roots sprout.  Simply pull off as many offshoot babies as you want to establish as new plants and place them in a jar of water.  In a couple of weeks, the roots will be visible.  Now you can plant the sprout in a pot of soil and be more assured of root health without having to worry about watering daily.

Go Forth, and Multiply!

The spider plant is a great plant for beginner gardeners or those who want a great plant with minimal fuss.  A single plant will produce many offshoots that are easy to propagate into new plants and increase your own numbers while still having plenty to give to others if you wish.  While they are perfect for hanging baskets, some have placed them in flower beds as a type of border plant.  I’m not sure how well the spider plant would fare even in the southernmost hardiness zones since direct sunlight is detrimental to the plant.

But, what the heck.  Try it out if you want to.  At least you know that you’ll have plenty of spider babies to propagate in other places.  And, just maybe, the border plant will work for you as something like liriope on steroids… hey, maybe that’s the name for those with nightmares about “spiders on a plane”!

Thanks for reading.  Wishing you happy and healthful gardening.

Darren

Organic Control of Leafminers

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Darren:

Some wonderful additional organic pest control methods here.

Originally posted on Organic Gardening News and Info:

If your plant leaves appear like a kid was doodling squiggly lines, you have leafminers. Leafminers are larval (maggot) stage of insects that live in and eat the leaf tissue of plants. They appear in spring, like young robins and daffodils, but are nowhere near as welcome. The vast majority of leaf-mining insects are moths (Lepidoptera), sawflies (Hymenoptera), flies (Diptera), though beetles  (Coleoptera) also exhibit this behavior.

Leafminer damage.

Leafminer damage.

Host Plants

Host plants include apple, beans, beets, blackberries, cabbage, citrus plants, Swiss chard, lettuce, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, onions, spinach and a variety of ornamental flowers especially chrysanthemum and nasturtium, trees and shrubs.

Description

On vegetable crops, the most common leafminers belong to the genus Liriomyza.

Adults are small (1/10th of an inch or 2.5 mm long) black and yellow flies with clear wings and are similar in appearance to small, hunch-back house flies. Sometimes the flies are more…

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What Bugs Me is …

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Squash vine borers!squash vine borer

Of all the garden pests I’ve encountered, this critter has been the most destructive.  I’ve planted acorn, zucchini, and yellow varieties of squash and also pumpkin twice in the past three years.  My yield?  A BIG FAT ZERO!

The first year that I planted squash and pumpkin I was eager to have a good harvest for eating and for pumpkin carving.  My garden had done well and produced everything else I planted in abundance, so why shouldn’t the squash and pumpkin, right?

Because of the squash vine borer!squash vine borer eggs (2)

This flying menace is mega-destructive and very difficult to rid or kill.  On a hot June afternoon of that first squash planting year I noticed a flying insect that I hadn’t ever seen before.  At first, I thought it was a wasp because of its flying characteristics and the buzzing sound.  I noticed that it was particularly interested in my squash and pumpkin plants, but I didn’t want to kill it before I knew what it was.  An avid gardener knows that there are many beneficial insects in the garden.

After some quick research, my panic mode kicked in.  Surprisingly, this bug is a member of the moth family … but that’s where the similarities end.  This winged, garden bane flies like a wasp during the heat of the day instead of in drunken circles at night like a normal moth.

The adults emerge in late June from cocoons in the ground.  The females lay eggs on the underside of leaves and the larvae emerge about a week later.

squash vine borer eggsThese larvae then bore into the stems of your precious squash vines and start munching away.  As they fatten up on your investment, they block the water flow to the rest of the plant.  That’s why the first sign of them is severe wilting.  After about 4 – 6 weeks, they burrow into the soil to pupate and return the next summer.

An advanced sign of their presence is an excretion from the stalk of the plant, called frass.  Disgusting.  It’s a yellow-orange colored ooze that, from a short distance, resembles sawdust.  Once you see this (like I did) the game is pretty much over.

squash vine borer larvae

I battled these larvae that first year, using a pen-knife to cut open the stalk and kill them.  It was too late by then.  My plants were decimated.  I skipped planting squash and pumpkin the next year.  I tried again the following year and, again, the horde returned.  I didn’t do battle with them that time.  When I realized what I had, I just pulled up the plants and trashed them in order to keep the larvae from returning to the soil.

There is no reliable way to kill the larvae once they’re in the plant.  Take it from me … if you see the frass, just pull up the plant and dispose of it in the trash (not the compost!).  More than one larva can attack a single plant and you’ll slice and dice your plants trying to remove them until you’re exhausted and still lose the plant anyway.

There is good news on the battle front, though.  If you’re able to put in the time and effort, you can prevent the eggs from being laid in the first place.

To start, place a yellow container of water (apparently the squash vine borer’s favorite color) in the area of the plants.  Check the container daily for drowned or drowning perpetrators.  When you see some, it’s time to take further action.

I’m not going to mention some of the chemical remedies that are marginally effective because I try to practice chemical-free gardening.  But, row covers are a good next step.  Keeping the plants netted will prevent the adult fliers from being able to lay eggs on the leaves.  Make sure that the covers are secured well enough to keep the borers from getting underneath.  Just keep in mind that if you have flowers on the plants, your pollinators won’t have access either.  Pollination will be up to you.

Keep the plants covered for at least two weeks after seeing the first adult borer.  After that amount of time, their laying period should have ended and the threat gone.

Another plan (and one that I intend to implement) is to wait until after the first week of July to plant.  Typically, a second planting of summer squash will not mature until after the egg-laying season of the squash vine borer has passed.  Since I live in a hardiness zone where I can enjoy gardening well into October, this seems like the least labor intensive way to defeat the pests.

I hope that you never see in your own garden one of these nuisances illustrated here.  But if you do, I also hope that some of this information will help you to preserve some of your crop.  Good luck in squashing those buggers! … (pun intended).

Thanks for reading.  Wishing you happy and healthful gardening.

Darren