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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Tomato Wilting During Midday Resolved at Planting Time

Q. My tomatoes are wilting.  I don't think I am over watering or under watering them.  Besides they like water, don't they?

Fertilizers like this 6 – 20 – 20 make a
good starter fertilizer because of its high
phosphorus content (middle 20)
and relatively low nitrogen content (6),
A. Sometimes we see vegetables like tomatoes wilt during midday when it is hot and the plant roots cannot supply the water needed by its leaves. The plant recovers (stops wilting) during the cooler part of the day.

About 40% of the water needed by plants comes from the top 25% of its root system. Plants wilt midday particularly if the size and depth of its roots are inadequate compared to its top.

When first transplanting tomato plants into the ground, bury the roots about 3 to 4 inches below the surface of amended garden soil. This means digging the hole for the transplant 3 to 4 inches deeper than the container.

Before planting, remove enough of the bottom leaves so these leaves are not buried in the soil. Ideally, wait 24 hours after removing the leaves before planting. It is best if fresh damage to the stem made by removing leaves is not below ground.

Once the roots are placed this deep, amended soil fills the planting hole and is watered in. Amended soil should contain fresh compost and a starter fertilizer high in phosphorus (the middle number).  Tomatoes are somewhat unique in the vegetable world because they will grow new roots from the portion of the stem underground.

Horse bedding made from pine shavings makes a very good
surface mulch for vegetables because it decomposes
easily at the end of a growing season.
This type of planting technique provides for a deeper and larger root system capable of supplying more water and nutrients to the plant. This can be particularly important with home gardeners who tend to “push” the growth of their tomato plants with heavy applications of nitrogen fertilizers.

A word of caution. The soil used when planting deep must be amended so that it drains easily.

Mulches applied to the soil surface help to reduce wilting. These surface mulches should easily decompose in soil used for growing vegetables. 

Personally, I prefer horse bedding made from wood shavings to most other types of mulches. It decomposes easily in the soil at the end of a growing season and contains no weed seed. Other types of mulches include straw and shredded paper.

I have shifted to horse bedding because it is usually cheaper and works better than straw. The one I'm using right now I'm getting from Viragrow in Las Vegas and runs about seven or eight dollars for a 4 cubic foot bag.

I take handfuls of this and drop it on either side of my transplants so it covers the soil with about a 2 inch layer of horse bedding. The horse bedding is pine shavings and it decomposes very easily into garden soil at the end of a growing season which straw does not do as easily. It does not blow easily either.

Hopefully you amended your soil to encourage deeper rooting. Garden soils should be amended each year with about a 1 to 2 inch layer of compost and double dug 6 to 8 inches deep. I would try the horse bedding and see if that helps.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Petunias Not Flowering?

Q. I took a sample leaf from my petunias into the nursery. They have little black spots on the leaf. I was told it was inch worm and to flood the pot and look for the worm. I haven't found it and I'm afraid it will spread if I get more plants. What can I do?

A. This is tobacco budworm. Spray with either Bt (Dipel or Thuricide) or Spinosad. Follow the label directions. Repeat sprays when necessary. These feed on the flower buds and prevent flowering. You can also use a conventional spray such as Sevin insecticide if that does not work. Do not use Sevin on plants that are in bloom.

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