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Is The Weather Causing Fruit Drop and Excessive Seeds On Maple Trees?

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written June 25, 2015

Earlier this month some gardeners noticed that a number of small apples were dropping off their trees and wondered why it was happening. There are three different types of “fruit-drop” that backyard orchardists may observe.

Fruit drop very early in the season is linked to pollination. Apples and pears require cross-pollination for fruit to form. Cross-pollination is the exchange of pollen from the flowers of one variety to the flowers of a different variety of the same type of fruit.

Cross-pollination is needed for fruit development to occur in many tree fruit, like apples and pears. If adequate cross-pollination does not occur, fruit may start to develop but then drop from the tree. This typically happens soon after the flower petals drop. It occurs because there are not enough viable seed within the fruit producing the plant growth regulating chemicals needed for fruit development.

Lack of pollination can be the result of not having a compatible variety nearby to enable cross-pollination, frost, a deficit of bees and other pollinators, or weather conditions that deter bee activity during bloom, such as rain or strong winds.

Apple or pear fruit may also be observed dropping in early summer. This is called “June-drop.”  The drop is usually due to the crop load of the tree. June-drop is a way for the tree to thin itself because it can not support all the fruit that were pollinated and developing on the tree.

This self-thinning allows more of the tree’s carbohydrate resources to go into the development of fruit left on the tree. Backyard fruit growers can avoid an excessive June-drop by thinning or removing extra fruit early in the season, allowing only one fruit per cluster to develop and spacing these an average of six inches apart on the branches. This results in the development of larger fruit instead of many small fruit or considerable fruit loss from June-drop. June-drop may be extraordinarily heavy if late spring weather is hot.

If fruit drop occurs close to harvest, it is called “pre-harvest fruit drop.” This may be caused by a heavy fruit load, high temperatures, wormy fruit, or drought stress.

Local gardeners are also noticing another phenomenon this year, the production of an excessive  amount of seeds on maples and other trees this spring. I was once told that trees produce copious amounts seed like this when stress triggers them to “think” they are dying and driving them to procreate. This is only a partially correct untechnical explanation.

Abnormally large seed crops may be due to heat or drought stress that occurred the previous year, but it may also be due to spring weather the current year. Maples do flower quite early in the spring and their flowers are subject to spring frost damage. Mild spring weather with no killing frosts allows for good pollination and the development of more seeds than in most years.

Scientists have also discovered that some types of trees normally bear heavier seed crops every other year or every few years.  There is even a phenomena called “masting” where some trees, such as oaks, produce massive seed crops on cycles of three to twelve years. This occurs over large regions and is thought to have evolutionary significance within forest ecosystems.

When it comes the abundance of seeds this spring on local maples and other trees, it could be due to the mild spring weather, stress last summer, or cyclical seed bearing… or maybe all three.

Borers Attack Stressed Local Trees

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written June 18, 2015

The discovery of holes in a tree’s trunk or branches usually means it has been the victim of a boring insect attack. While it is alarming to discover an increasing number of trees with significant borer damage, it is not unexpected. Most borers take advantage of trees weakened by drought stress, injury, insects, or disease. Several years of extremely dry winters along with last summer’s extreme heat has stressed local trees and shrubs, making them vulnerable to attack. Some of the dastardly culprits attacking local trees include the:

Ash Borer (a.k.a lilac borer) – The adult is a moth that looks like a yellowjacket. It primarily attacks ash, lilac, and privet. The moth lays its eggs on the bark. They hatch into small larvae that tunnel into trunk and branch wood, weakening it. The larvae pupate and emerge from the tree in May or June leaving noticeable 1/4″ exit holes.

Redheaded Ash Borer – The adult is a “longhorned” reddish brown beetle with an elongated body and long antennae. It also resembles a yellowjacket because of the yellow to white horizontal bands on its back. While called an “ash borer” it attacks a wide variety of trees including ash, linden, oak, and others. Like many other borers, it lays its eggs on the bark of stressed or dying trees. These hatch and then eat their way under the bark and tunnel into the wood as they mature. There may be more than one generation of these borers a year with adult beetles emerging from spring through summer and leaving 1/4″ exit holes.

Bark Beetles – There are a number of different types of bark beetles and one or more of these are attacking local stressed arborvitae and other evergreens. Typically, the adults are little, .08″ long, brown beetles. What they lack in size they make up for in number. They feed directly under the bark of trees and shrubs, creating serpentine paths as they eat. Their feeding can girdle trunks and branches, cutting off the tree’s access to water and nutrients. Their exit holes are pencil-point sized.

Other borers that commonly attack landscape trees in this area are the bronze birch borer, the peach borer, and the locust borer.

Unfortunately, pesticide applications are not very effective for borer control in attacked and dying trees. Sprays made to the bark surface will not kill any borers residing under the bark or within the wood. For sprays to be effective they would need to be applied when the adults emerge. Timing of sprays is critical and they may need to be reapplied if the insect emerges over a span of several months or has several generations a year.

There are some systemic insecticides that are applied as a drench to the base of trees and taken up into plant tissues. These are only effective on some flatheaded borers, like the bronze birch borer, that spend most of their time feeding in tissue just beneath bark. They are not effective in controlling borers that eat mostly in tree wood.

WSU Extension experts indicate that the best control for any borers is to keep your trees healthy and vigorous to prevent attack. This is sage advice, but too little too late for attacked and dying trees.

Local Evergreens Turning Brown and Dying

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written June 11, 2015

Several weeks ago I noted that a number of our local landscape plants were showing signs of problems related to last year’s hot summer and other extraordinary weather events. Now hot weather has arrived much too early and local pines, arborvitae, juniper, and other evergreens are “dropping like flies” causing shock and dismay. Both old mature trees planted 20 years ago or more and younger ones planted less than five years ago are turning brown and dying.

There are a number of factors that have led to this widespread browning and dieback of local evergreens. One is the watering habit of many tree owners. Despite me frequently urging owners to deep water trees and shrubs weekly during hot weather, few actually do this. Instead they rely on lawn watering during the growing season to meet the needs of their trees. This is typically very shallow watering and has subjected a number of trees to years of chronic drought stress. The cumulative effect of this stress has weakened the trees and made them more vulnerable to the weather extremes we experienced last year.

Past winter drought stress is another likely factor in evergreen dieback. While this past winter was fairly “wet” for us, in recent years the winter weather has been mild with little precipitation. That is why I also urge tree owners to take on the burdensome task of deep watering trees, especially evergreens, in October before irrigation water is turned off and monthly during dry, mild winter weather. Again, few do this resulting in additional drought stress.

At this point we might assume that last summer’s heat was the proverbial “straw that broke the came’s back,” but other factors could be contributing to the current dieback problem.

1. Girdling roots restrict the uptake of water. They are caused by a failure to adequately loosen and spread the roots at planting time.

2. In addition to loosening roots at planting time, proper planting techniques are important. Planting too deeply smothers the roots. Leaving plastic pots, biodegradable containers, and even treated burlap around the roots can delay or restrict root growth out of the original root ball.

3. In many landscapes, soil becomes compacted from lawn use or was compacted during home construction. Soil compaction prevents air and water from getting to the roots.

4. Sandy soils and shallow soils are not capable of retaining as much water as heavier or deeper soils, limiting the availability of soil moisture.

5. Physical damage to tree trunks from weed trimmers or mowers impedes the transport of water from the roots to the top of the tree, causing water stress in the top of the tree.

6. I am a strong advocate of mulches, but rock mulches and close proximity to concrete walls put additional heat stress on a tree and increase its need for water. Bark or wood chip mulches are recommended, but when applied in layers thicker than 3-4 inches, they restrict air and water movement.

The are many lessons to be learned from our current situation, but deep watering and keeping our trees and shrubs in good health is one of the most important. There is no one cause for the widespread browning and dieback of local evergreens, but the primary factors are watering, weather, and root problems.

Next week I’ll talk about wood boring insects that are exacerbating the dieback problem by attacking stressed trees and quickening their demise.

A Passion For Oriental Poppies

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written June 4, 2015

Many of you know about my passions for trees and Wave petunias, but you don’t know that Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) have become another of my horticultural obsessions. I went crazy for these beauties a while back when I saw some in bloom.  I like a variety of perennial flowers, but I think that Oriental poppies are one of the most spectacular and they make me happy.

I am not an Oriental poppy expert, just a zealous admirer who has been learning to grow these gems for the last few years.  I finally was rewarded with the blooms of a light salmon pink cultivar last year.  I was ecstatic to see the huge dazzling salmon-pink flowers with crinkled tissue-like petals and large purple-black centers.

This year I am even more excited because in addition to the salmon-pink poppy, an orange-red and a bright red cultivar also flowered. I can’t decide which I like best. In addition to their gorgeous flowers, these poppies also have interesting dissected hairy leaves. Unfortunately, wind and rain quickly shortened the life of this year’s blooms, but this has not dampened my enthusiasm for Oriental poppies.

When I first planted Oriental poppies several years ago, I was disheartened when the transplant I had put in my garden shriveled up and faded away as the weather turned hot.  I thought this was due to a lack of water, but after talking to other gardeners I found out it was normal.  Garden references note this habit of dying back in the middle of summer, as well as the poppies’  need for well drained soil and full sun.

Oriental poppies are hardy perennials coming back year after year, growing into larger and larger clumps.  They do best without much attention and don’t like to be moved.  However, if you do need to move them, fall is the best time.

This garden gem is originally native to the subalpine and alpine areas of northeastern Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijain, and Iran. It is believed that their habit of dying back and going dormant during the summer is an adaptation to avoid the summer drought that prevails in its native habitat.  Oriental poppies were “discovered” in 1701 and introduced to Europe by a group of plant explorers who collected their seed while on an expedition and sent it back to France and then to England.

Of course, the Oriental poppy found in gardens today is different from the native species the explorers discovered.  That one had standard orange blooms, but plant breeders have worked to diversify the bloom colors for garden growing.  In 1906, a British nurseryman came across a salmon-pink poppy flower amongst the orange he was growing.  Now, there are Oriental poppies with white, red, salmon, orange, orange-red, pink, red, mauve, purple-maroon, and plum colored flowers, some with smooth, ruffled, or fringed petals.

Poppy flowers are ethereal and fleeting, lasting only a few days or less.  Flower stems and seed pods should be removed right after the flower fades to encourage more blooms.  However, some gardeners prefer letting the stalks and seed pods mature and then harvesting them for use in dried arrangements.

In case you are worried, the Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) is not the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) from which opium, poppy seeds, morphine, and codeine are derived.  While the opium poppy has flowers that are similar, the seed pods are rounder, the leaves are not dissected, and the plant is an annual.

67th Annual Rose Show

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written May 28, 2015

This Saturday, May 30 the Tri-City Rose Society (TCRS) will be holding their 67th Annual Rose Show. It is amazing that this local group of rose enthusiasts has been holding this show and sharing their love of roses with other gardeners in the Tri-Cities for so many years. The show allows rose growers to show off their beauties and provides local gardeners the opportunity to ask rose experts about growing this popular bloom.

One of the Tri-Cities Rose Society’s members that will be answering questions and showing off her roses is Norma Boswell. She is a dedicated member of the TCRS, serving as editor or co-editor of the monthly TCRS Rose Herald newsletter for 33 years, plus holding the offices of secretary, vice-president, and president at different times. In addition, she is an American Rose Society consulting rosarian. This means she is strongly committed to sharing her knowledge of roses and their care with others.

Many gardeners know that roses can be difficult to grow without using chemicals for insect and disease control, but Boswell has taken on the challenge and practices organic rose care.  She does not rely on broad-spectrum insecticides for getting rid of aphids, instead she has become acquainted with beneficial insects and says, “It’s good to know what the larval stages look like so I can allow them to dine on my aphids.”

Like so many other TRS members, Boswell has lots of roses. She grows no less than 60 roses with a focus on miniature roses. What are miniature roses?  They are diminutive rose bushes that grow from 3 to 36 inches or more, depending on the cultivar. Small in stature, their blooms are also small, only 1 to 3 inches in diameter, and typically with little fragrance.

Mini’s have become increasingly popular in US gardens, perhaps because their size makes them easier to fit into the smaller yards and landscapes of today and their care is less burdensome. They can be planted amongst other shrubs or perennials in the landscape for a little “pop” of color here and there without worrying that they will take over their allotted space. Their reduced size and hardiness also make them good candidates for growing in patio containers.

Pruning can be as easy as shaping the plants with hedging shears, but this leads to dense shrubs that are more prone to disease and insect pest infestations. Rose experts like Boswell recommend pruning them much like regular roses every spring, but not as severely. Remove any canes that are dead, diseased, weak, or crossing, opening up the center and leaving healthy, vigorous canes. It is also advisable to cut miniature rose shrubs back in height by 1/3 at pruning time.

Boswell and the other TRS members invite you to join them for the 67th Annual Rose Show of the Tri-City Rose Society will be on Saturday, May 30th from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Richland Community Center at 500 Amon Park Drive in Richland. If you do attend the show, look for Boswell’s mini-roses as well as her wonderful miniature rose arrangements.

Conserving Water In The Landscape & Garden Part 2

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written May 14, 2015

This summer is going to be tough with irrigation water supplies down at least 54% in many areas and our governor declaring a drought in 24 counties. In past weeks we discussed conserving water in our yards and gardens with a focus on sprinkler irrigation, but we can save even more water by employing drip irrigation.

Dr. Troy Peters, WSU Extension Irrigation Specialist, indicates that at their best sprinklers are only 70 per cent efficient in delivering water to the soil where plants need use it. Drip irrigation is 90 to 95 per cent efficient.

If you make the decision to install a drip system to conserve water, you may become overwhelmed with designing the system and deciding what types of drip equipment to use. Thankfully, Dr. Peters authored a publication “Drip Irrigation for the Yard and Garden” which makes it much less of a puzzle for drip irrigation novices. In this easy-to-understand publication Peters discusses drip equipment, system design, and operation. It is available as a free download from the WSU Extension Online Store at: https://pubs.wsu.edu/

While drip irrigation is outstanding for conserving water in gardens and landscape beds, it is difficult to employ for watering trees located in lawn areas. Unfortunately, homeowners usually rely on lawn sprinklers to provide for trees’ water needs. Lawn watering, especially the shallow watering practiced by many, does not provide adequate water for established trees located in lawns.

When watering trees, the soil should be moistened to a depth of at least12-18 inches in the tree’s “root zone” where most of the water absorbing roots are located. This root zone is not located close to the trunk of an established tree, it is at the tree’s “dripline” and beyond.

To picture the location of a tree’s dripline, think of a tree as an umbrella. The water absorbing roots are not located near the handle, they are at the edge of the umbrella’s protection and beyond. Peters points out that this active root zone is usually two to three times the diameter of the tree’s crown or “umbrella.”  That is where water should be applied.

Since regular lawn irrigation does not typically apply enough water for trees located in lawns and drip emitters would be impractical, some method is needed for applying water slowly to the root zone. This usually requires hauling out a hose and watering trees individually with a water sprinkler, soaker hose, drip tape, or drip tubing with emitters spaced along the entire line. The goal is to apply the water slowly enough so that it soaks in without running off.

Trees should be deep watered frequently enough to keep the soil in the root zone moist to a depth of 12-18 inches. During the hottest summer weather this can be once a week.

If water becomes extremely limited this summer, you may have to choose which plants in your landscape will get the available irrigation water. I personally would give a higher priority to saving established landscape trees. It is more difficult to replace them due to their size, the cost of removal and replacement, and the time it would take grow new trees.

As summer looms in the near future, now is the time for action. Tune up your irrigation system, water more deeply less frequently, mulch your garden and landscape beds, and consider installing drip irrigation where practical.

The Results of Last Year’s Abnormal Weather

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written May 21, 2015

I wondered what the repercussions would be from our record breaking hottest-summer-on-record last year. Did you know it reached a high of 109 degrees in mid-July?  I knew this heat strained both us and our electric bills, but it also stressed our landscape plants.

One reason that many of our landscape plants are stressed by high temperatures is because they are not well adapted to our climate, growing better in more temperate regions with higher humidity, like conditions found west of the Cascades. Even in normal summers, these plants are subjected to stress, but the high temperatures experienced here last summer were even more burdensome. At the time I worried, knowing that extremely stressed plants are more vulnerable to attack by insect pests and winter injury from cold temperatures.

In addition to heat stress, many trees and shrubs also likely experienced drought stress last summer because the majority of tree owners habitually fail to provide them with adequate water. They rely on lawn watering for irrigating their large trees and shrubs. As I noted last week, large trees and shrubs should receive additional water with deep watering and moistening the soil to a depth of 12 to 18 inches at least once a week during hot weather. With the extremely high temperatures of last summer, the water needs of these plants were even greater.

The severe heat of last summer was followed by an extraordinarily mild, warm October. Nice for us, but woody plants are cued into the oncoming winter by lengthening nights (shortening days) and gradually cooler weather. The extended warm early fall weather delayed plants from “acclimating” or going through the physiological changes that make them resistant to damage from cold temperatures.

This might not have been a significant problem if temperatures had cooled gradually in late fall, but in the middle of November temperatures suddenly dropped from temperatures in the 60s and 70 into the teens. It was obvious that many trees and shrubs were not prepared for severe cold temperatures, because the leaves were frozen on the trees instead of going through the normal process of leaf fall. Because many plants were not fully acclimated, making them ready for winter temperatures, the severe freeze had the potential to damage buds, twigs, and branches.

So what have been the results of this extraordinary sequence of climatic abnormalities?  Here is a list of the plant problems I have seen so far:

– Flowering cherries that were healthy last year failing to produce flowers or leaves is attributed to cold temperature damage and heat stress.

– Dieback on a number of arborvitae is being caused by the flatheaded cedar borer that attacks heat and drought stressed arborvitae, juniper, and cedar.

– Excessive needle drop, dieback and death of mature pines and other needled evergreens is being noted. It looks like many of these trees were already compromised and on the edge of fatal drought stress from shallow watering practices, past winter droughts, compacted soil, restricted roots, or other factors that restricted water uptake. Last summer’s heat appears to have pushed a number of them over the edge.

In addition to twig dieback, some woody plants have been slow to leaf out and have undersized leaves. As the weather warms, I suspect we will see more plants start to fail. All we can do now is provide the plants with the best growing conditions possible, watering correctly, pruning out obviously dead tissues and hoping for a cooler summer and enough water to keep our plants alive.

Spray Fruit Trees Now To Keep Worm Free

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written May 7, 2015

This spring, temperatures have gone back and forth between warmer-than-normal and cooler-than-normal. Because of an early start to the growing season and the cumulative warm weather, our plants and their pests are a bit ahead of schedule.

Two insects that have already emerged are the western cherry fruit fly (WCFF) that attacks cherries and the codling moth (CM) that attacks apples, crabapples, and pears. If you have a cherry, apple, pear, crabapple, flowering pear, or a fruit-producing flowering cherry, you should have already applied an insecticide recommended for control of these pests. If you have not started a regular spray schedule, start as soon as you there is calm weather!

Even if you do not care about harvesting the fruit or if the tree is an ornamental tree susceptible to these pests, you are required by law in Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, and Yakima counties to control them. The reason for the law is because infested backyard fruit trees can serve as a source of infestation for nearby commercial orchards, causing the orchardists to apply more pesticides or risk having their fruit being rejected due to wormy fruit.

I cringe when I see fruit trees, particularly cherries, apples, and pears, offered for sale at local big box stores and nurseries. Would-be or novice backyard fruit growers are often unaware of the extra work fruit trees require, including regular pesticide applications to control insects, like WCFF and CM, and diseases.

There are some organic insecticides available for control of WCFF or CM, but there are practically no non-chemical strategies. However, homeowners can make it easier to apply sprays by planting dwarf trees and then pruning them to keep the trees at a more manageable height of 10 to 12 feet. Keeping trees at this height will also make it easier to harvest fruit. However, annual pruning means even more work for backyard fruit growers.

GARDEN NOTE: Do not assume a “dwarf” tree will stay small without pruning. Dwarf is a relative term. Fruit trees labeled as “dwarf” may still grow to a considerable size. Check the label for the potential mature height of the tree. A “dwarf” or “semi-dwarf” apple could still reach a height of 15 to 20 feet or more.

Earlier I mentioned that home gardeners are required to keep fruit bearing ornamental crabapple, flowering pear, and flowering cherry trees free of WCFF and CM. Codling moth will even attack the small fruit of flowering pears and crabapples so regular spraying is required to keep these trees “worm-free.”

Japanese flowering cherry trees do not produce fruit, but they are grafted onto a rootstock that will produce fruit if allowed to grow. If these trees are allowed to produce fruit, you are required to keep them worm-free or you might want to remove them because they have lost the beautiful flowers and form of the Japanese flower cherries originally planted.

If you must grow fruit trees consider planting plums, apricots, or peaches which generally do not require regular pesticide applications to keep their fruit free of worms. However, these fruit trees are prone to a number of fungus diseases which will require spraying and again more work to keep the trees healthy and the fruit blemish free.

If you are growing any type of fruit tree and need to know what sprays are needed and when they should be applied, contact the WSU Extension office at 735-3551 for a Home Orchard Pest Management Chart. You can find more information about WCFF at http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS125E/FS125E.pdf  and CM at http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS120E/FS120E.pdf

Seize The Moment and Learn From Other Gardeners

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written April 30, 2015

One of the wonderful characteristics of many home gardeners is that they thirst for more knowledge about plants and gardening.  Many also enjoy sharing what they know with other gardeners.  There are three upcoming opportunities for local gardeners to chat with each other and learn.

Master Gardener Spring Plant Sale May 2: We mentioned last week that the local WSU Extension Master Gardeners will be holding their Spring Plant Sale this Saturday, May 2 at 1600 S. Union in Kennewick in the parking lot of Highlands Grange Park starting at 9:00 a.m. If you are like me, you may not have room for even one more plant, but you might still want to drop by and talk with the Master Gardeners. The plant sale chair, Dave Hammond, knows all about growing veggies, especially potatoes, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Hammond and other Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer your gardening questions. Plus, I bet you can find room for just one more plant!

Compost Workshop May 9: A Composting & Waste Reduction Workshop will be held on Saturday, May 9 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon at the Kennewick Branch of the Mid-Columbia Library at 1620 S. Union. The workshop is free and open to the public, but you must pre-register by calling 735-3551. At the end of class, each participant will receive a compost bin and book on composting. There will also be an opportunity to tour the Compost Demonstration Area (behind the library in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden) with a Master Gardener.

I will be teaching participants how you can turn yard and kitchen waste into valuable organic matter by composting. Finished compost is sometimes referred to as  “black gold” because it helps improve soil texture when mixed with garden soil. Improved soil texture leads to better drainage and aeration in heavy soils. In sandy soils, like I have in my garden, compost increases the retention of water and nutrients. Composting is a great way to divert yard waste away from the solid waste stream, recycle it, and use it to grow healthier, more productive gardens.

Bring your lunch and enjoy it in the garden after the workshop.

Orchid Show May 9 & 10: When it comes to orchids, my thumb is not as green as I would like. I have a windowsill filled with mini-orchids and I have had fairly good luck with them surviving and even blooming, but occasionally one starts to die. Usually my ailing orchids’ problems are related to the roots and re-potting.

Tom Walker, Orchid Society member,  points out that re-potting is needed when a plant outgrows its pot or the potting mix has decomposed and is not providing adequate drainage and air for the roots. I admit that because I fear re-potting my darling orchids incorrectly and because I can not find a suitable orchid potting mix locally, I procrastinate re-potting.

The South Central Washington Orchid Society is holding its annual Orchid Show on Saturday and Sunday, May 9th (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and 10th (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) at the Tri-Tech Skills Center at 5929 W. Metaline in Kennewick. Admission is only $3.00. I am planning to go so I can get some help for my ailing orchids and purchase a good orchid potting mix. Local orchid society members will have beautiful blooming orchids on display and will be giving seminars on orchid care, in addition to several vendors selling orchids and orchid supplies.

So seize the moment and take advantage of one or all three of these opportunities to learn from other gardeners!

Tomato Transplants and Planting

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA April 23, 2015

Here I go again talking about tomatoes, but since they are the favorite veggie crop of home gardeners I am hoping you will forgive me. This time, let’s talk about tomato transplants and how to plant them.

Horticulturists will tell you when purchasing tomato transplants select ones that are only six to eight inches tall with a strong main stem (about the same diameter as a pencil). Avoid plants that are leggy, yellowish-green, much too big for their pots, already flowering, or infested with insects. Also, avoid plants that have grown too large in the greenhouse and been cut back to disguise this.

A healthy, stocky transplant is the ideal, but many gardeners who grow their own transplants from seed end up with leggy plants. This is because the plants were either started too early, not provided with enough light, or both!

Leggy tomato stems are weak and often can not support the top of the plant, especially in windy weather. To remedy the situation, gardeners should bury the stem and the roots when planting. This is best accomplished by creating a shallow 4 to 5 inch deep trench, removing the leaves from the bottom 2/3 of the stem, laying the transplant on its side in the trench, and then covering the roots and stem with soil. Leave the remaining leaves several sets of leaves above the soil.

Roots will form along the buried stem, resulting in a stronger plant. The leaves and stems left above the soil will naturally turn and start growing upwards. Before planting, remove the pot including peat or other biodegradable pots, and gently then loosen the roots.

When purchased at the nursery, transplants have usually already been “hardened-off” by exposure to wind and sunlight and by receiving less water and fertilizer than they were getting in a greenhouse. To get them ready for the “real world,” homegrown transplants started indoors will need to be hardened-off  by gradually introducing them to outdoor conditions. This is done by placing them outdoors in the sun for couple of hours and then increasing the amount of time outdoors each day for about a week, but bringing them indoors at night.

Tomatoes are frost-sensitive, warm season plants. They prefer warm weather and warm soils. There is no advantage to planting them early and protecting them from frosty nights. If you are into easy gardening with no extra work, plant your tomatoes no earlier than May 1st, the average date of our last spring frost for most of the region. However, tomato plants will not grow much until the soil warms to at least 600 F and prevailing daytime temperatures are above 700 and nighttime temperatures are above 600.

If you yearn to plant your tomatoes early, you can create a “mini-solar greenhouse” for each with Wall-of-Water or Kozy Coat garden teepees. Garden teepees are 12″ diameter cylindrical garden devices made of channeled clear or tinted plastic sheeting. The channels are filled with water and then the teepee is set over a plant. The water absorbs heat during the day, keeping the plant warmer than the surrounding air during the night and day and helping warm the soil.

When teepees are tilted inwards at the top of the cylinder early in the season, they can provide considerable protection from frost, down to 160 F according to the manufacturer. They also protect plants from wind. Teepees should be removed when temperatures reach 80 to 85 degrees, otherwise they “cook” the plants.

May 1st is just a week away so start getting ready for planting tomatoes, but wait until the soil and temperatures are warm enough.

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