Category Archives: Watering

Preventing Tomatoes From Cracking and Splitting

After months of anticipating ripe, sweet tomatoes, my first harvest came a week ago. Unfortunately, several of the inaugural ‘Sun Gold’ cherry tomatoes were cracked around the equator, exposing healthy flesh underneath. Why did this happen and how can it be prevented?

Cracks and splits are a fairly common occurrence. They can start at the stem and run down the side of the fruit, or circle the width of the fruit, like mine did. The good news – the fissures are not the result of a disease, virus or insect. The cause? At least in part – me! On the bright side, I can easily fix it.

Tomatoes crack due to fluctuations of moisture and/or temperature that occur when the fruit is nearly fully mature. In my case, forgetting to water or underwatering a container grown plant on the first few 100 degree days, followed by “forgive me” overwatering for the next few days is the culprit. (Another tip – tomato plants don’t like to get heat wilt. Mine did that too.)

Here’s what happens to cause the fruit to split – during the dry spells, the exterior skin (epidermis) of the fruit toughens. When the plant is watered again, the fruit rapidly takes in the moisture and the fruit plumps up. This expansion causes the toughened skin to burst. Cherry tomatoes and large beefsteak varieties are particularly prone to these stretch or growth marks.

These tips will help prevent tomatoes from cracking and splitting:

  • Tomatoes like consistent moisture at regular intervals. Think of Goldilocks – not too much, not too little. Sounds simplistic, but the point is there’s a delicate balance. Watering on a regular schedule really helps.
  • Use natural mulch such as grass clippings or shredded leaves to keep the plant roots cooler.
  • Fertilize with low dose, slow-release fertilizer; high nitrogen fertilizers stimulate growth which can increase cracking.
  • Pick fruit just before it is fully mature and allow it to ripen on a sunny windowsill.

Some tomato varieties are bred to have more flexible skin and therefore are less likely to crack. When researching next year’s garden tomatoes, look for varieties labeled crack or split-resistant. You may want to give them a try.

Perhaps most importantly – is it OK to eat a cracked tomato? It really depends. Don’t take a chance if the split is deep, the fruit has been on the vine for a long time or you simply aren’t sure. Bacteria can develop in the opening with time. But if the crack has just appeared and the fruit looks healthy despite the scar, it is likely fine. Did I eat mine? I did. And it was worth the wait!

Additional reading: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/faq/why-are-my-tomatoes-cracking

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

Posted by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener

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A Denverite Visits New Orleans in July, Leaves in Awe That Anything Grows in Colorado, Like, Ever.

Image by McKenna Hynes

I recently returned from a little summer vaca in the South. New Orleans in July (a questionably timed vacation, albeit) is showy and fragrant; the ferns suckle lovingly to any crack and crevice providing green brush-strokes and blots everywhere, palms fill beds and pots alike, all of my houseplants are thriving in the wide open, the sun is scorching, and as our pilot reminded us as we prepared to de-plane, its humid enough to confuse a frog. I was constantly amazed at how effortlessly everything seemed to grow.

While in New Orleans, I was frequently amused by how the rest of the country (mis)understands Colorado living conditions. For the most part, folks think we spend most of the year dreaming of gardens as we stare out our frosty windows waiting for the snow to melt, visiting floral places abroad, and wearing multiple layers of socks at all times. Soooo… basically gardening at 10,000+ feet? While these perceptions are laughable, I started thinking that even though we don’t live in perpetual wintry wonder, the challenges we face to make anything grow aren’t necessarily less surmountable than our fam in the lofty-actual-mountains.

We were welcomed back to Denver with a remarkable storm featuring lightning, torrential rains, booming thunder… and hail. Of course, the very next day was smokin’ hot with nary a whisper of the siege.  Maintaining a vibrant garden in the Front Range is an extreme sport with our baffling daily fluctuations; the entire notion of keeping anything alive here seems impossible at times, but we’ve gotten pretty good at strategizing. Here are a few resources I’ve tracked down this year to help us all maintain beauty, build our skills, and be stewards to our land and community.

Image by McKenna Hynes

Resource Central is a nonprofit organization based in Boulder that helps communities conserve resources and build sustainability efforts simply and cost-effectively. Their water-saving initiatives include native plant sales with simple designs for home gardens and often include low water perennials. They also have a tool library in Boulder where you can borrow for a couple of bucks per day so you don’t just buy the tamper, hedge trimmer, turf roller, or post hole diggers you need so infrequently. 

The cities of Boulder, Lafayette, and Louisville partnered with Resource Central to give customers a Garden In A Box for turf-removal. Their Grass to Garden initiative is available to all communities with tips and resources to convert high water-consuming turf to low water garden areas. For the North Metro area, they have resources for assistance removing and disposing of turf, landscape architect recommendations, and more.


Denver Water coined one of our most successful water-wise strategies with xeriscaping. And to keep sharing the good water word, Denver Water also partnered with local landscape architects to provide us mere civilians with some FREE! FREE! FREE! creativity. For those of us who are new (it’s me) who struggle with vision (all me), and are easily overwhelmed by the thought of starting fresh with a blank canvas (still, totally, all me), they’ve curated a bunch of plans for a variety of situations. They have plans for sloped xeriscaping, budget-friendly xeriscaping, narrow bed xeriscaping, year-round beauty designs, and many more. July is also Smart Irrigation Month! Head to Denver Water for tips on maintaining irrigation systems, watering rules, and efficiency strategies.

And for the grand finale top-notch gardening game-changer, check out Plant Select for all your future dreaming. Plant Select is a nonprofit partnership between Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens, and professional horticulturists to identify smart plant choices for the Rocky Mountian Region. Their mobile-friendly site has a tool to help you find plants that will suit the conditions you’re facing. I tend to challenge the tool to see how obscure or specific I can get, and it always provides me with something unique and gorgeous. Plant Select: taking “right plant right place” to an accessible and fun platform. Say So Long! to the multiple Google tabs researching the same plant with contradicting information on each site; Goodbye! Big Box Store swindlers promising “You REALLY can’t kill this one!” and go get yourself some good, wholesome, ACCURATE information quickly and easily from Plant Select. They also feature some garden designs and ideas.

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

Creep

After a few wild weather days in my garden, yesterday morning I was out assessing hail damage to my new perennial bed and dahlias when I spotted a metallic bronze and turquoise body perching on one of the unshredded dahlia leaves. For a moment I marveled at the size of the beetle–much larger than I expected–and then the color and pattern. So lovely and kind of mesmerizing. And then it hit me. I’ve been heeding the warning of the onslaught of the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) but had yet to see one with my own eyes. Frankly, I couldn’t remember what they looked like or where they like to hang out, except that they are badbadbad.

Image via McKenna Hynes

I managed to snag two fairly mediocre photos and then took a quick swipe at it into a bowl of soapy water AND MISSED! It seemed to vanish into thin air! It had been sitting and sunning NOT nibbling on the luscious leaf unto which it perched for seemingly ever, and the moment I gave it a little nudge to its sudsy impending doom, it disappeared. Cursing, bewildered, picking, and digging madly, no dice. 

Meanwhile, my wife is watching this ridiculous mission at six in the morning from the front stoop with her first cup of coffee and casual observance of just another peculiar garden act (she literally has footage of me scrambling to plant “just one more” seedling well after dark with a headlamp affixed to my noggin). She is curious, patient, surely entertained, and finally asks what I’m doing.

I explained to her the grave danger our flora faces and that the invaders have arrived. I showed her a photo of the insatiable beast to formally introduce the target. I did my best to order her into the cause. There are bowls of soapy water conveniently located throughout the premises, I flag to her with my best flight attendant gestures. She is charged with taking immediate action, and regular surveillance of all the beds. The alarms are sounding!

Fortunately, this is not a new issue in our area. We covered the arrival of the Japanese Beetle in 2018 and continue to reference the fact sheet from CSU to prepare you for the onslaught. According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Metro Area has a high population level of the Japanese beetles comparatively to the rest of the state, due to water usage and higher moisture levels in residential areas. The Japanese beetle doesn’t love our dry arid climates but thrives in our commercially and privately maintained lawns and gardens that use external sources of water to imitate a moist and humid environment for the beetle to thrive.

Integrated pest management strategies can help prevent the Japanese beetle from settling into your garden area,  including picking them off individually, reducing water in turf areas where they lay eggs and their larvae grow big and strong and demolish your lawn, selecting less appetizing foliage, and even getting chickens or ducks! Also, Party with a Parasite presents the Tachinid fly, a parasite that lays their eggs on a living host– a la JB–which hatch quickly and get to feeding. Cue: Bye Bye Beetle, Bye Bye. I’m not sure how to recruit this insect to the yard but will refrain from swatting at this time, just in case. Please use caution, good judgment, and safety when reaching for chemical management strategies by using only according to the label, and educating yourself on possible collateral damages; what else might be impacted by the use of this product?

I’ve been checking each plant several times since yesterday morning and have not seen another invader. My wife, on the other hand, casually mentioned last night that she saw one. It was so pretty. Was it in the Dahlias?! Yeah. Did you plunk it into the soapy bowl??? No. 

Sigggghhhhh. My attempts at recruiting more defenders are plighted. New strategies underway. 

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

Your Yard is Thirsty

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When I moved to Colorado three decades ago I expected to be knee-deep in snow and cold to the bone for months on end. Little did I know, Denver winters have long dry stretches, moderate daytime temperatures and bright sunshine that melts snow before it needs to be shoveled. So much easier than the New Jersey winters of my youth. The downside is that plants often suffer from lack of moisture. This year I’m being especially diligent about winter watering to help  newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials make it through their first winter and thrive in the future. Whether nurturing young plants or insuring the longevity of established ones, here are Colorado State University’s recommendations for cold season landscape care.

  • From November to March, give plants a good drink when four weeks elapse without snow cover or adequate moisture. March is the metro area’s snowiest month (11″); January (7″) and February (6″) average the least.
  • Water when temperatures are above 40° and early enough in the day for the moisture to soak into the ground before temperatures dip below freezing.
  • Reflective heat from buildings, the lower angle of the sun and areas prone to intense wind cause root systems to dry out more quickly, watch plants in these areas closely and water accordingly.
  • Newly planted trees establish slowly – one year for every inch of trunk diameter, (measure 6″ above the soil ). A good rule of thumb is to apply 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter each time you water. Water around the tree, out to the drip line and beyond. The goal is to send moisture to the tree’s entire root system at a depth of 12″. I’ve found running a sprinkler for 30 minutes does the job nicely.
  • Newly planted shrubs require more moisture than established ones (over one year old). A first year, 3′ tall shrub requires 5 gallons per watering.
  • Mulch is a plant’s friend – it helps maintain moisture and mitigate the damaging thaw/frost cycle.
  • Newly seeded lawns and perennials (especially fall planted ones) will benefit from supplemental watering if precipitation is low, too.

According to globalwarmingdenver.com, we’ve received just .02″ moisture in the last two weeks and are about 2.5″ below average precipitation year-to-date. Given our dry days and spring-like temperatures, it’s  about time to unwind the hoses.
For more information:
Planttalk Colorado: Fall & Winter Watering
Colorado State University: Fall & Winter Watering Fact Sheet 7.211

Photo credit: Pixabay.com, a source for royalty free images
Written by: Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

Never Put a $10 Plant in a 10¢ Hole and Other Gardening Tips From Denver Master Gardeners

planting-1898946_1920Passionate gardeners love to talk about gardening, so with that in mind, we recently asked Denver Master Gardeners for their best gardening advice. Responses included tried-and-true practices, creative suggestions and good reminders for all of us as the gardening season kicks into full gear.

As the title of this post implies, we believe that great plants come from appropriate soil preparation. Amending with compost is often imperative as soil in our region tends to lack organic matter. But proceed with caution, as some plants, such as natives, prefer a leaner, less fertile soil. Too rich soil will cause these plants to underperform and often just flop over. It pays to do a little homework before planting, read seed package directions and have your soil tested.

One of our gardeners shared her recipe for amending soil: Add 1/2 a handful of both Alaskan fish pellets and triple super phosphate to half a bucket (such as a kitty litter pail) full of compost. Mix this into the planting hole for strong root development and beautiful blossoms.

A tip borrowed from the Rock Garden Society is to plant bare root. By gently shaking off most or all of the soil that the plant is purchased in, the plant will adjust to the garden soil without the soil interface (or boundary) that can occur between two soil types. Bare root planting promotes healthy root development.

mulch-1100555_1920Mulch, mulch, mulch is the mantra of many of our survey respondents as it keeps weeds out and moisture in. Add it like crazy each time you dig in the veggie, perennial and annual gardens and don’t forget container plants too. Small to medium-sized bark chips are popular, practical and pleasing to the eye. Natural mulch options are very effective, including not quite finished compost from the compost bin which will add carbon, feed living organisms, prevent water runoff and prevent compaction. Local arborists are often willing to drop off wood chips which would otherwise fill up the landfill. In the fall, mow over your leaves and spread them throughout the yard, they’ll breakdown by spring and add organic matter to your soil. Consider purchasing a chipper to grind up branches and other garden waste.

garden-hose-413684_1920Suggestions for responsible use of water include watering when the plant needs it instead of on a set schedule. Soaker hoses, often made from recycled material, are effective for watering plants at the soil line. Plants (even xeric ones)  need moisture to maintain healthy roots and overall strength, but often less than we think. For example, the Water Smart Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens is watered about seven times during the season.

Weeding can feel like a no-win battle, but attacking weeds after a soaking rain makes the task easier. Pull weeds and unwanted volunteer shrub and tree seedlings when they are small, before they take hold in the ground or develop seed. Add stepping stones to the garden to avoid stomping on plants and compacting soil when working in the garden.

bindweed-1207738_1920A clever tip to eliminate stubborn weeds, such as the nasty bindweed shown here, is to take a large piece of heavy cardboard, make a cut from the edge to the center. Keep the cardboard as level as possible, slip the vine in the center and spray the vine with the herbicide of your choice or horticultural vinegar, which is sold in garden centers. The cardboard will protect surrounding plants from overspray. Aggressive weeds may require multiple treatments during the season.

One of our members recommends a tomato planting technique passed on through generations of farmers. She adds blackened banana peel to the soil and feeds them with skim milk upon planting and again one month after that. This less conventional practice yields her sweet, abundant fruit. While CSU can’t vouch for the scientific efficacy of this, the banana could be adding potassium and the addition of calcium may reduce the chances of blossom end rot.

plant-1585251_1920Growing tomatoes in containers is recommended for those with limited space. Select varieties which produce smaller fruit such as Patio, Cherry or Sungold. Use a large container (18+ inches in diameter), a sturdy support and a tray with casters. This allows plants to be moved from the path of hail or to optimal conditions. Container plants of all kinds benefit from weekly feeding of 1/2 strength fertilizer.

To keep pests at bay, try a thorough weekly spray of water during the growing season, including the walls of the house and fence. It’s a kinder way to shoo pests away.

If your vines need a sturdier trellis consider building one out of remesh, which can be found at hardware stores. It makes a durable, cost-effective support and can easily be cut with bolt cutters. It also can be attached to supports to create a dog run or create plant cages.

botanical-garden-413489_1920In the flower garden, invest in perennials for texture and dimension and add annuals for bold color. “Enjoy the randomness of some plants that choose their own spots to thrive” suggests one gardener. What a positive way to think of the seedlings that sprout up at this time of the year. Remember, too, that perennials may not come into their glory until the second growing season.

Gardening is a four season hobby. Winter watering of trees and shrubs will help keep them healthy and  veggie gardeners can get a jump on the season by using a cold frame or floating row cover to get an early start on lettuce, spinach and other cool season crops. Fall is a fantastic time to fertilize, aerate and over-seed the lawn. It is also an ideal season to divide perennials so that they settle in and are ready to take off in the spring.  Share your divisions with your neighbors, too, or trade for plants you’ve admired (envied?) in their yards. If you need more gardening space, solarizing or sheet composting is an excellent technique to ready a new garden bed and can be started throughout the year.

And lastly, a veteran gardener advises us to “Remember each little garden flower or planting arrangement is a moment in time. It will change. Don’t worry about it or take it too seriously.”

 

Written by Linda McDonnell with thanks to the many Denver Master Gardeners who shared their advice.

All photos courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com, a source of royalty free images.

Help, My Garden is Wilting!

Have you ever noticed your perfectly healthy plants wilting at the end of a hot, sunny day? This is the plant’s way of protecting itself from the elements, much like our bodies adjust to temperature changes. Plants routinely gather moisture and nutrients from the soil through their roots and move it up transpirationtheir stems and leaves. Moisture is then emitted back into the air through pores on the underside of the leaves, called stomata. This process is called transpiration. On an especially hot day, the leaves will begin to emit more moisture than the roots can supply, which triggers the pores to close. As a result, the leaves lose rigidity and wilt but the plant is protected from further loss of moisture. While all plants transpire, broadleaf plants such as cucumbers, squash, hydrangea and many annual flowers are especially susceptible to heat wilt.

To  help your plants recover:

  • If the soil is moist about an inch under the soil line, the plant will likely recover on its own in the cooler night air. If it is dry, water the plant at the soil line and check in the morning; again, the plant should have perked up.  If the coming day will be another scorcher, consider a bit more morning water to avoid further late day stress.
  • Be gentle around the limp foliage, it is stressed and can easily break.

To reduce the potential for heat wilt:

  • Add 2″-3″ mulch around  plants, stopping at the outer edge of the plant so water can be absorbed easily.
  • Promote healthy roots by routinely watering deeper a few times a week versus a daily short spritz.
  • When adding new plants, loosen soil deeply and add organics such as compost to aid in drainage and root development.
  • Consider location when planting. Afternoon sun is very likely to wilt plants that need only partial sun. Also pair plants needing the same water and light conditions together.
  • Add succulents and plants requiring less water to your garden. They will thrive during the dog days of summer.

Transpiration fun facts and resources:

  • An acre of corn can transpire 3,000-4,000 gallons of water a day.
  • Transpiration is to thank  for the comforting shade under large trees. Eighty percent of the cooling effect of a shade tree comes from the evaporative effects of transpiration.
  • Much more on the transpiration process can be found on CMG Garden Notes 141 and at http://water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycletranspiration.html

 

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is a new tree on your wish list?

Not all gardeners enjoy reading seed catalogs.  If you are more interested in planning for a new tree then here are a few resources to get you started.