Ron Kujawski: Rain, rain, please go away ...
Soggy lawn, soggy garden, soggy soil, soggy socks, soggy brain -- that about sums up much of my life of late.
What's it all mean? I don't know; that's where the soggy brain comes into play. However, I do suspect we'll see plenty of plant diseases in landscapes and gardens this year. Why? Because the fungal and bacterial infections causing most plant diseases occur in spring when plant leaves are just developing. At this stage, immature leaves have not yet built up the surface coating of wax that protects older leaves from many disease infections. This would not be a problem if the weather was dry. Unfortunately, the soggy weather we've had favors dispersal of disease-causing fungal and bacterial spores and subsequent infections in plants. Throw into this equation some cool weather, which slows leaf development. Add it all up and you have ideal conditions for plant diseases.
You can start looking for plant diseases, but you won't find many just yet. It takes time for them to develop, although I have seen
fireblight on cherry trees and apple scab on crabapples. Diseases will become more apparent as the weather becomes consistently warm.
Is there anything we can do now to prevent development of diseases, especially in the vegetable garden? My advice is to begin applications of fungicide to those plants of most value. Fungicides do not have to be synthetic chemicals. There are some natural or organic fungicides that are effective in controlling such diseases as early and late blight of tomatoes. Check out the options at your local garden center. Just remember, even though a product may be "natural" or "organic," you must read and follow label directions.
Here are some directions to guide your weekend gardening tasks:
• Make the last harvest of rhubarb and asparagus. These plants are so-called heavy feeders and need to put on good leaf growth this summer to replenish their food reserves. They'll benefit now from an application of composted manure or a general purpose garden fertilizer.
• Thin seedlings of sweet corn and other direct-seeded crops. Leaving crops unthinned interferes with their development and leads to poor yields and poor quality. If pulling out the little plants is unbearable, find a cold, heartless friend to do it for you.
• Sow seeds of Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli in a small block of space in the garden. Cover the seed bed with a piece of cardboard to keep soil from drying, but remove the cardboard when seeds sprout. Transplant the seedlings when they are three or four inches tall. The key to keeping these cool season vegetables happy during the heat of summer is frequent watering. They'll be ready for harvest in early fall.
• Eliminate sources of standing water around the yard since they provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes don't fly very far, so if bothered by large numbers of "skeeters," look around your grounds for stagnate pools of water.
• Exclude leaf-eating pests, such as flea beetles and cabbage worms, from vegetables by placing floating row covers over the plants. Unfortunately, this can't be done on squash, melons and cucumbers since their flowers need to be accessible to bees for pollination.
• Apply slow-release fertilizer to lawns if none was applied this spring. Making this application and leaving grass clippings on the lawn will provide enough nutrients for healthy growth of lawns through summer.
Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners will conduct soil testing and answer gardening questions at the Berkshire Mall on Saturday, June 15, from 9 a.m. to noon. To learn how to take a soil sample, contact the Master Gardener Hotline 413 298-5355 or the website www.wmassmastergardeners.org.
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