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Summer has arrived! Here are a few fun tasks to keep your garden happy and prevent tomato blight

Early blight disease.JPG

Grayish spots with concentric circles is a clear symptom of early blight on the foliage of tomato plants. It is important to take steps early to prevent the disease.

Welcome to summer! For many folks, it is a time to unwind a bit, soak up the sun, take in some of the Berkshire arts and cultural offerings, and, perhaps, plan a little vacation time. Such is not always the case for passionate and devoted gardeners. The list of tasks merely expands and for many of us, that is pure pleasure despite the work.

Here are some current enjoyable activities:

  • Take measures now to prevent or, at least, reduce the incidence of early blight on tomatoes, perhaps the most common fungal disease infecting this vegetable. The earliest symptom of the disease is the appearance of grayish spots with concentric rings. Prevention is essential — infected plants cannot be cured. Since the fungus exists in the soil and can splash onto tomato foliage, remove the leaves and side branches on the lower foot or more of each plant. Placing a mulch of straw or dried grass clippings around each plant will also prevent soil from splashing. In addition, when watering the plants, apply water slowly to the soil and avoid wetting the leaves. Removing lower leaves and branches and keeping the immediate area weed-free improves air circulation around the plants, another factor in reducing the chances of early blight infections. As an extra precaution, make routine applications of a copper-based fungicide or the bio-fungicide, Serenade, at intervals of 7-10 days.
  • Be alert to leaf yellowing on vegetable crops. This is most likely a symptom of nutrient deficiency due to the leaching of nutrients as a result of frequent rains or a pattern of excessive watering. Another factor is poor soil structure, e.g., too gravelly or low content of organic matter. Sidedressing crops with fertilizer, especially a liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion, should correct the problem. In the future, incorporate compost or aged manure into the soil prior to planting. That not only provides nutrients but also creates a better soil structure. In addition, get in the habit of planting cover crops when areas of the garden become vacant.
  • Sow seeds of cauliflower and cabbage as replacements for those to be harvested next month. This is not necessary for broccoli if you leave the plants in place after harvesting the main head. The plants will continue to produce smaller but equally tasty shoots.
  • Recycle lawn clippings. No, don’t deposit them in recycling bins at the town transfer station nor take them to a local garden center. I suspect they would not be receptive. The easiest way to recycle them is to simply leave them on the lawn where they will decompose and return nutrients to the soil. This works best if the clippings are no more than an inch in length, and that means frequent mowing. For those who do not qualify as a “frequent mower”, longer clippings are best raked up and applied in shallow layers one inch deep as a mulch in the vegetable garden and/or flower beds. Such a shallow layer of clippings will dry quickly and allow for further additions through the growing season. The clippings can be incorporated into the soil at the end of the growing season. However, do not use as garden mulch any clippings from lawns that have been treated with herbicides.
  • Be careful when using string trimmers when edging or trimming grass or weeds around trees and shrubs. At the high speeds the nylon-based string spins, it can easily cut into the bark of trees (especially thin-barked specimens) and shrubs, effectively girdling the plants. The best way to prevent such injuries is to maintain a mulched zone around each plant.
  • Set the alarm for an early morning wake-up when planning to cut flower stems from roses and other flowering plants for indoor arrangements. Early morning is when the moisture content and turgidity of the stems are at their peak. Immediately, place the cut stems in a bucket of water. Just before arranging the flowers in a vase, recut a small segment of each stem but underwater. No, not you underwater; rather, the stem underwater. This will leave a droplet of water on the cut tip, preventing air from entering the stem and extend the life of the flower.
  • Extend the bloom period of herbaceous perennials by promptly removing the spent flowers. Do the same for annual flowers. That will not only ensure the continued bloom of the annuals but will often result in a fuller (bushier) plant.
  • Have some fun by taking so-called green cuttings from the new growth of spring-flowering shrubs. The cuttings should be about 6 to 8 inches long with the cut made just below a leaf node (point of attachment of leaf to the stem). Next, remove all leaves from the lower half of each cutting. Dip each stem in a rooting powder. Such powders are readily available at local garden centers. Insert the cuttings in a pot of moist sand, perlite, or vermiculite and place the pot in a clear plastic bag. I also put in a few sticks around the inner edge of the pot to keep the bag from collapsing on the cuttings. Place the pot in a bright location but not in direct sunlight. After all, you are trying to root the cuttings and not cook them. Be patient! It may take a month or longer before the cuttings are rooted.

Now, aren’t those enjoyable activities!

Garden Journal columnist Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service.

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