June’s arrival means it’s time to conquer wet weather

June 5, 2013 

The beginning of June 2013 arrives with a flood of questions about damp, wet and suffering plants. May ended with rain and more rain and this brought mushrooms, fungus, a plethora of moss and problems for heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers and geraniums. On the bright side, lettuce and lobelia have never been better. Here’s the answers to the most common complaints about our water world:

Q: Every year I buy my mother five geranium plants for Mother’s Day. All were healthy and blooming when I purchased them. Now I notice the buds are turning brown and sections of the stems are also soft and dark. I can also see dark spots and yellow blotches on the lower leaves. Should I return these sickly plants to the nursery? D.D., Puyallup

A: Blame it on the rain not the nursery. During the rainy period in May, geraniums were struggling with the cool, wet nights. You are describing symptoms of a fungus that waits for a rainy spell then hones in on succulent heat lovers such as geranium/pelargoniums.

The cure for this problem is dry weather and the warmer nights we’re now experiencing. Move your geraniums under cover of the house eaves or even indoors near a bright window. Once the soil dries out a bit, the geraniums grow a tough film on their foliage and the fungus can no longer attach itself to the leaves. Remove all ugly leaves and stems with the dark spots to keep the fungus from spreading. Although there is a fungicide spray that may work on this blight, keeping the foliage dry is more effective.

Q. I planted my tomatoes outside a few weeks ago and protected them with plastic “walls of water” as I remember you warning that tomatoes should not go outdoors until June. Well, my tomatoes look terrible. They are yellow and look like they are wilting even though they are soaked with water. Any suggestions? F.G., Email

A. Sounds like too much water and cold nights. My best advice is to wait until mid-June to plant warm-season crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, eggplants and peppers outdoors.

The “walls of water” that you used to surround the plants do not keep them warm enough in my garden because the sun does not shine enough during the day to heat up the water. Perhaps these devices work better in a climate with less rain. If you must plant tomatoes in May, make sure these heat-lovers are covered with a greenhouse structure that keep the leaves dry and the heat in at night.

The best place to grow tomatoes in Western Washington is up against a south or west-facing wall under the eaves of the house. I suggest you buy new tomato plants in mid-June and start again. Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers that get chilled will often go into a pout and stop growing for weeks even after the sun returns.

Q. I planted a group of alliums under my wisteria vine as I love the huge globe-shaped purple flowers that bloom at the same time as my purple wisteria. Problem is these big bulbs have long leaves that flop on the ground and the foliage has begun to rot in the rain. When can I get rid of the allium leaves? (I do know that daffodils and tulips use their foliage to make next year’s blooms.) P. Email

A. Rejoice and get tidy — alliums are one of the few bulbs that will return and flower the following year even if you pull off the ugly leaves. Just wait until the bulbs flower and then it is safe to remove the floppy foliage and leave the tall thick stems so you can enjoy the ball-shaped blooms. I love the idea of planting the stiff and upright alliums near the dangling and drooping wisteria. As an added bonus, alliums have that onion smell that makes them deer-, mouse- and mole-resistant.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions at binettigarden.com.

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