Too little or too much water is tough on tomatoes

July 24, 2013 

The end of July is when you should see plenty of green tomatoes, young zucchini and baby cucumbers in the vegetable garden. Resist the urge to water these crops during the heat of the day or late at night. Consistent watering when the top inch of soil is dry to the touch is the way to go.

Tomato skin is especially sensitive to splitting and scarring from too much or too little water. Watering at night can encourage fungal infections if you keep the foliage damp on warm summer nights.

Here’s a dirt cheap tomato growing tip — if you hard boil eggs for a summer salad, save and use the cooking water. Tomatoes need lots of calcium, and the left-over cooking water from hard boiled eggs contains this nutrient because the boiling water leaches calcium from the egg shell. Save and cool the egg water and use it to water your tomatoes and houseplants. Just be sure you don’t add salt to the water.

Question. I have glorious lilies, and I cut them to use at church and give away to friends. I have just been told that if you cut the lily stems it stops them from flowering again next year. Is this true? My lilies seem to be blooming with less and less flowers as the years go by. C.L., Kent

Answer. Yes, lilies use the energy of the yellowing leaves and stem to make next year’s flowers, so removing a long stem when you harvest the blooms will weaken the underground bulb.

But you don’t have to give up enjoying your lilies indoors as cut flowers. Just try to leave as much stem as possible on the plant when you harvest the blooms.

If you must have long stems for large displays of lilies, just expect fewer blooms the following year. Plant lots of lilies and harvest or cut the flowers every other year to give the bulb time to rebuild itself.

Even if you decide not to bring the flowers indoors, you should cut off the faded lily blooms from the top of the stem so the plant doesn’t waste energy making seeds. Then allow the stem and leaves to ripen and turn yellow in the garden, waiting until October to cut the stems to ground level.

Q. Help us solve a mystery about a new plant my neighbor is growing. It looks like an alyssum with small white clusters of blooms but it is much larger and with more flowers than any alyssum we have ever seen. It is part of a flowering basket full of mixed flowers. The reason we both want to know the name is because on hot days or if she forgets to water her container the other plants wilt but this lovely white flowered plant continues to look great! Is this some type of tough new flower? M.G., Olympia

A. Yes, this is indeed a knight in shining white blossoms that has rescued heat-stressed hanging baskets. The name of the new Lobularia hybrid is “frosty knight” and it looks just like alyssum — but on steroids.

“Frosty knight” Lobularia does well in the ground as a frilly annual peeking over the edge of sunny pathways or in hanging baskets and container gardens. In my garden this cold and heat tolerant annual flowered from April until October.

So here’s the good news — a second new variety of Lobularia with a lavender tinge to the flowers has been introduced. It is called Lobularia “blushing princess,” and it should reign with frosty knight as a summer favorite for any garden lacking storybook charm. There might still be time to find these new varieties at local nurseries — plant these annuals now and you’ll be able to enjoy months of color before a killing frost ends the Lobularia display in October.

Q. My rhododendron has grown too large. Can I prune it back now or must I wait until spring? J. Email

A. Pruning after blooming is the general rule of green thumb for most flowering shrubs but if you have a rhododendron outgrowing its space you can remove entire branches or just pinch off the new growth candles without harming the plant.

Pruning rhododendrons during the summer months will sacrifice some of next year’s blooms however, so prepare to have a more compact but less floriferous rhododendron.

Rhodies and azaleas make next year’s flowers in late summer so to really pamper these plants offer more to drink, not more to eat. Shallow rooted shrubs like rhododendrons need more frequent water during dry spells than other shrubs if you want maximum blooms. Rhododendrons are not heavy feeders, and do not need fertilizing every year — especially if they are growing too large for their space. It is just not kind to fertilize shrubs and trees so they will grow faster, then cut off their limbs because they are growing too large.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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