The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

May 7, 2007

Plants stressed and will need extra attention and more water

Louise Poitras

There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling. 

— Mirabel Osler

We have had a most unusual spring – too much rain, not enough rain, frost too late, etc. Because of this The new growth on my huge fig bush was killed by the last frost, but I am beginning to see more new growth. If some of your tender new growth was damaged also, wait to see if new growth will appear.

Your established plants should be fine but the younger ones may not survive. When a plant is under stress it is so important to make sure it gets a consistent supply of water.

It really is time to finish planting the vegetable garden. When buying tomato plants look for ones that have lots of letters on the label. Meaning V, F, N or T. V means resistant to verticillium wilt; F to fusarium wilt (FF covers two strains); N to nematodes and T to tobacco mosaic. Celebrity is a good choice.

Edgecombe has suffered from the Tomato Spotted Wilt (TSWV) for several years and there is nothing you can do if your plants are affected. This disease is carried by thripes and some think that planting tomatoes late will help avoid the disease.

Don’t buy plants that have blooms or buds on them, as the root system hasn’t developed well in the little plastic pot. If they do have blooms, pinch them off so the energy goes into the plant and the root growth.

Also pinch off some of the lower leaves and plant them deep to encourage strong root growth. Make sure tomatoes are not planted in the same spot each year to help prevent disease.

By mid month pansies and violas will be leggy and time to go. Pull them out and replace with summer blooming annuals. A little fertilizer at planting time will help them get started. I like a time-release one, such as Osmocote, so I don’t have to keep applying it.

A container of herbs by the kitchen door are a treat and a bonus is they seem to thrive even when neglected. Too much fertilizer produces poor flavor and fragrance.

Rosemary is blooming now and does well in our area. Surround it in a large pot with parsley, thyme, chives and oregano. Mint is too aggressive so plant it in its own container. I use too much basil to plant in one pot; so many plants are placed in my garden in full sun.

An herb is at its peak of flavor when it begins to bloom. If you want to preserve some for winter use, parsley, thyme, rosemary and oregano can be dried easily on paper towels in the microwave.

Basil does not dry well so it is better made into pesto and frozen in small amount in ice cube trays.

Bring your houseplants outside for a vacation, and they will respond well to the reprieve from being inside. Sink the pots a little in the outdoor soil to help conserve moisture and do not place them in full sun.

Hanging baskets will dry out faster outside, so check them often and fertilize them more.

As we head into the hot dry summer, remember that when you water your lawns and plants to water deeply. When you water just a little it encourages the roots to stay at the surface and thus dry out faster and possibly die.

When you water deeply the roots grow deeper in the dirt and can withstand our hot dry summers better. One inch a week is much better than standing in your yard with the hose for a few minutes. When you do that, most of the water just evaporates and the plants or lawn actually get very little moisture.

A good mulch will help conserve on water needed around shrubs and trees.

Louise Poitras is an Edgecombe County gardener. Look for her Garden guide on the Community page each month.