What to do this week –
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening“
Many of us have planted our spring gardens and have been watching the steady growth of our seedling plants as they begin to mature in the garden. If you had planted your gardens early enough, then some of you may have fruit forming on your plants. This is a critical time in the garden as pests and diseases can devastate a garden seemingly overnight. In this article, I would like to go over a few of the problems you should be looking for in your vegetable garden and few simple solutions you can use to help you generate a bountiful harvest. Outside of the garden, I feel there is another problem plaguing homeowners right now, and that is fleas! Fleas can be very difficult to control, but I will give you a few tips on how to alleviate these problems from your yard. Let’s get started.
This planting season I had changed the soil in all of my Earthboxes and top dressed my gardens with additional compost and fertilizer as I had written about in my previous newsletters. If you had followed my instructions before this year’s planting season, then you are probably witnessing the same results that I am seeing now. Since starting my seedlings in late-February, and finally planting them out in my garden this past month, my vegetables have grown tremendously. My tomatoes, summer squash, and zucchini seem to grow by leaps and bounds every day. With all of this growth in the garden, you would think all you have to do is to sit back and wait until harvest to enjoy your vegetables? Well, unfortunately there are environmental problems, diseases, and pests waiting for you to do just that. Now is the time to examine your plants daily.
One of the first things you are probable noticing is that your plants are demanding much more water now that your plants are maturing. If you have plants with large leaves such as squash, then you have probably noticed that by late afternoon, the leaves are starting to wilt especially those that are growing in containers. Container gardening is the choice of many of the gardeners because they do not want to fight our poor soil conditions, nematodes, or the fungal diseases that live in our soils. If you grow in containers, then you need to monitor your plants watering requirements daily. As the temperatures rise and the size of your plants increase, then so does the water consumption your plant will require. You will also find that containers sitting on concrete or placed against a home or structure will receive reflective heat from these surfaces. All of these factors contribute to your plants water usage so please, check your plants regularly.
An average Earthbox growing two tomato plants will use three to four gallons of water per day before harvest. Container gardens may need just as much water, depending on the size and the variety of plants you are growing. During periods of rainfall, a drain pan allows water to channel away from the root system. When rainfall is absent, the plants can take some of this excess water back. Although rainfall is good for your plants, the humidity it brings can also cause additional problems.
Some of the most devastating problems which occur on vegetables during the growing season are diseases. Diseases manifest themselves on the foliage, stems, and roots of plants. Leaf spots, blights, rusts, and mildews attack the foliage of plants. Routine spraying of your plants every ten to fourteen days with products such as Daconil, Dithane M-45, and GreenCure fungicides will help to keep these problems at bay. Always be sure to read the label for special mixing and application information before treating your plants. Soil-borne fungal diseases such a stem diebacks and wilting require fungicides that cannot be used on vegetable crops. I try to look for vegetables that are labeled resistant to these types of diseases.
Insects are another problem all of us must be concerned about in our vegetable gardens. I cannot stress the importance of scouting your plants daily for insect damage. Caterpillars, aphids, scales, and whiteflies can be devastating to your crop if left unchecked. Look for holes or notches cut out in the leaves of your plants. This could be the first sign of caterpillars feeding on your plants. Even if you do not find the caterpillars doing the damage, I will suggest you spray your plants with an organic product called Dipel. Dipel will only kill the caterpillars feeding on your plants, and you will have to re-apply after a rainstorm. If you have aphids or scales, then you can spray your plants with another organic product called Conserve. Conserve and Dipel can be found at most plant nurseries or garden centers.
Whiteflies need to be treated separately. Because of the unique life cycle of whiteflies, no single control method will suffice. Adult whiteflies look like tiny white moths found on the upper side of leaves. When you move or brush next to a plant, you may see them fluttering around. The immature stage of this insect is found on the underside of the leaves, and they look like scales. All stages of these insects feed on the plant by sucking juices. Repeated uses of the product Conserve I mentioned above will help, but I have also had to use Liquid Sevin insecticide and Yellow Sticky Traps to slow the infestation. Please make sure you spray the underside of the leaves for best control and place the sticky traps close to your plants to capture the adults. In severe infestations, you may be further ahead to remove plants infested with whiteflies to protect other vegetables from being damaged.
The last thing I need to talk about today is flea control. Because of our lack of rainfall, flea populations have exploded both inside and outside of the home. Hot and dry days are perfect for flea reproduction. Fleas lay about fifty eggs per day which fall to the ground or are distributed on your pet. Once the egg hatches, the larvae must feed on the feces of the adult flea to continue its life cycle. During periods of heavy rain, flea populations diminish because the larvae cannot find the food it needs. To reduce flea populations outdoors, you will need to spray the plants around your home and the ground below them. Products such as Bifenthrin can be sprayed over and under your plants outdoors to help reduce populations. Just spraying the lawn will not work.
Fleas do not want to be in the middle of a lawn with no chance to find a pet or person to jump on; they prefer to live beneath the shady areas of the landscape where pets rest during the hot days. When a pet approaches, they jump aboard for a free meal. During the night, raccoons, armadillos and other scavengers follow fence lines under shrubs leaving behind fleas and eggs. When our pets wander into these areas, they pick up the fleas. In order to eliminate fleas outdoors, I have a trick of the trade to tell you.
Wash off all outdoor surfaces with your garden hose regularly. Be sure to include pool decks, walkways, and entryways. The force of the water will kill the flea eggs and eliminate the food source the flea larvae need to survive, thus reducing the population. Run your sprinkler system regularly over your plants to keep fleas in the landscape to a minimum. If you have a pet, then you still should have them dipped at the veterinarian office or use a flea control program such as Advantage II or VetGuard Plus.
For fleas inside the home you need to vacuum regularly and throw the bag away. Wash tile, linoleum, and wood surfaces with water to eliminate flea eggs and food sources. If you spray your home, then make sure you use an insect growth regulator such as Precore or Nyguard EZ1 to stop egg development. Precore 2000 includes an adulticide to kill adult fleas and a growth regulator all in one. These products can be found at the Do-it-Yourself pest control store.
Keeping your garden pest and disease free takes a little work on your part but the rewards are worth the trouble. Only treat your plants when a problem presents itself. As our warm temperatures continue, your plants will use much more water than when they were small so make the necessary adjustments to your watering schedule. Fleas can be a huge problem, but if you follow my advice above, you can have a flea-free home! Good luck and remember, without plants, we would not be here!