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What to do this week –By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”
The first day of spring this year was March 20th and if you have been following my planting calendar then many of you should have some good looking plants already growing in the garden or at least pots of seedlings ready to be transplanted into the garden. Because so many of us start out plants from seed, getting them into the garden takes a little longer than those of you who purchase starter plants from the garden center. Either way, most of your plants should be of decent size now so you need to start thinking about getting them into the garden. This week I want to go over a few tips that will help your garden plants reach your ultimate goal – providing you with basketfuls of fruits and vegetables for your kitchen. I will also give you some suggestions of plants you should be planting now and how to care for them.
Tomato growers should always add a little dolomite and fertilizer to the bed before planting. Two cups of dolomite for every four tomato plants and a half cup of an 8-10-10 fertilizer worked into the planting site should be sufficient. Dolomite is necessary because of tomato blossom end rot. Blossom end rot effects the bottom of the tomato as it grows turning it brown and rotting the fruit on the vine before it is ripe. If you forgot to add the dolomite before planting your tomatoes then you can spray your plants as they grow with a product called Stop Blossom End Rot available at most garden centers. You will have to spray your plants once a month with this product to protect the fruit. The fertilizer added to the soil will help your plants get off to a good start.
When planting you tomatoes please make sure that you plant them deep. I know that I normally warn you about planting things to deep but with tomatoes you want to plant them deep to allow roots to form up and down the stem. Tomato stems will root when covered with soil giving you a healthier plant and more tomatoes, so plant them at least three inches deeper that they are in the pot. Try not to compact the soil too tight around the roots as compacted soil makes it harder for new plants to spread out in the soil and put out additional roots. Loose soil allows oxygen and water to move through the soil and around the roots. These roots will establish the plant much quicker and soon you will have a sturdy plant. A few varieties of tomatoes I like to plant this time of year are the Tasty Lee, Celebrity, Bigger Boy, and Better Boy tomatoes.
Three weeks after your plants are in the ground you should be getting ready to spray them with a liquid fertilizer such as Peters or Miracle Grow mixed at half strength. Liquid fertilizers provide a quick source of nutrients to keep your plants actively growing. All the vegetables you are growing can benefit from liquid fertilizers. Because vegetables have such a short life cycle, they need extra boosts of nutrition regularly to help keep them actively growing which will also give you healthier plants and bigger tastier fruit. Liquid fertilizers are used in addition to the granular fertilizers you may be using. Continue spraying with one half strength liquid fertilizer every two weeks after this first application until the plants are done producing. Spray your plants in the early morning or late afternoon, never during the middle of the day as this may burn the foliage.
Be sure to monitor your tomato plants for diseases such as Early or Late Blight. Early or Late Blight of tomatoes is a devastating foliar disease that can cause your plants to wither and die if not controlled early. Look for wilting leaves on the upper or lower branches followed by death of the branch. As soon as you notice this happening to your plants, you will need to apply a fungicide. I like to use Daconil, Dithane M-45, or Green Cure fungicides. Spray both the top and bottom of the leaves and make sure you follow the mixing instructions on the label. Re-apply fungicides every seven to ten days using freshly mixed product. If you have a severe problem, you may need to pull out the infested plant so you do not infect your other plants in the same area.
Please note that when choosing varieties of tomatoes you will need to check the label to determine if the varieties of tomatoes you choose are “indeterminate” or “determinate” plants. Indeterminate tomatoes can grow as high as eight to ten feet when supported on an arbor or trellis. Most bush tomatoes or “determinate” tomatoes will only grow to a height of three to five feet. If you do not want tomatoes growing out of bounds in a limited garden area, then choose the determinate varieties.
Cucumbers and Cantaloupes are also great plants that can still be planted now. Remember, because these plants are runners or climbers, they will need additional room as they tend to run along the ground. I like to grow mine on a support structure such as a trellis or fence to keep them off the ground and limit spoilage. Look for varieties such as Burpless cucumbers or for cantaloupes, I like the variety Athena which is a hybrid that does well in Florida. Both of these varieties were available at the local garden center I checked out this past week. If you are going to plant these I recommend you purchase starter plants already growing and ready to put into the garden. Follow the recommendations I gave you earlier regarding granular fertilizing and following up with the liquid fertilizer too.
Caterpillars and beetles like to feed on the edges of leaves of vegetables and I have seen them often on both cucumbers and cantaloupes. If you spot these pests on your plants you will need to spray them with an insecticide. Spray infested plants in the early morning with products called Dipel or liquid Sevin to control these pests. You may have to make repeated applications every ten days depending on the severity of the infestation until the pests are eliminated. Another problem with large leafed plants is fungal or disease problems. These problems usually show up on the upper sides of the leaves and they look like a white powdery substance which may cover the entire leaf. In severe infestations, leaves will eventually curl up turn brown and all parts of the plant may wither and die. The fungicides I listed above under tomatoes will also cure this devastating disease. Apply every 10 days until new leaves emerging are clear of the disease. Older leaves will eventually fall from the plant.
Occasionally I have been asked if you can apply both insecticides and fungicides at the same time. The simple answer is yes you can but with the following limitations. First of all be sure the two products are computable. Read the labeled directions of both products and if you find no mention of compatibility problems, mix each product accordingly. Most products homeowners purchase are compatible but to be sure read the label. Again, I like to spray my plants early in the morning after a thorough watering the night before.
One plant I have not grown before in Florida is called Rhubarb. Rhubarb is grown mainly in the north where cool temperatures allow the formation of the large stalks used for eating fresh or for making pies. Even though I have not grown this plant here before, I am currently growing some in my garden and I will let you know if I have success or not. My plants are currently about ten inches in height so I am pessimistic on how far I can take them. I used to grow this plant up in Michigan during my youth and the stalks were over three feet in length. Although I do not anticipate that kind of luck here in Central Florida, I hope to at least have a few stalks. I will keep you informed on my progress.
I like to try different type of plants each year and I hope you will try things you normally do not grow but are interested in what type of luck you will have. This is one of my passions as I work my garden and I hope you too will try something different each season. Remember to check your garden often for pests and disease and treat accordingly. If you have a plant that dies or does not look well then you should pull that plant out and put another plant in its place to keep the garden looking good and productive. If you have a small space in your garden available to plant something new then try a different cultivar of plant or something you have not grown before to keep your garden full. Keep yourself active gardening. This not only helps you provide food for the table but the rewards of picking your own produce from your garden may change your outlook on life and this is a good source of exercise. Thanks for your time and remember, without our plants, we would not be here.