Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Arghhh!  These dang grasshoppers got the last of my bok choy!  Little buggers.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Basil is Bolting!

My basil is on the run!  Well alright, it's not really running all over the place, but it IS bolting.  What's bolting?  That's when a plant, usually due to hot weather, thinks the world is ending and abandons all leaf growth in favor of producing flowers and seed.  I've seen this with all kinds of flowers, vegetables and herbs.  For many it's the vegetables and herbs that are the most frustrating, because if you're growing either of those two, it's not usually the darn flowers or seeds that you're after.  Also, once a plant bolts, its disregard for leaf growth and maintenance can often lead to dying, woody, or bitter tasting harvest.
You can sometimes halt this process if you catch the bolt in its early stages.  Clip off the flowers and any buds that you see.  I've been known to also clip that robust main stem they're growing off of down closer to the rest of the "bushy" part.  With herbs this can often stop it bolting, and it returns to normal leaf growth.  With vegetables it's very hit or miss.  Often all you're doing is buying yourself a little time to harvest what you can before the taste is ruined. 
While bolting in my experience is usually brought on by hot weather, make sure that you're giving your garden enough water.  You don't want vegetable and herb beds to run wet and dry.  Consistent watering may help to keep the soil temperature from ranging too high. 
As for my basil, I've snipped it back as described above, and will keep my fingers crossed that it quits its shenanigans and goes back to growing leaves for me.

Happy gardening!

Monday, June 6, 2011

If You Can't Take the Heat, Get Outta My Front Yard!

I just spent the morning and early afternoon weeding and then planting in about 10 lantana bushes into the large flower bed in the front of the house.  And also one leftover lamb's ear, but he didn't take long.  I am beat!
The flower bed along the front walk and the large rectangular flower bed that it leads to has been a west-facing work in progress ever since I moved into this house.  It would take more fingers and toes than I own to count the number of plants that I've lost to the aggressive, drying afternoon sun that the front of the house endures. Even happy marigolds and petunias burn up!
Over the years I've been learning which are the performers to trust on the west side of the house.  These guys have been consistent sun-loving performers who can take the heat.  So far these are:  roses (need water), lamb's ear, moss rose (portulacas), yellow lavendar, butterfly bush, russian sage, morning glory (yeah you heard me, but it NEEDS WATER), and now, hopefully, lantana and salvia. 
Barb and Dave over at Sweetwater Farm Greenhouse have been helping me figure out this difficult area.  The lamb's ear was their idea, and it might be the most successful one yet.  Lamb's ear needs very little to perform big.  It doesn't care about the heat, and, as long as you give it water, will spread like wildfire.  I love the soft, fuzzy leaves.
Since that turned out to be such a great recommendation, I didn't hesitate to try out their latest:  lantana and salvia.  I knew salvia to be a very xeric plant, but the burning heat could be another story.  I planted two a couple weeks ago.  The jury is still out on them.  The lantana, usually an annual, I just got into the ground today.  I've always loved the color and performance of lantana.  I'll report back on how it fares in my death trap of a flower bed.
In the meantime though, it's straight to the pool with me!  Hoo!  That's enough work for one day.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Quick Tips: Planting Store Bought Tomato Plants

So your tomato seedlings failed.  Maybe they got too leggy and laid over in the wind or burned to a crisp in the Texoma sun.  I'm very sorry.  It's so disappointing when you lose new plants, especially if they were of a specialty type.
But not to worry!  These things happen.  You can still have tomatoes in your garden.  Head on over to your local nursery or home repair warehouse, and pick you a few tomato plants.  Yes, I know it's late in the season, but the stores still have them.  Once you get them home, you'll need to get them into the ground quickly, so they can root in and get to growing.  Here are a few quick tips on that:

1.  Use the good soil.  Do not plant these guys in our black gumbo, or even the sandier soil that we find in Texoma.  The gumbo is a super sticky root choker, and the sandy loam is like concrete when it's dry.  I'd recommend a raised bed, especially if you're in a black gumbo area like me.  If you've got sandy loam, then you can mix some of that into your garden soil, but go easy.  Remember:  concrete.  I personally use compost mixed with a little sandy loam.  You can outsource these from places like Texas Pure Products or buy them by the bag in stores.  You want uncompacted, well-draining, nutrient rich soil for hungry tomatoes.  You can also grow tomatoes in a pot.  Just make sure the pot is big enough to fit plant and cage, and be aware that it may require more watering than a garden bed.   

2.  Bury those babies.  You want a good root system working for your plants, so go ahead and bury them until just a few of the topmost stems are out of the soil.  That means planting some of the green main stem in the soil.  Do it.  That buried stem will convert to root, and give your plant a good root system to feed lots of lovely tomatoes growing up top.  This will also ensure that the strong winds that come up on us suddenly don't snap your newly planted babies in half.  You probably know this already, but break off the bottom of those compostable cups before you plant. 

3.  Stake them early.  Tomatoes are a pain to get into a cage after they're grown out, so do yourself a favor, and cage them while they're small.  And do cage them, please.  You'll have less stem breakage once they're heavy with fruit if you take this step.  I once lost a whole 4 foot long branch worth of tomatoes from not caging a plant properly.  It split off in the wind before the blossoms (loads of blossoms) could fruit.  Never made that mistake again.

4.  Mulch.  That's right.  Get some mulch around the plants.  I know that seems weird to do in a vegetable bed.  We're accustomed to mulching flower beds, but tomato beds?  Sure!  Mulch serves several purposes, including keeping weeds down (spurgeweed and johnson grass, anyone?), holding moisture better in the soil underneath, and slowly providing nutrients to the soil as it composts in. 

5.  Water like crazy.  Last but not least, give them lots of water.  I've never known tomatoes to mind the heat much, but they need lots of water to do their thing.  Don't make mud of their soil bed, but don't let these guys run dry either.   

One of my tomato beds.  The PVC & mesh keep the cats out.

And those are the quick tips.  Feel free to send us a message if you need more detailed info, or are having a problem not covered by the above.  Happy gardening!