The coronavirus has kept us housebound for months. During that time, many of us figured out that having a garden is one answer to getting outside and away from the crowds, as well as a welcome break from the next binge-watch series.
Most importantly, we feel a strong desire to grow our own food crops and plant flowers to remind us that we are vital in the whole circle of life.
Now that your garden is planted and well on its way to producing fruit, vegetables, flowers and bliss, where are you finding answers for questions about growing care and remedies for issues that crop up (pun intended)? You know, questions about common summer plant issues like soft, brown spots on tomatoes, bugs munching on leaves, and whether talking to your plants will really help them grow better.
Are internet sites and the jillion YouTube videos worth your time? Shouldn’t we rely on science and testing?
Will adding eggshells around plants prevent blossom end rot on vegetables, mainly tomatoes?
Since the beginning of the chicken or the egg, gardeners have found uses for eggshells in the garden. From starting seeds, pest repellent, mulch, mixed in with bird seed, to the most widely known cure for blossom end rot on tomatoes and peppers, which is believed to be caused by a calcium deficiency in the soil.
Blossom End Rot (BER) looks like brown, mushy, sunken areas on fruit bottoms. It typically happens on the earliest ripening fruit. The theory is that adding crushed eggshells to the planting hole or sprinkled around the plant adds calcium to the soil, preventing or correcting BER. Oh, if it were only that easy.
It’s not that the soil calcium isn’t right there for the plant roots to take up; it’s a case of whether the roots can access it. Two conditions can prevent calcium uptake. There could be a nutrient imbalance (usually too much magnesium) that interferes with calcium uptake. Inconsistent (too much, too little) watering also causes blossom end rot.
The solution: Maintain appropriate watering practices (deep, every few days, not every day), especially during these hot days. Don’t forget the organic mulch, which helps maintain even moisture around the plant. And toss those crushed eggshells into the compost pile.
Source: Kansas State University Extension Service
Will homemade soap sprays deter or kill pest insects?
Insects are a given in any garden. The good news is so are beneficial insects that prey on the pests. Many gardeners mix their own soap spray to smother undesirable pests like aphids, spider mites and others.
So, yes, soap sprays work. But keep a couple of things in mind when making your own:
- Correct dilution is key to avoid burning plants (some plants are more susceptible than others).
- Keep the mixture to 2-3 percent dilution and test a small area of leaves to check for sensitivity prior to spraying the entire plant.
- Avoid spraying in heat of the day (evening is best).
- Be sure to identify the pest correctly prior to spraying. There may be some collateral damage to beneficial insects, so use care.
- Over-the-counter soap sprays are less apt to cause plant injury because they have been formulated to minimize plant injury.
Source: Colorado State Extension Service.
If I talk to my plants, will they grow better?
We are not alone in thinking a little bit of smooth-talking or a light hum might stimulate our plants enough to reward us with a brighter bloom or bigger pumpkin. (Can they tell us to stop if we’re too pitchy?)
If you answered “yes” or “maybe,” you are correct. Studies are not copious by scientific plant professionals, but so far results show promise and are close enough to start a dialogue with your garden plants.
In 2014 at Osmania University in Hyderabad, India, 30 rose bushes were exposed to Western classical and rock music, along with Indian classical music and Vedic chants (melodic speaking of Hindu hymns). One group was kept in silence. After 60 days, the roses subjected to Vedic chants showed longer shoot growth, and bigger and more flowers.
Maybe not so scholarly was the television series “Mythbusters,” whose hosts in 2009 grew garden peas in several greenhouses on a sunny rooftop, exposing them to all types of music genres and talk radio 24/7. One group remained in silence. After 30 days, the peas subjected to heavy metal music had the most vigorous growth and largest peapods. The silent greenhouse of peas sulked and lacked active growth. (The moral: Be mindful of your neighbors if you turn the volume to 11 when playing AC/DC out in the garden.)
Source: International Journal of Environmental Science and Development
Do marigolds planted around the garden repel bad insects?
It’s hard to miss the almost neon-colored yellow and gold marigolds growing in gardens and containers everywhere.
They perk up landscapes and, as a bonus, they repel pest insects, right?
So if you answered, yes, that French marigolds (Tagetes spp.) reduce numbers of root-knot nematodes — destructive, microscopic roundworms that live underground and inside plant roots of many ornamental plants, fruits and crops — then you are correct.
The worms’ chewing causes plant roots to swell and form bulging growths on the roots, which result in plants wilting or dying. A Florida scientific study that showed using marigolds to repel root-knot nematodes (and some other pest nematodes) applies to plants in Colorado, too. Tagetes marigolds contain a compound that is toxic to pest root-knot nematodes.
The study found, however, that for marigolds to effectively repel nematode pests, they need to be planted very closely together in the same area where desirable plants will be planted, but several weeks earlier and tilled into the soil before the new plants go in. That’s not easy to do in our short growing season.
But don’t despair: Even if the method doesn’t work here, go ahead and plant marigolds for their ease of care and continuous bloom.
Source: University of Florida Extension Service.
Resources for gardening questions
Finding garden answers and advice on the internet is as easy as turning on your phone or laptop. Discerning credible, researched and science-based information is not difficult, either. In our own backyard, look to Colorado State University and surrounding land-grant based agricultural schools for information that works for our high desert to mountain environments. (Bonus: No ads are featured on the pages.)
Check the dates of the articles, as products change over the years and new research goes on all the time.
One of my favorite go-to resources is Linda Chalker Scott’s site on horticultural myths from Washington State University.
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