Garden Plot: Saving tomatoes, avoiding white bugs and what to harvest now

Mike McGrath,

Those little, white, hoppy bugs are harmless

Steve and Kathy in Ellicott City write: “We’ve noticed a silky white material on the branches of our azaleas and roses, the flower stalks of some hostas and a few other plants in the yard. We thought it might be a fungus of some kind, but when we touch it, a small white insect flies away. Actually, it’s more like it leaps away! How do you recommend we treat this?”

You probably don’t have to do anything, S and K. These little white plant hoppers seem to be in everybody’s garden this season – they especially love hanging out on those hosta shoots – but they don’t seem to be doing any harm. If the white stuff annoys you, just shoot it off the plants with sharp streams of water, there’s no need for pesticides.

And be glad you don’t have white flies instead. Those pests, which do fly as opposed to hop, can be serious garden trouble.

Tomatoes can’t fruit when temps are torrid

Jesse in Centerville writes: “I caged my tomatoes properly, added egg shells to the planting holes, mulched with compost and the vines are looking great. But I moved this spring, and it forced me to put my plants in the ground so late that their flowering coincided with the recent heat waves, and the flowers just drop off without forming any fruits. Any tips on how to beat the heat and avoid this ‘blossom drop’? Or do I just need to get lucky and hope that the upcoming moderate temps hold until some fruit sets?”

Exactly that, Jesse. Although they’re tropical plants, tomatoes won’t set fruit when temperatures are in the mid 90’s and above. But healthy plants like yours should produce nicely outside of sizzle time and any fruits that do form will be unaffected by future heat.

If you want to give your plants a little edge, use beach umbrellas or something similar to give the plants some afternoon shade when the temps climb above 90. I’ve done this in my own garden and it seems to help them fruit despite a fair amount of heat. Around 2 p.m. is the perfect time to begin shading the sunshine.

Yes, there are edibles you can install right now

Lynne in Reston has a great question: “What should I plant now? I’ve harvested all the peas I’m going to get this year. What sort of vegetables do you suggest I plant in their place?” Well, first you’re wise to give up on the peas. Those cool weather crops just shrivel up when summer heat arrives at full blast.

Now, if garden centers have them in stock, this is a great time to install some short-season tomatoes like Early Girl and Fourth of July. They should provide a nice end of season harvest. But I’m only talking plants – there isn’t time to start from seed.

It’s also a perfect time to get some fast-maturing string bean seeds in the ground. Look for varieties with ‘days to maturity’ around 60, and note whether they’re pole beans, which need support, or bush beans, which don’t. Gently water their bed morning and night until the plants sprout, then stop the evening watering and taper the young plants off to a deep watering once or twice a week when we don’t get rain. Only do that in the morning.

Carrot seed sown over the next few weeks should produce full size roots just as the nights start to get cooler, which makes for sweet eating. Carrots sown around August 1st will always be much sweeter than ones sown in the spring. Carrots always taste best when they mature in cooler weather.

This is the perfect time to sow fall crops like broccoli and cauliflower. The young, growing plants don’t mind the heat, and the nights should be getting cooler when they start to head up, which is when they would react badly to super-hot weather.

And finally, be sure to save room for some garlic. The cloves for next year’s crop should go into the ground right around September 1st. This year’s crop should already be harvested. If it isn’t, get it out of the ground ASAP!

Perennial poinsettias

Ursula from Vienna writes: “We bought two poinsettia plants last Christmas. They survived the holiday season, so we made a game of seeing how long we could keep them alive. Now, seven months later, they’re flourishing. The larger one is outside with some other potted plants, and the tiny one is on a windowsill. They have significant new growth, but have lost all their trademark red leaves. Can we keep them alive until the upcoming holiday season? And is there anything we can do to promote regrowth of the red leaves?”

Poinsettias make surprisingly good houseplants, Ursula, just make sure the outdoor one comes back inside in early September; these tropical plants despise cold weather.

To restore the red centers, you must mimic the daylight conditions of the tropical climes these plants are native to-twelve hours of daylight, 12 hours of night. The easiest way to do this is to cover the plants with a box every night at the same time at 6 or 7 p.m., and then remove the box and expose them to bright light every morning at the same time, 6 or 7 a.m. Do whatever works best for you and your workday schedule. This tedious task must be performed for about three months to get those central leaves to color up. And if that’s too much trouble, just enjoy them as they are – they’re very attractive plants!

Upcoming events next weekend:

Parade of Ponds to Feed the Hungry and Big Iris Sale.

Ponds and other water features can help a landscape come alive with birds, butterflies, toads, frogs, dragonflies and other wildlife. And the 5th Annual ‘Parade of Ponds’ organized by Premier Ponds of Burtonsville is a great way to see lots of examples of how to use water in the landscape.

This year’s event takes place next weekend, July 28 and 29, and features over 25 ponds, waterfalls, cascading streams, fountains and water gardens in Montgomery, Howard, and Frederick counties. It’s self-guided, so you can visit as few or as many as you like. It is technically free, donations are requested and, as always, all proceeds will benefit feeding the hungry via the Shepherd’s Table in Silver Spring.

And the Annual Fredericksburg Area Iris Society Sale will be held on Saturday, July 28 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Roxbury Mills Garden Center, 601 Layfayette Blvd, Fredericksburg, Va. Many rare varieties will be on sale, along with expert advice from experienced iris growers. And the irises are cheap! Nothing over $5. Call Eileen at 540-376-4495 for more details.

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