Tips for Week 25 in the Zone 9 Garden

This past weekend I harvested my first crop of elephant garlic.  This was a new plant for me and I thoroughly enjoyed growing it.  While it is not technically garlic (it is more closely related to leeks) it was a beautiful plant that can be used ornamentally or for its fist sized, mild, garlic tasting bulbs.  My elephant garlic was given to me by a man who has grown it in his garden for 47 years.  He got it from his parents who grew it for years before sharing with him. I absolutely love plants like this.  Whether they are called heirloom plants or pass a long plants, they are a living link to our horticultural past.  I love finding, growing and preserving these living links to our southern heritage.  If you have an heirloom plant that you love, leave me a comment.  I would love to hear about it.

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With it long curvy scapes and big flower heads, Elephant Garlic is a useful as as ornamental as it is as a food source.

Pest Control

  • Invest in a few select organic insecticides– Bt for caterpillars, insecticidal soap for soft-bodied aphids, neem oil for beetles and squash bugs, spinosad for caterpillars and stink bugs. Follow label instructions, and spray only as needed. Mark the purchase date on the product container and store in a protected location, preferably indoors.
  • When using any insecticide, mix up only what will be needed for the plants you are treating – I rarely mix up a gallon of anything, and often get by using a one pint or one quart squirt bottle, depending on the product and number of plants needing treatment. Once I determine how much a particular product is needed per pint, I write it directly on the pesticide container so I don’t have to scour the label and recalculate every time.
  • Protect bees by applying pesticides in the late afternoon or evening, when bees are less active.
  • Control Spurge and Puslane-These two plants are some of the most difficult to control. Both grow rapidly and produce thousands of seeds.  Chemical control has little effect on mature purslane.  Pull these weeds and place in a plastic trash bag.  Do not compost!  Apply heavy mulch or solarize if possible after you remove the plants.
acetic-acid-weed-control

When mixing herbicides or pesticides mix only what you need and clearly mark each container

Vegetables

  • Plant okra, sweet potatoes, winter squash and peppers-Realize this is the absolute end of the spring planting season. It may be too late to plant even these in southern parts of the state.
  • Water correctly- It is better for your plants, and your water bill, if you apply one inch of water every five days. Water slowly in the morning to reduce evaporation loss. 
  • Remove spent plants like green beans to avoid attracting pests.
  • Top dress empty rows with compost and cover with a heavy layer of mulch to prepare them for fall planting in late July
water-sprinkler

Water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth and conserve water

Ornamentals

  • Cut fresh flowers for the house-Cut your zinnia’s, sunflowers, gomphrena, celosia and other fresh cuts early in the morning. Cut stems on 45 degree angles, strip foliage and drop immediately into cool, clean water
  • Plant sweet potato vine from transplant-Sweet potato vine is a great way to add lots of low maintenance color to your pots and beds.  With its bright chartreuse or purple-black foliage this drought and heat tolerant plant will add LOTS of color to your summer landscape.  Sweet potato vine will provide you lots of color right up to the first freeze 

Fruit Trees

  • Pick remaining plums-Plums will continue to ripen after they are picked. Pull when they have half color and allow them to ripen inside;  especially if making jelly.  Over ripe fruit left on the trees, or on the ground, invites in raccoons, possums and mocking birds
  • Pick Peaches-Pick peaches when they are slightly soft to the touch

ripe-plums

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Tip of the Week – Week 21 in the Zone 9 Garden

It finally finished raining long enough for Sally and I to harvest the rest of the potatoes.  While we were out there we also pulled our first cucumbers and picked a small mess of green beans.  We just finished an amazing dinner of cucumbers and onions, green beans and an okra/tomato/sausage/smoked poblano concoction.  Everything but the sausage came straight from the garden or the freezer.  And that my friends is why I garden!

On another note, I recently read an article that said internet readers want their information quick and easy.  With that in mind I am going to structure my weekly tips in a different format for a while.  If you like it, or even if you don’t, leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Potato-harvest

Vegetables

  • Pick Green Beans
  • Harvest and cure onions
  • Control aphids, thrips and scale insects with a strong blast of water. If this is not working spray entire plant with neem oil or a water/dish soap mixture
  • Harvest Potatoes-It has rained so much lately that it has washed much of the soil away from my potato plants. I literally have potatoes on top of the ground.  This will cause two problems.  First, the harvest is going to be a muddy mess.  No way around this.  I will have to dig them and then go directly to the hose for a good wash.  I do not normally recommend washing your potatoes.  When potatoes come out of the ground their skins are soft and can be damaged by washing.  Damaged skins let in fungus that will cause the potatoes to rot during storage.  That is why we cure them before we store them.  To cure potatoes we need to let them dry in the hot sun for a few hours.  All of this rain is causing an unusual lack of sunshine.  Because of this I will have to figure out a way to move the potatoes into the garage for curing.  This is a big problem for me because my garage is already covered with the onions that I had to cure inside because of the rain.

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Ornamentals 

  • Pull weeds while the ground is soft.  Throw them in the compost pile if they have not set seed
  • Dead head zinnias and marigolds
  • Plant zinnias (Benary’s Giant are my favorites) and marigolds from seed
  • Plant Sunflowers-There are about a million different varieties of sunflowers and I grow several of them (my favorite is a double called “Teddy Bear” that grows on three to four foot tall stalks and produces gorgeous flowers). For the next couple of months I will plant more seeds every other week.  This “two week planting schedule” will ensure that Sally and I have an ample supply of fresh cuts for our home right up to the first frost.
  • Plant Gomphrena (Bachelor’s Buttons) – I have two places in my yard where I grow gomphrena (Bachelor’s Buttons). Gomphrena is a great plant for our area because it can really take the heat and it will keep flowers until the first frost.  Even though it is an annual it is a great self-seeder and will come back on its own year after year.  That is, it will come back year after year as long as you don’t have free ranging chickens that scratch up all of the seedlings in your beds.  That is what has happened at my house.  Thanks to my chickens I currently have no gomphrena.  So this weekend I will be replanting.  Many of our reseeders (like gomphrena, zinnia, poppies and marigolds) can be planted by running a rake over and area and then putting the seeds out in a broadcast manner.  Once the seeds are down, run the rake across the soil to lightly cover the seeds.  Finally, gently water the area.  Keep the soil moist until the little plants develop their first set of real leaves.

Lawns

  • Do not fertilize until things dry out. Nitrogen, moisture and cool temps encourage brown spot

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I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

teddy-bear-sunflowers

Organic Aphid Control

If you have spent much time in the garden, you are familiar with aphids.  These tiny little pests are quite common and quite annoying.  In fact, they are so annoying; lots of people call them plant lice.  Aphids do more damage to agricultural and horticultural plants than any other species of insect.  In fact, one species of aphid almost entirely destroyed the French wine industry in the 1870’s.  They also contributed to the spread of the “Late Blight” fungus that caused the Irish potato famine.

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Aphids do more damage to agricultural and horticultural crops than any other insect. Photo by Bruce Leander

Aphids have modified mouth parts that allow them to drill directly into the phloem and extract all of the rich carbohydrates and sugars that it needs from your plants.  Aphid damage on plants can lead to decreased growth rates, curled leaves, brown spots, low yields and even death.  To make matters worse, aphids are known to spread many different plant viruses.  For example, the green peach aphid is known to spread 110 different viruses.

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This rose bud is covered with aphids in all stages of their development. The white things in the pictures are the skins they shed as they go from one phase to another. Photo by Sally White

Aphid also excrete a substance called “honeydew” that is also harmful to plants.  Aphids feed on plants the same way a mosquito feeds on you.  Once they “tap a vein” there is so much food available, and it us under so much pressure, that the unused sap passes through their bodies and onto the plant’s foliage.  This forms a sticky, sweet covering on stems and leaves that is a perfect host for mold and fungus.

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Close up of aphids in various stages of development. Photo by Bruce Leander.

While there are lots of insecticides that you can spray to control aphids, organic control is usually just as effective.  Believe it or not, the most effective tool you can use against the aphid is water.  Aphids are soft bodied pests.  A good hard blast of water can actually cause the aphid to burst open.  Even if it doesn’t burst the aphid, it will knock them to the ground.  The ground is a very bad place for an aphid.  There are lots of things down there that will eat it.  Also, since most cannot fly or crawl very fast, they will often die from exposure before they make it back to your plant.

Effective control with water in not a “one and done” job.  If you want to keep aphids in check you are going to need to spray every three or four days.  Also, since aphids hide under leaves at night and during the hot part of the day, you need to spray upwards from the bottom of the plant.  This is very difficult to accomplish with a water hose.   Luckily there are tools out there that can make this job easier and more effective.

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As you can see, my roses are infested with aphids again this year. Photo by Sally White.

The best tool I have found is made right here in Texas.  It is called the MiteyFine sprayer.  The MiteyFine sprayer is essentially a metal tube with a special nozzle that is designed to apply the right amount of pressure (and use the least amount of water) needed to kill aphids.  MiteyFine comes in 46” and 58” lengths.  The light weight shaft makes it easy to handle and the design ensures that the water finds the aphids that hide in those really hard to get to places.

MiteyFine-Sprayer

The MiteyFine sprayer is the most effective tool I have found for organic control of aphids. Photo by Bruce Leander.

I have met several people that are skeptical that water alone can control aphids.  In fact, just yesterday I was telling a friend that runs a landscape business about the MiteyFine sprayer.  He asked “How do you mix the orange oil in with the water?”  No matter how much I swore that water alone was enough, he just didn’t believe me.  If you are like my friend, and you feel like you have to spray something on bugs, then you are in luck.  Orange oil, neem oil and lantana oil are organic insecticides that can all be sprayed on active infestations with great result.  These natural oils kill by clogging the pores that the insects use to breath.  However, just like water, you need to spray every few days and you need to spray under the leaves.  Be aware that there are some predatory bugs that eat aphids that will also be killed by any oil application.

Ladybug-dill

Lady bugs and their babies are voracious aphid predators. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Lady bugs are another organic aphid control measure that I hear a lot about.  While it is true that lady bugs eat a lot of aphids, you would need a whole lot more of them than you can afford to control a good infestation.  I have lots of lady bugs in my gardens.  However, I still have lots of aphids all over my plants.  I am not saying you should not buy and release lady bugs in your garden.  Just be aware that they are not the panacea they are made out to be.

ladybug-larvae

Ladybug larvae are often called “aphid lions” because they eat so many of the pests. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Even though aphids are a nuisance, there is no reason to let them ruin all of those beautiful plants that you have worked so hard to grow.  With a little observation and a little perseverance, you can control your aphid problems with some very effective organic tools.

Ladybugs lay their eggs close to an aphid infestation.  The larvae begin to feed on the slow moving aphids immediately.  Photo by Bruce Leander.

Ladybugs lay their eggs close to an aphid infestation. The larvae begin to feed on the slow moving aphids immediately. Photo by Bruce Leander.