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Published May 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Thin tomato plants to just one per square

Q: My friend ordered some dream tomatoes from a catalog. All that came were seeds, squares of stuff to put water on and pots to put the plants in. They are coming up, but we have no direction as to what to do with them.

By: By Ron Smith, INFORUM

Q: My friend ordered some dream tomatoes from a catalog. All that came were seeds, squares of stuff to put water on and pots to put the plants in. They are coming up, but we have no direction as to what to do with them. Several seeds were planted in a pot that are coming up. Should the plants be thinned out? How big should they be before transplanting, and what the heck should be done with them? (Fargo)

A: Thin them to just one per square. Use the strongest of the seedlings. Give them plenty of direct light from fluorescent sources. The light should be inches above the growing seedlings. When they get to about 4 to 6 inches tall, move them to where they can get gradual exposure to the elements and keep them watered. When you finally transplant them outdoors, do so by planting them a little deeper than they are in the container so more roots will emerge along the stem. Give them a shot of liquid fertilizer and hope for a good harvest in 45 to 60 days.

Q: I have a friend who has fairy rings in her yard. How can she get rid of them? (Columbia Falls, Mont.)

A: Fairy rings are unsightly and very difficult to control. The average homeowner may prefer to live with the problem. One way to eliminate a fairy ring is to dig it out, although this is seldom practical. Mark out an area at least a foot beyond the ring and remove all the sod in that area. Then remove all the soil to a depth of 1 foot. Be careful not to spill any on the lawn.

Refill the hole with new soil and reseed or resod. Seeding is preferable because there is less danger of reintroducing the fairy ring fungi. Doing this job without spilling any soil and reintroducing the fairy ring fungi is extremely difficult.

For those who decide to live with the problem, there are several ways to minimize damage. The grass should be fertilized with nitrogen several times a year to help mask symptoms. Most of the fairy ring growth is in the ground underneath the fairy ring. This growth causes the soil to become nearly impervious (hydrophobic) to water.

Using a root feeder attachment on a garden hose, punch holes at least every foot in the yellowing or dying area and pump large amounts of water into the ground to a depth of 10 to 24 inches. Repeat frequently. Increasing the soil moisture may change the ecological balance enough to retard the growth of the fairy ring fungi. An application of a wetting agent to the area may increase soil permeability and help lessen the symptoms.

Aeration also reduces the severity of the problem.

Q: I have some well-established peony bushes. For the past four years, the plants grew, looked very healthy and got full of buds, but then the foliage turned brown and the buds hardly opened. If they did bloom, they didn’t look very good. Can you tell me what the problem is? (Deerfield, Va.)

A: Dig, divide and replant, but not too deeply because that will inhibit flowering.

Q: I have a question about my crotons that I’ve had for many years. They are in large, clay pots that I bring in and out of the cold. They are root bound. Can I cut off some of the roots and put them in the same size pot using fresh soil instead of putting them in larger, heavier pots? (Jacksonville, Fla.)

A: Absolutely! It is done all the time. When you repot, water them with a diluted solution of Miracle-Gro fertilizer or something similar.

Q: When is the best time to prune lilacs to maximize bloom growth and ensure future plant health? (Columbus, Ohio)

A: If you prune while the bush is dormant, you have to realize that each stem you remove will reduce the number of spring blooms. The other option is to wait until blooming has ended, then do the pruning before new growth emerges so the new growth has a chance to set flower buds for the following spring.

Q: I purchased a home in a newer development that has no trees or shrubs. I’d like to plant a hedge of common lilacs around the perimeter of my backyard to build some privacy. How close can I plant the lilacs to the neighbor’s fence?

Should I use a landscape fabric under the mulch? I’m concerned about the lilacs sending suckers under the fence into my neighbor’s yard. I’m not sure if landscape fabric and edging will prevent that or if it’d be better for the lilacs to put mulch directly on top of the soil and leave out the landscape fabric. (St Paul)

A: If you stay away from common lilacs and go for nonsuckering cultivars, your worries will be over. You don’t need the landscape fabric. Just use the bark mulch. Look for Miss Kim at your local nursery. It is not a common lilac cultivar. Miss Kim is a Manchurian lilac and will top out at about 6 to 8 inches with a spread of 4-plus feet.

Q: I am considering planting two arborvitaes against the east wall of my house.

My only concern is a window in the area. I do not want to block the window. I was told by my local nursery that the type of arborvitae they will plant will get 2 feet wide, but I am having trouble finding any information to back this claim. The area is about 6 to7 feet wide. I am hoping that planting them on each side of the window will keep them from growing together and blocking the window.

I also plan to plant a dogwood tree 2 to 3 feet in front of the arborvitae. The woman at the nursery thinks there is plenty of room for it. The area is recessed about a foot, so it gets sun until 1p.m. Will this be OK? (Ohio)

A: The following cultivars would be the narrow type that likely would fill that

setting: Brandon, Lutea, Rosenthalii and Spirais. If you are talking about the flowering dogwood species and not a particular cultivar, that would be somewhat crowded as the tree approached maturity. I would suggest moving it out to 4 feet at least. The location is OK for the amount of sunlight it gets.

Q: I have several Japanese iris plants in our yard. They were planted at least two to three years ago, but haven’t bloomed. What can we do to get them to bloom? (e-mail reference)

A: Failure to bloom usually is associated with being planted too deeply or too much nitrogen- containing fertilizer is used.

Q: We have a 10-year-old autumn blaze maple that has bark damage. Our frustrated dog chewed off some bark down to the white trunk near the base of the tree. The damaged, exposed area is about 4 inches wide and 20 inches tall. What should we do? Should we cover the wound, leave it alone or shoot the dog? (Lanesboro, Minn.)

A: Scold the dog and leave the tree alone. It should recover with normal care.

If there is any ragged bark hanging on, cut it back to where the bark is attached to the trunk. I would suggest putting a mesh wire barrier around the trunk, but not against it, to keep your pet from finishing the job.

Q: While raking the lawn, I discovered the yard is full of little mounds of dirt on the surface where the grass should be. A neighbor suggested that night crawlers were the problem. Could it be that or something else? How do I get rid of whatever it is? (Valley City, N.D.)

A: Your neighbor hit the nail on the head! Night crawlers are beneficial because they provide natural soil aeration, so they should be tolerated whenever possible. Their feeding and excrement helps recycle nutrients and fertilize the soil. Night crawlers also feed on thatch, which is a layer of live and dead plant material that can accumulate at the soil surface and reduce the penetration of water and fertilizer. However, large populations can cause lumpiness and, in extreme cases, reduce the value of the turf for recreation.

Vertical mowing can help reduce the lumpiness and the amount of food available for night crawler development. Vertical mowing is best done in late spring or mid-August through September. Do not do vertical mowing in hot weather because it causes stress to the lawn. If you must power rake (vertical mow) in the summer, water thoroughly and frequently until the lawn has fully recovered from having slices cut into it. Power rakes may be rented from garden centers and rental companies. Light ballast rolling may help smooth out the surface to make walking and mowing much easier. As our weather warms up, their activity will decrease significantly. If their activity persists to the point of annoyance, hire a professional lawn applicator to have your lawn treated for grubs.

Everyone’s lawn has some grubs in it, so the application will take care of whatever is there. Treating the lawn will reduce the night crawler population by about 30 percent. If it is any comfort, you are not alone!


Gardening or houseplant questions can be directed to: Hortiscope, Ron Smith, NDSU Department of Plant Sciences, Dept. 7670, Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 or e-mail ronald.smith@ndsu.edu.

Note to e-mail correspondents: please identify your location (city and state) for most accurate recommendations

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