Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published September 30, 2011, 12:00 AM

Hortiscope: It’s been a crazy year for tomato growers

Q: This is the third summer I’ve grown tomato plants in my backyard. I’ve had good success so far. This summer, my plants grew to enormous sizes but have yielded only three mature fruits.

By: Don Kinzler, INFORUM

Q: This is the third summer I’ve grown tomato plants in my backyard. I’ve had good success so far. This summer, my plants grew to enormous sizes but have yielded only three mature fruits. Now the plants are laden with green fruits and new blossoms, but it’s already the middle of September. Are these green fruits going to ripen or are they a lost cause? Should I pick them and hope they ripen indoors? I’ve had good luck with green tomatoes ripening in the past, but they were the last fruits left after a successful growing season. Thank you for your time and attention to my question. (email reference)

A: Immature green tomatoes will rot and stay green, while mature tomatoes will ripen slowly. You might want to try it with some of the larger fruits that have a slightly shiny appearance. It has been a crazy year and one that I don’t think any of us will forget.


Q: We purchased several hybrid red maples this spring and planted most of them in our woods in Elk River, Minn. We also potted a couple of them to take up north to Perham this fall. They have done well in the pots. As it turns out, we are unable to make the trip to Perham until the middle of October. Is that too late to plant the trees outside? Will they survive in the house through the winter? Our garage is not heated and we are concerned they would freeze, so we are considering the basement. Can you advise what our best course of action should be? Thank you for any advice. (email reference)

A: It is far better to plant them outside than to try to nurse them through the winter in your house. Have someone dig the holes where you want to plant them and save the soil from the planting hole. Mulch the planting site generously with straw or grass clippings. When you plant the trees, remove the mulching material and bring the soil out of storage to plant the trees. Set the trees carefully in the planting holes and then peel away the container sides and bottom. Fill the holes with dirt right to the crown and water generously. Cover the area around the plants with the mulch you pulled off. Put protective collars around the trees to protect them from voles, rabbits and deer. Use a repellent, such as Plantskydd, to aid in protecting the plants. If you cannot find anyone to dig the holes for you before your visit north, go ahead and plant them anyway.


Q: I came across your website while searching the Internet for answers about what happened to my squash, cucumber and pumpkin plants this year. From the description you provided, the plants may have had verticillium wilt, but I don’t know for sure. The problem started with the cucumbers and worked its way through the rest of the plants. The leaves had a powdery mildew on them, and then the leaves and vines turned yellow, died and rotted. The smell was bad. I had straight eight cucumbers, winter luxury pie pumpkins and Lakota, spaghetti and table queen squash. The table queen squash held out the longest. The plants stunk so bad I pulled all the plants and put them in the ditch to burn. There were quite a few squashes and pumpkins on the vines, so I cut them off but left a few inches of stem. I’m not sure if they are ripe enough to use or not. I’m wondering if they’re safe to eat. The squashes look OK, but the pumpkins have a scaly appearance like there’s a white spider web all over them. I’d like to slice and dehydrate the hard squashes and freeze the spaghetti squash, but I don’t want some sort of fungus in my food. I’d appreciate any advice you have to share. (email reference)

A: The squash should be OK to eat as long as they are sound and you wash them off before processing. I can’t say for sure what the fungal disease was. It could have been a pythium rot of some species because of all the wet weather we had earlier in the growing season. When gardeners start losing zucchini, you know it has to be serious. If it is any comfort, you were not alone this year with this sort of problem.


Q: I found your name online and hope you can answer a question for me. I have an amur maple that is about four years old. It has a tree shape. I want to do some heavy pruning and remove the lower branches to open up the bottom of the tree.

There are two large branches about 1 ½ inches in diameter that I want to remove. What would be the best time of year to remove them? How close to the trunk should I cut? Is there any other info that I should know? I thank you for your time. (email reference)

A: Maples are bleeders when pruned, especially in the early spring while they are in dormancy. Don’t let that bleeding bother you because it isn’t detrimental to the tree. When removing the branches, do not cut into the trunk and do not leave a stub. For precise instructions, go to http://www.treesaregood.com/treecare/pruning_mature.aspx. If you have any further questions about this after reading the information provided, don’t hesitate to get back to me.


Q: I have a quick question about how to reduce the weeds in my lawn. About a year ago, we purchased a home just north of Fargo that was built in 2004. The lawn is an established lawn but it has a high percentage of dandelion and other undesirable weeds. I did very little weed control this year because I did not know what I had in the lawn. As the year progressed, I see that I have many dandelions. As we are heading into fall, I was wondering if it might be money well spent to do a herbicide application for dandelions before the lawn goes dormant, or should I wait until next year? I prefer not to do heavy herbicide applications year after year. On my last lawn, I was able to do one year of commercial herbicide applications and then after that I was able to stay on top of weed control with spot spraying and manual weeding. Any words of wisdom would be appreciated. (email reference)

A: You have the right idea. Contact a competent lawn service to give the lawn a good broadleaf weed control treatment this fall. The sooner the better because an application will greatly reduce the problem to a manageable one for you in future years. Fall is always the best time to control broadleaf lawn weeds. They are most vulnerable to herbicide treatments at that time and the chance for collateral damage to surrounding woody plants is reduced because no new tender growth is emerging.


Q: I believe it’s the design of my pot that is making my plant very happy.

However, these pots are hard to find. I’ve wanted another one but can’t find it.

Think of it as a bowling ball with the top and bottom cut off. A cylindrical shape goes down into the soil. The bottom actually separates from the top. I never realized that I could just pour the water into the bottom rather than directly into the pot at the top. Now it doesn’t matter how much I water it because the plant takes whatever water it wants and when it wants. It is amazing how it is thriving. It’s too bad this design is difficult to find. It originally was an orange plastic pot that began to fade. However, I painted it with a textured earthy paint that looks great. Thanks for all your information. (email reference)

A: Thanks for sharing the information with me and the readers of the column. I’m sure if anyone finds a source for the container you describe, I’ll hear about it and then can share that information with everyone.


Q: We bought a home last winter that had many raspberries growing on the west side. I removed about half the plants this spring so that I would be able to access the others. I am not sure what kind of raspberry plants they are, but they produced many delicious berries. Unfortunately, the west side of the home has not been well-maintained, so I will need to remove the raspberries to landscape this area. I was thinking of transplanting some of the raspberries to large planters. Would it work to grow them in planters for the next year? From reading your Web page, I have gathered that early spring is the best time to transplant raspberries. However, I would like to begin working on the landscaping now. You suggested to someone that he or she mow over the raspberries and dig out the new growth in the spring. If I did this, would I lose this year’s growth that will produce the berries next year? Would it work if I cut off the old growth now and cut the new growth back to about 4 feet and then dug up a few and put them in planters? I want to avoid missing a season of berries. (email reference)

A: Go for it! Raspberries are the most difficult plant to kill by transplanting.

Go ahead and follow your intentions to get them moved before winter sets in. If they are not marginally hardy, they should come through the winter in containers that are plunged into the soil before it freezes.


Q: I found the information on your website to be very helpful. We want to add some fall color to our yard but are having a hard time finding maples that are hardy for zones 3 and 4. We will plant on ground that was farmland. We do get some high winds in the winter that sometimes exceed 60 miles an hour. (Palmer, Alaska)

A: Because you live in Alaska, you should consult the local Extension horticulturists or foresters to make the selections and get placement advice.

There is more to tree selection than being able to meet the hardiness zone criteria.


Q: The pears on our tree are large and beginning to ripen. Do I leave them on the tree to ripen or is it best to pick them and then let them ripen? I am looking forward to canning them. (email reference)

A: Pears are a climacteric fruit because they continue to ripen after harvest.

Harvesting them when you consider them ripe limits their holding ability. I suggest harvesting them at this point and allow them to ripen to your taste on the counter.


To contact Ron Smith for answers to your questions, write to Ron Smith, NDSU Department of Plant Sciences, Dept. 7670, Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 or email ronald.smith@ndsu.edu.

Tags: