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Growing Together: August observations and to-do tasks keep gardeners busy

FARGO - I must apologize. Lately I've enjoyed slowly driving up and down our streets soaking up the local color of annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs. But I'm sorry for blocking traffic and causing inconvenience for the cars behind. Just as sn...

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Dave Wallis/The Forum

FARGO - I must apologize. Lately I've enjoyed slowly driving up and down our streets soaking up the local color of annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs. But I'm sorry for blocking traffic and causing inconvenience for the cars behind. Just as snow plows occasionally pull over to allow cars to pass, my wife, Mary, frequently suggests I pull over if I'm going to gawk at greenery while driving. Thanks to everyone for not making rude gestures as you've driven past. Well, almost everyone.

Mid-August is a horticultural highpoint of the growing season in many ways. Let's examine a list of observations and to-do tasks.

1. I felt really bad while weeding this past week. I thought I grasped a purslane stem, but pulled out a moss rose by mistake. I told Mary the rabbits did it. Weeding isn't always easy.

2. Keep fertilizing container flowers weekly. They've got lots of bloom power left, and we don't want them to run out of gas before October.

3. Remove "spent," withered flowers of perennials and annuals. This "deadheading" prevents plant energy from unnecessarily being diverted into seed production.

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4. Prune out tips of tomato plants of indeterminate types (those that keep producing vine growth all summer) by late August so plants ripen existing fruit rather than starting new flowers that have little hope of maturing.

5. The ball-shaped green fruits that occasionally form on potato plants are normal seed pods occurring when favorable conditions result in potato flowers setting fruit. Underground tuber production doesn't seem to be influenced by their presence or absence.

6. Except for digging a few for fresh eating, potatoes are traditionally dug at the end of the growing season when the vines have died. Natural tuber dormancy allows them to stay in the ground without sprouting. At the season's end, temperatures are cooler, the skin scuffs less and potatoes are better-suited for long-term storage.

7. Dry periods followed by soaking rains can cause cracks in tomatoes, carrots and other vegetables as the resulting spurts of growth cause them to split.

8.The brown or black, dry sunken disorder on the bottom of tomato fruits is called blossom end rot. It's caused by calcium problems induced by fluctuating soil moisture. Maintain uniform moisture, mulch the soil and avoid root disturbance. It's worse on the first fruits of the season. Plants usually soon work their way out of the problem.

9. Home-grown muskmelons are ripe when they slip easily from the vine with a gentle tug. Background color under the netting turns from green to golden yellow.

10. Watermelon are ripe when the "ground spot" on which the melon rested turns from greenish white to yellow, and the curly tendril next to the melon's stem dries up.

11. Ripe sweet corn has dry, crisp silks, tips are blunt-round instead of sharply pointed, and juice is milky instead of clear when kernels are punctured with thumbnail.

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12. Winter squash like buttercup aren't fully ripe until the skin is dull, not glossy, and the skin can't be easily punctured with your thumbnail.

13. White butterflies in the garden soon turn into green worm-like larvae that eat holes in leaves of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale. These cabbage loopers can be controlled with the biological insecticide bacillus thuringiensis (BT) and sevin dust or spray.

14. Grasshoppers have been a problem in gardens this year, eating holes in leaves. Sevin insecticide is a recommended control.

15. Each apple variety has its expected ripening date. Hazen and State Fair ripen in August, Honeycrisp in late September and Haralson in late September into October.

16. Apples turning red aren't an indication of ripeness. Instead, the non-red "background" color changing from green to creamy yellow (depending on variety) indicates ripeness. Watch also for apples starting to drop and seeds changing from tan to shiny black-brown. A taste-test also works.

17. Apple varieties that ripen earlier in the season are best used fresh, while later varieties usually have longer storage lives.

18. By this time, most tree and shrub trimming is best delayed until early next spring.

19. Check the base of trees for bark being skinned by lawn mowers and weed trimmers. Even a little damage each time accumulates, causing stress that makes trees more susceptible to injury from insects, diseases and winter damage.

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20. Water evergreens every seven to 10 days in August and September during periods of no rain. Research has shown that adequate moisture during summer and fall is vital for preventing winter browning, rather than merely a good soaking before soil freeze-up.

21. An old gardener once asked the neighbor lady if she put manure on her rhubarb. "No," she replied, "We prefer sugar."

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Tune in to his weekly radio segment from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Fridays on WDAY Radio 970. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com .

Related Topics: DON KINZLERGARDENING
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