Pacific Northwest

September, 2004
Regional Report

Favorite or New Plant

Swiss Chard
Swiss chard really dresses up an annual or perennial bed. The plant reaches an ornamental crescendo in fall, but its crimson stalks are visible well into December most years in the Pacific Northwest. Swiss chard is not readily available from garden centers as plants, but it is well worth the effort to grow from seed.

Swiss chard is quite adaptable, growing well in partial shade or full sun, in poor, dry soils; it really flourishes in rich, moist soil. I amend my planting bed with compost prior to sowing the seeds each spring.

What I like best about Swiss chard is that it's an edible ornamental. You can allow the plant to grow as an ornamental all season long or you can harvest the outer leaves by carefully cutting them off at the base, taking care not to injure the crown of the plant. If you harvest leaves, the plant will continue to produce new leaves until early winter.

Clever Gardening Technique

Coping With Powdery Mildew
Powdery mildew is one of the most common and easily recognized plant diseases. That telltale, white coating on the leaves of plants is caused by fungal spores that overwinter in garden debris and are spread by the wind. The warm days and cool nights of late summer provide perfect germinating conditions for the spores, which increase by branch-like growth over the surface of infected leaves. The fungus then feeds by sending small suckers into the host plant's sap. Fortunately, this disease usually causes only cosmetic damage. While we cannot alter the weather that favors powdery mildew, we can slow its spread.

Choosing mildew-resistant cultivars, providing adequate sunshine, and promoting air circulation by giving plants plenty of space will reduce the incidence of powdery mildew in your garden. If the disease appears, you can slow its spread by pinching off the affected leaves. I have plants that consistently develop powdery mildew and I'm not willing to part with them, so I choose to spray these plants with a solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda and 2-1/2 teaspoons of summer oil mixed into 1 gallon of water. Summer oil is highly refined and lightly coats leaf surfaces, keeping the fungus from penetrating into plant tissues. The baking soda changes the pH on the leaf surface, making it less hospitable for fungal spores. I apply this solution weekly, beginning in midsummer, as a preventative measure. As with any homemade solution, be sure to test it on a small area of the plant to make sure there are no adverse reactions.

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