Garden Talk: June 19, 2008

From NGA Editors

Tomatoes Found to Protect Against Sunburn

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Many gardeners use sunscreen while outdoors to shield their skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. According to new research, eating tomatoes may also have a sun-protecting effect.

Researchers at the Universities of Newcastle and Manchester in England gave one-half of their study group 5 tablespoons of standard tomato paste with 10 grams of olive oil every day. The control group received just the olive oil. They exposed the groups to UV light at the beginning and end of the trial. After three months the researchers found the tomato paste group had 33 percent more protection against sunburn and significant improvements in their skin’s ability to protect itself against UV light when compared to the control group. The tomato paste boosted the procollagen levels in the group. Procollagen is a known antiaging factor in skin. Also, the lycopene (a known antioxidant) in tomatoes helped protect the cell’s mitochondria that, in turn, positively affected skin health.

For more information on this new research, go to: Newcastle University.

Bushy Cordyline for Tropical Gardens

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Tropical plants continue to be the rage, especially in container gardens. One of the most popular tropicals is best loved for its leaves, not flowers. Cordyline is an Australian native that features strap-like leaves. Its spiky growth adds height to a container or flower border. While most cordyline species grow into small trees, a new variety grows lower and bushier than its taller cousins.

‘Festival Grass’ (Cordyline australis ‘Festival Grass’) grows only 3 feet tall and wide at maturity. It's noted for its basal branches that keep the plant bushy and low growing. The burgundy-colored leaves create a red fountain effect. Hundreds of small, star-like, pink flowers open in summer and add to its beauty. ‘Festival Grass’ is hardy to USDA zone 8, so it’s grown as an annual in most of the country. It grows best in full to part sun on well-drained soil, and tolerates drought once established.

For more information on Festival Grass, go to: Anthony Tesselaar Plants.

Lantanas That Attract the Most Butterflies

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Butterfly gardening is one of the most popular types of flower gardening, and one of the most popular nectar plants for adults is Lantana camara. But research has shown that butterflies can be highly selective about which varieties they visit, and of the many varieties of lantana, it's not clear which are most attractive to butterflies.

Researchers at Auburn University in Alabama set up an experiment to find out. They grew 16 plants each of 10 different Lantana camara varieties in blocks at their trial grounds to see if there were significant differences in variety preference. They collected data in August and again in October on the number and duration of adult visits and the species of butterflies. They found the varieties ‘New Gold’, and ‘Radiation’ had significantly more visits in late summer and fall than other varieties. The researchers suggest that flower color is the trait that attracts the butterflies.

For more information on this research, go to: Southern Nursery Association.

New Stool Saves Your Back

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Midsummer is weeding and harvesting time in the garden. Unfortunately, this work can be backbreaking. Now there is a new tool that allows you to sit down while working.

The wearable garden stool features a seat attached to a pole with a spring on the bottom to prevent the pole from sinking into the ground. The seat can be adjusted to between 13 and 18 inches tall. It also has a strap that keeps you fastened in the seat as you bend and stretch to weed, prune, harvest, and deadhead.

The stool was originally developed in Europe to help dairy farmers milk cows more easily, and it has caught the attention of small farmers in this country. When farm workers spend less time bending and stretching, they have less back, knee, and hip pain. With less pain and stiffness, they can work more efficiently.

For more information on this easy-to-use garden stool, go to: University of Wisconsin’s Healthy Farmers, Healthy Profits Project.

 
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