Garden Talk: March 10, 2011

From NGA Editors

Late Blight Tolerant Cherry Tomato

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Late blight has been a scourge for many tomato growers in eastern parts of the country in the last couple of years. This disease, caused by the fungus-like pathogen Phytopthora infestans can decimate a tomato vine in short order.

While there are no tomatoes that are immune to this blight, Pro-Veg Seeds has bred the first late blight tolerant, semi-determinate cherry tomato on the market. Selected as an All-America Selections Vegetable Award winner for 2011, 'Lizzano' has a low-growing, trailing habit that makes it a great choice for containers or hanging baskets, although these compact, 16 to 20 inch tall plants will benefit from staking if grown directly in the garden. It produces abundant yields of bright red, one-inch fruits with excellent flavor. Because of its semi-determinate habit, the harvest continues throughout the summer. Its blight tolerance will help to ensure that disease doesn't end the harvest prematurely. Tomatoes are ready for harvest 105 day from seeding; 63 days from transplanting.

All-America Selections winners are new garden seed varieties that have been judged to have superior garden performance in impartial trials in North America.

For more information on 'Lizzano' cherry tomato, go to: All-America Selections.

Potting Soil Safety

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Most of the bacteria you might encounter in potting soil and compost is of the beneficial variety, part of a community of microorganisms that helps to make nutrients available to plants and contributes to good soil structure. Unfortunately, very rarely some harmful bacteria can be lurking in there as well.

There have been reports from the U.S., Britain, and Australia of people contacting the respiratory ailment called Legionnaire's disease from Legionella bacteria found in potting soils. While this has happened only rarely (Legionnaire's disease is most often transmitted by bacteria found in certain types of water storage systems) and people with compromised immune systems or the elderly are most at risk, it's a good idea to follow some commonsense precautions suggested by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in Britain when working with potting soil. It's not clear if there is a difference in risk between soilless mixes and those containing soil; in either case, the following suggestions below are a good idea.

First of all, wear gloves when handling soil or compost. Wet mixes down to decrease the amount of air-borne particles. Consider wearing a dust mask when opening or using potting mixes. Don't store bags of potting mix in the sun since the increased temperature can promote bacterial growth. Wash your hands after using potting soil. Be aware of the symptoms of Legionnaire's disease: shortness of breath, achy muscles, fever and chills.

For more information on potting soil safety, go to: RHS Advice on Potting Compost. For more information on the association of Legionnaires' disease with potting soil, go to Public Health.

The Year of the Zinnia

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The National Garden Bureau has declared 2011 to be the Year of the Zinnia. These easy to grow annuals not only provide season-long color, but are available in such a wide range of colors, heights and flower shapes that just about everyone can find a spot for these cheerful bloomers in their gardens.

Zinnias are easy to start from seed, either indoors for a jump on the season in colder climates or direct-seeded in parts of the country with a longer growing season. The large seeds are easy to handle; if you are introducing children to the fun of gardening, they are a great choice for the small hands of budding young gardeners to plant. Started seedlings are also widely available in garden centers and nurseries in spring. Look for stocky plants with healthy green leaves and good branching.

No matter which zinnias you choose, all will do best in full sun and with regular watering, along with a slow-release fertilizer mixed in at planting time or monthly feedings with a soluble fertilizer. Powdery mildew has been the bane of zinnias in the past. Giving plants good air circulation will cut down on disease problems. And some of the new interspecific crosses are very resistant to powdery mildew, including the Profusion and Zahara series.

New for 2011 is 'Profusion Sunrise Mix', bred by Sakata Seeds. This mildew-resistant hybrid forms a compact, bushy mound 10 to 24 inches tall that is covered all season long with a vivid mix of 2-inch, single, red, white and yellow blossoms. New layers of bloom are continually produced so the show continues without the need for deadheading, making it a great choice for both the flower border or container plantings.

For more information on 'Profusion Sunrise Mixed' zinnias and the Year of the Zinnia, go to: National Garden Bureau .

Grafting Tomatoes

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We've all probably heard of grafting fruit trees and roses, but tomatoes? Grafted tomatoes are becoming popular because they allow fruiting varieties that may not exhibit good disease resistance or vigor to be grafted onto a sturdier root system. For example, many of the heirloom varieties are tops in flavor, but don't have the disease resistance of modern hybrids. Grafting is a way to have the best of both worlds.

Commercial tomato growers have been grafting tomatoes for a while. Now the plants and the technique are filtering down to the home garden level. You may find grafted tomato seedlings for sale in your local garden store this spring. Seedlings will be pricier than regular seed-started transplants, but if you've struggled with soil-borne diseases or just want to experiment a little, they may be worth a try.

You may even want to attempt the grafting technique yourself. It is not complicated, but, as with any skill, practice will improve your success rate. The only specific supplies needed are inexpensive grafting clips that hold the rootstock and scion, or top, together; the particular type of clip needed depends on the grafting technique used. Tomato varieties commonly used as rootstocks include 'Maxifort', 'Beaufort' and 'Emperador'.

For information on how to graft tomatoes, go to Grafting Techniques for Greenhouse Tomatoes. To view a helpful video on grafting, go to Grafting Greenhouse Tomatoes. For a source for grafting clips and rootstock varieties, go to Johnny's Selected Seeds.

 
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