SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 24, 2013

North Shore Gardener: 30 years: The more things change

North Shore Gardener
Barbara Barger

---- — This month we celebrate the 30th anniversary of North Shore Gardener. Thirty years has gone by in a flash; now we’re dealing with a few changes. We have genetically modified seeds and grafted tomato plants. In the garden, we have seen sweet corn developed that you can grow in containers on the patio, and blooming plants that bloom and then bloom again, like lilies and iris and hydrangeas.

And some things remain the same. We’re still growing the old favorites because they grow best in the Northeast. I still get many of the same questions about bulbs, tomatoes and geraniums, and lots of questions about pests. We’ve all got them, but how do we deal with them? Now we’re using safer insecticides instead of poisons, and our children and pets are healthier.

We still plant geraniums at Memorial Day and tulips in the fall, but we’re getting more adventurous indoors, growing orchids and other tropical plants on the windowsill. We still move the houseplants out in June for their brief holiday in the sun and take them back in September.

Contact with my readers means so much. I don’t have all the answers to your gardening quesions, but boy, do I have a network of resources built over the past 30 years. I thank you for reading.

Q: As with everyone else around here, my impatiens were just awful last year. I am trying to figure out what to plant this year in the spaces where I always put impatiens. I know you suggested begonias and I might try that, but the area in front of my house gets constant sun, so I don’t know. Impatiens there sometimes wilt, but do quite well if I make sure they get plenty of water. I assume you meant the smaller begonias (not tuberous). Unfortunately, there aren’t very many attractive colors in the small-leaf variety. Any other suggestions? Are there other flowers that can be infected by the same mold that damages the impatiens? Is it possible to get rid of the mold by replacing most of the dirt in that area? Thanks for writing a very helpful column. Can hardly wait to get my hands into some warm earth.

A: The disease is limited to impatiens alone and is not transferable to other species of plants. This is a particular kind of disease called downy mildew. If you already have it, clean out all diseased plants and burn or place them in a trash bag — do not compost! There are two ways to get rid of it: plant another crop or don’t plant at all for a year or two. Sounds drastic, but eventually it will go away.

In your case, since you have direct sun and are willing to water, there are lots of choices. How about an annual like dwarf marigolds or dwarf zinnias? Replacing the soil might help, but this is a spore, which travels by wind or rain — and your neighbor can be the real source. The North Shore is just going a little dull without impatiens.

Q: I always started my own seeds until three years ago when I bought a few mass commercial tomato plants with tomatoes on the stem, hoping for earlier crops. These seem to have infected all of my tomatoes. The plants start well, but at 3 or 4 feet they start getting yellow leaves, which die, beginning low on the plant and moving up. I get tomatoes, but the plants look terrible. Now each year, even though I dispose of all vines in the trash, the blight seems to be in the soil, even when I move my plants to a new spot each year. Are we New England farmers always going to have blight now?

A: This fungus disease is a killer, and steps to erase it should begin as soon as your plants are set out in the garden. Stake plants carefully. Apply good mulch to a clean bed. Practice good plant hygiene, and keep all parts of the plant clean and dry. Apply a fungicide. Try to plant tomatoes in a space where they haven’t been grown for a few seasons. Why not try planting in pots or baskets where the soil is new?

Q: My huge white Easter lily has started to fade — it was so beautiful! Can I keep it going?

A: You sure can! Easter lilies are grown from bulbs, and, like any bulb, the plant foliage must be allowed to mature in order to give the plant energy to grow and bloom next year. Keep the remains of the lily plant in a sunny warm window until the ground is warmer — by mid-May is fine. Choose a very sunny, well-protected spot for planting. These lilies are borderline hardy in our area. They were forced for Easter bloom and will return to their normal blooming time in summer next year. Feed with bone meal or a bulb fertilizer. In the fall, mulch heavily and be sure to label the area so the bulb doesn’t get lost or damaged in spring cleanup. When the stalk finally turns yellow, carefully cut the stem about four inches from the bulb — happy Easter!

Q: I lost a giant evergreen tree to a storm this past winter. I want to replace it with three smaller greens. I have been looking at the Golden Mop Cypress, as I love its yellow color and that it doesn’t grow too big depending on the species you get. Any input on planting them in a group of three? Maybe get one that’s bigger for the back and two in front. Any advice is much appreciated.

A: The Golden Mop would be a very nice addition to your garden — it’s a slow-grower and the yellow color is legendary. The more sun you give it, the more pronounced the color will be. Yes, a variation of heights is perfect — put the tall one at the back or three of the same height in a triangle, whatever suits the area. Be careful to dig a very wide planting hole. Eventually the plant will grow about 6 feet high and 6 feet in width; it’s a slow-grower, but you should keep this in mind. Let me know what you do.

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North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a feature of Friday’s Lifestyles section. Reach Barbara by email at nsgardener@comcast.net or write to her c/o The Salem News, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.