As we March towards spring I know many of you have started to plant your spring gardens. Tomatoes, eggplants, pole beans, and peppers are favorites many of us have planted in the past and are about to plant again. This week I would like to go over a few things that you may not have thought about planting in the garden or possibly have not even considered planting. Bitter Melons and Chayote are two items you may not have heard of before but actually can grow very well here. Both of these vegetables grow on vines and can be used as a screen or to cover a fence or arbor. One of these vegetables has medicinal purposes and one will give you a bushel full of tasty extras you will enjoy at the table. Let’s get started!
Bitter Melon (photo from bonnieplants.com) is an easy to grow vine that produces copious amounts of fruit. For those of you that may never had heard of the bitter melon, I suggest you go out and purchase one from a local fruit and vegetable dealer or Asian grocer and
prepare the fruit with one of the many recipes online. If you find you like the exotic taste and you decide to grow this vine; then make sure you save some of the seeds and plant them in the garden. I normally will start my seeds in pots filled with a good quality potting soil and then transplant them into the garden once the roots have emerged from the base of the starting pot.
Why bitter melon? I like to try different things in my garden and this plant is something
unusual that is rarely grown here but can give you something to talk about to your friends and neighbors. Some people will ask you why your cucumbers look so odd. This is because of the bumpy outer skin you can see from the photo above; this vegetable looks more like a cucumber than a melon the name suggests. Another reason to grow this vine is that most of our gardens are full of ground loving plants such as tomatoes or peppers and many of you have asked me to give you a few additional ideas of plants that do not take up ground space. All you need for the bitter melon is an arbor, a small trellis, or fence you want to
If you grow bitter melon on an arbor, you will produce hanging fruit which will definitely gain attention from inquisitive neighbors. Make sure you start your vines in an area which receives full sun but also where the roots of the plant will get adequate moisture. As the vine reaches the top of the arbor, you should remove the terminal end of the vine along with a few of the lateral branches. Removing the tip end forces branching from this point and will give you a much stronger vine and more fruit.
Remember to keep the soil moist and to fertilize once a month with a good quality
8-10-10 granular fertilizer. Use about five pounds of fertilizer applied with a rotary spreader or hand held spreader for every one hundred square feet of garden space. Once the first flowers appear you will notice that no fruit will follow. These are the sterile male flowers and most will only last a day or so. Female flowers will follow and soon you will see a swelling at the base of the flower. This swelling is the start of your bitter melons. There are a few problems you should be aware of at this stage.
Powdery mildew and Downy mildews attack all cucurbits. Check your vines regularly for
any signs of wilting leaves or a white film appearing on the upper surfaces of the leaves. If you suspect this may be happening to your vine you will need to treat the vine with Green Cure Fungicide. Green Cure Fungicide is an all natural organic fungicide which can control many diseases affecting leafy vegetable plants. If you can not find Green Cure Fungicide, look for products containing Daconil which is another fungicide labeled for vegetable crops. Be
sure to read the label and mix accordingly. Use all product mixed in one application and do not leave your spray bottle half full for the next application. Once mixed with water, most fungicides loose their effectiveness so use all spray solution mixed. Repeat applications in seven to ten days.
Begin harvesting your bitter melons in about ten to twelve weeks. Look for mature green
fruits about six to eight inches long which are showing the first hints of yellowing. Most people prefer to wait until the fruit turn a shade of yellow to avoid the bitterness in taste. The bitterness of the fruit varies with the length of time you allow the fruit to ripen. If you pick the fruit before the mature stage, the fruit can be very bitter to the taste. Those fruits left too
long on the vine and turn completely yellow are probably over-ripe and will be soft to the touch. If the flesh inside the fruit is spongy, you waited too long.
When preparing bitter melons you will need to first wash the fruit then slice lengthwise to remove the pith and seeds. Save the seeds for future planting or sharing. Depending on your taste, you can slice or cube the remaining fruit and boil, pickle, or stuff with pork or shrimp. There are many recipes online which you can look up to help you get the most use from your garden. The most unknown facts about the bitter melon are its nutritional benefits.
Bitter melons contain quinine which gives the unprepared fruit its bitter taste. However, this fruit also contains iron, twice the beta carotene that broccoli has, two times the potassium that fresh bananas have, and twice the calcium of spinach. Chinese traditional medicine utilizes the bitter melon to aid in glucose uptake and to treat Type 2 Diabetes. BonniePlants.com). In order to find out more about the benefits of using bitter melon in your diet you should consult your personal physician.
Another fruiting vine I highly recommend for the garden is called the Chayote.
Pick up a Chayote from the grocery store and plant in a pot filled with potting soil. Lay the chayote on its side with the bottom end facing up (see photo above). Cover with soil. Germination takes about two to three weeks. Chayote should be grown in plenty of organic soil much the same as the Bitter Melons above. Once the vine reaches the top of the arbor, pinch the tip ends to induce branching. Unlike Bitter Melon, the whole fruit can be prepared by baking, frying, stuffing, creamed, or buttered. Once the plant sprouts, you should be picking ripe fruits in about ninety days. Make sure you have a strong arbor or trellis to support the weight of your crop.
Each of these two vines can add a bounty of fruit and a new unique taste for your
kitchen table. Besides being easy to grow, you will have an attractive attention grabber for the garden. Keep your eyes out for any powdery mildew problems and treat as necessary. I hope you enjoy growing both of these fruits and as always remember, without plants we would not be here!
What to do this week –By Mark Govan, Host
When warm temperatures get people motivated to get out into the garden, my email
starts lighting up with questions on just about every subject you can imagine. This
week I am going to go through of few of the problems you, my readers have been
emailing me about. Even though the questions I receive are from the full
spectrum of gardening, I believe many of you may have similar problems in your
landscape and you need to know what to do if these problems affect your garden.
Let’s get started.
This past week I have had several questions about Ixoria and Gardenias turning
yellow or losing their color in the landscape. Both plants have similar soil pH
requirements (5.5 to 6.5) but there are a few distinctions I need to tell you
about. Ixoria planted in the landscape away from the home seem to be problem
free except for spider mites which occasionally feast on the leaves during the
summer months. These insects suck juices from the plant and cause a stippling
of the plants leaves giving you a plant that looks like it had dried out. This
is easy to fix with an application of Bayer’s Advance 12 month Tree and Shrub
Care. One application in March or April and you should see your plant returning
to normal in about forty five days. However, many of our landscapers have
planted these plants as foundation plants around the home.
If you happen to own a block home with stucco and either you or the contractor
planted Ixoria along the foundation of the home, then you will have problems
with nutrient deficiencies. The problem is that when the home had the stucco
applied to the outer walls, lime from the concrete was washed down into the
soil along the foundation of the home. Even if the home was built years ago, the
residual from this lime is still in the soil. Lime raises the pH in the soil
making the uptake of iron and other nutrients into the plant almost impossible.
The symptoms you can expect to see on Ixoria is yellowing leaves, discoloration
of the entire plant, loss of vigor, and eventually death. There is good news
though. You can apply a foliar spray containing chelated iron directly to the
leaves of the plant which will bypass the root systems inability to absorb
Chelated Iron can be absorbed by the leaves of the plant eventually returning the plant
to health. Now I know some of you will still say that you have applied iron to
the soil in the fertilizer you put around the plant and nothing happened. This
is because as pH rises with the lime in the soil, the ability of the plant to
absorb the iron in the fertilizer you applied as a granular, diminishes. By
applying the chelated iron spray to the leaves of the plant; your plant will absorb
the iron directly into the plants vascular system. One application will not
correct this problem forever and you will need to apply this product every few
months for best control of this deficiency problem. Be sure not to apply
chelated iron to surfaces that are white as this product may stain the surface.
You could use a piece of cardboard or newspaper held between the plant and the
area you do not want sprayed to protect from any overspray. Be sure to use all
the spray you mix up at one time as you can not leave the mixed spray in the
sprayer to use again in a few months.
This same nutrient deficiency is rampant on Gardenias. Gardenias show yellowing
leaves regularly in the landscape. Some homeowners attribute this to lack of
fertilizer or possible an insect infestation and although this could be a
factor in leaf loss, my experience is that most gardenias are also grown in
soils that the pH is too high. Like Ixoria, Gardenias prefer an acid soil and
need to be checked regularly for iron deficiencies. I use a product called Tiger
90 CR which is a soil amendment made primarily of cracked sulfur which can be
applied to the soil with a rotary spreader. This product can help lower the pH
in the soil around gardenias and azalea beds which will allow the plants to
utilize the iron in the soil. This will lead to greener leaves and increased
vigor and blossoms. You will have to re-apply this product at least two to
three times per year because of the soils natural ability to revert back to the
pH you had.
Another plant in our landscape, the Crepe Myrtle, is in need of their annual pruning
now. During the summer months, crepe myrtles put on massive amounts of new
growth which in turn give us a summer show of beautiful blossoms. As the tree
continues to grow, many side shoots appear along the stem and occasionally even
from the base of the tree. During the winter, crepe myrtles go dormant. This is
the time to prune the unwanted growth from the tree and to reduce the crown or
overall height of the tree.
You have probably noticed landscape companies pruning these trees by making severe
cuts to the tree sometimes down to major branches. This is the incorrect way to
prune crepe myrtles. The proper way to prune these trees is to remove any
growth from the tree which is smaller than the width of your thumb. This will include
growth from the top of the tree and any new suckers which have grown from the
base of the tree. If you have a large tree this may entail quite a bit of work
but the resulting benefits you receive will be a better shaped tree and more
blossoms. Trees cut back to a large branch each year can develop problems and
this type of pruning is very stressful to the tree.
If you are a rose grower, now is also the time to prune your roses back. Pruning
roses is an essential part of growing quality roses. I recommend pruning your
roses in mid February after the threat of any late frosts disappear. All
pruning cuts should be made with sharp pruning shears (I use only Felco pruning
shears) and your cuts should be made to eliminate any inward pointing, dead, or
diseased growth. Next, you need to remove any stems which rub against each
other and remove the stem which is weakest completely. Next, prune into wood
that looks healthy. Look at the pith in the center of the cut. If the pith is
brown or off color continue cutting down the stem until you see completely
white pith. If the pith is clear, make your final cut at an angle with an
outward pointing bud one quarter inch near the
two buds below this cut so do not cut too low to the ground.
All remaining one year old wood should be pruned back by one third. All lateral
branches should be cut back to six or seven inches and you should limit lateral
branches to only two or three per branch. Remember, cutting too much from your
plant will make your plant thin and weak. Some people like to cut back some
stems hard and others lightly to encourage a longer bloom time. This is up to
you. Always remove suckers which originate below the graft or on the roots.
These growths need to be cut off as soon as they are detected.
As our warm temperatures continue to rise, our plants will respond with new
growth. This new growth will need to be supplemented by you in the form of
fertilizers. I suggest a granular fertilizer such as an Osmacote or a slow
release 8-10-10 fertilizer for all your flowering plants. You will need
approximately five pounds of fertilizer for each one hundred square feet of
plant beds you have. I like to fertilize every two months giving my plants a
constant feeding rather than just two or three feedings per year.
Do not forget about your turf grass. Lawns need to be fertilized now for their
spring growth. I suggest a 16-0-10 fertilizer for turf grass and again I like
the slow release variety. An average five thousand square foot lawn will need
about a fifty pound bag of fertilizer so try not to skimp on how much
fertilizer you put out. Use a rotary spreader and make sure you sweep off any
impervious surfaces of any overflow so you do not contaminate our water supply.
Water your lawn after the application and you should see results in about
I know I covered a lot of topics today but there is so much to do in the garden right now because temperatures have started to rise. Keep your eyes on the garden because your plants are going to start growing quickly this year. I hope you enjoyed this article and as always
remember, without plants we would not be here!
What to do this week –By Mark Govan, Host
February is here and it is time to start growing our tomatoes for your spring vegetable
gardens. Seeds started now inside the home will grow and be the right size for
putting them into the garden around the first or second week of March. This
week I would like to talk about growing tomatoes from seed. I will also help
you to prepare your seed trays in order to give your new plants a good start. Time
is moving by quickly so let’s get started.
Tomato growing is a favorite pastime everyone enjoys and growing your tomatoes from seed is easy, fun, and inexpensive. The only problem many of us have is finding out where to get our seeds from and choosing the correct varieties for our area. This is where I can help! I have used a website for many years to select seeds for my garden. This website is
called Totally Tomatoes. Totally Tomatoes can be found on your computer using a
simple search of their web address www.totallytomato.com.
Once you pull up their website you will be able to access their entire catalog online with no waiting. Just select the tomato section and then choose the type of tomatoes you are looking for such as large, medium, or small varieties. Once you select the type of tomato you are looking for, a selection will follow of several varieties for you to choose from. I usually pick two or three varieties and I choose the smallest amount of seeds (usually thirty) to
keep my cost down. My cost is normally ten to twelve dollars and I will have enough seeds to last for the year. I should also tell you that I like to experiment with different varieties to see which do best in my garden. This also gives me the opportunity to taste different varieties of tomatoes.
Heirloom seeds are another type of seed many of you like to grow in the garden. One fact
you need to be aware of is that heirloom seeds are seeds that have not been genetically altered in any way. If you are looking for the organic varieties Grandma used to plant in her garden, then this is the site you will need to visit. Just copy this address into your browser www.heirloomseeds.com. You will be able to select many old fashioned varieties and even some you may never have heard about before. Try to order your seeds as soon as possible as some seed producers get very busy this time of year and some varieties of seed may be
sold out. Another source of heirloom seeds is victoryseeds.com. Their company has been awarded Top 5 honors for their heirloom plant and vegetable seeds from the Garden Watchdogs, a directory of garden resources and companies.
If you do not have a computer or do not like to do business online you can still go to your local garden store or stop by Shells Feed and Garden Supply on
Now that you have picked out your seeds you need to get them planted. Start your seeds in small containers such as old egg cartons, small pots, or Styrofoam cups. Any potting soil will work to start your seeds and you can pickup your potting soil at any local garden center.
Fill your pots or containers with the potting soil being sure not to compact the soil to much as the roots of seedlings’ prefer a loose soil during the germination process. If you are using egg cartons just fill them up to the top of each cell. I will normally only fill the egg carton cells up to the top and gently smooth over each cell. If you are using small pots, just fill them to
the top and make sure you have enough pots for the different varieties you are planting. I always plant more pots then I can use but this is ok because I like to have a few backups ready just in case something happens to my first batch. These extra plants will stay small as long as you do not repot them to early.
Now that your containers are ready for planting, sprinkle the seeds over the top of each cell allowing a couple of seeds per cell of the egg cartons or the small pots you are using. Just a note …I do not start my plants in large containers to save time later as large containers may give you problems in determining how much water to use resulting in overwatering and frequent death of the seedlings.
Now that you have added the seeds to the pots you will need to push them into the
potting mix. I use a regular pencil with a flat eraser on top to gently push the seeds under the soil to the depth of the eraser. Next, I will sprinkle a little additional soil over the top of the seeds just to bury the seed slightly. After the seeds have been pushed into the soil you will need to water the cells or pots. Because the seeds are so small, I do not like to run water over the seeds because this might displace them. You can either use a misting bottle to water
the seeds in or a watering can with small holes in the top. I prefer a misting bottle at this stage. Mist the containers until the soil flattens across them. Place your egg carton near a window that gets afternoon light and mist your plants each day until they germinate. Be sure not to let the plants get too saturated.
The frequency of watering will depend on how strong the light source is where you have laced your starter plants. Keep your eye on how much water you give your plants because many ople water too often. Remember, when plants are germinating they like to be moist not wet and can go a few days between watering. Once the plants emerge from the soil they will begin to use slightly more water.
Most tomato seeds will sprout in seven to ten days and will begin to grow fairly rapidly. Continue to water the plants as needed and for small containers such as egg cartons, you will have to monitor them more closely. Once the seedlings reach about four inches in height, remove them from the egg cartons by gently pushing the bottom of the cells upwards. If the entire root section with dirt is dislodged, it is time to replant them into a larger container. You can use any size container up to a one gallon container to transplant them into. However, I recommend that when you transplant them into the larger container you incorporate some dolomite into the potting soil mix.
For a ten pound bag of potting soil you should add about two cups of dolomite and mix well before adding the soil into the new containers. Fill the containers about three quarters full of this mix then place your new seedlings into the pot being careful not to disturb the roots. Add additional potting soil over the root ball of the tomato seedling and gently firm the soil around the plant. Do not compact the soil. Use a gentle stream of water to settle the plant and
place back in the sunny window. In about three weeks your new plants will be ready to place in the garden.
I hope you enjoy this section on starting tomato seeds and my next article will give you additional hints to keep your tomatoes thriving in the garden. As always remember, without plants we wouldn’t be here!