Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Tomato update

Remember those tomato plants I set out inside protective Wall-o-Waters a couple weeks ago?  Well, they did just fine in the two hard freezes we experienced!  Down to 25 degrees!


I recently posted about the warm, early spring turning decidedly chilly, with a few hard freezes predicted. Well, the freezes materialized, but the damage to my plants showed, I think, the effects of microclimates.  What are microclimates?  Well, our modern, go-to source (Wikipedia) defines it as "a local atmospheric zone where the climate differs from the surrounding area. The term may refer to areas as small as a few square meters or square feet (for example a garden bed) or as large as many square kilometers or square miles."

You likely have several microclimates in your yard, like against a brick or stone wall, a dip in the ground, near a water feature, or the shelter of shrubs.  I noted a few microclimates in my yard after this freeze: the few fig branches against my brick chimney did not get zapped by the freeze while the rest of the new growth on the tree did; an azalea growing amid another shrub showed no damage, but the others had partial damage and; the lower branches of shrubs nearer concrete were less damaged than higher branches. 

And this?

This azalea had layers and pockets of frost damage.  I am not sure if this was related to microclimates or to the flowers being at different stages of development with different susceptibility to damage (which, I guess, could also be from microclimates!). The beige areas are blasted flower buds, while opened flowers, both above and below, seem fine.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Seed are Becoming Big Business

Have you ever thought about the source of seeds?  Though this article chiefly involves seeds sold to farmers, companies that produce home garden seeds are being bought out, too.


It is difficult to find a recently updated list of small, independent seed houses, here is one to try (with some VA sources):


Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Eighty-degree days, balmy nights, what can that mean in Virginia in April? Why, a hard freeze must be just around the corner!  I mean, tonight!  And a couple more nights this week...
The unpredictable weather in April is "why we can't have nice things!" Only kidding, there are lots of beautiful plants in April: forsythia, daffodils, dogwoods, saucer magnolias and quince, just to name a few.  But the "nice things" I was referring to are the heat-loving veggies, like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, basil and squash. If you set these plants out recently....that is, before our last average frost date (end of April), seduced by the warm weather, you are now paying the price of having to cover them up.  And there is another price, too, one you might not easily see: the cold can check or stunt the growth of these heat lovers, even if you endeavor to keep them as snug as possible.
I recently sort of joined the ranks of early planters, by setting out three tomato plants...but I planted them into wall-o-waters, the (trademarked) system to keep the plants warm enough to thrive, even in a cold snap (see recent post).   But, even I had to rush out after work to cover the open tops of these contraptions to keep in some accumulated heat.  We'll see how they do!
So, the moral of the story?  Wait until your last average frost date to set out heat-loving plants!
Happy...and Timely...Gardening!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Mulching Trees

A helpful reminder from Texas A&M Forest Service:

Cedar-Apple Rust Gall...or Not?*

You know how, when you see something for the first time, you start to see it everywhere? Well today, I was at Maymont, an historical estate in Richmond, Virginia. I was there to take what turned out to be an excellent tour of the mansion.  On my way, I noticed a weird, tentacled, orange glob hanging off of an Eastern Red Cedar tree.  I immediately knew what it was. You see, last year I had to take out my two pear* trees, which I thought were resistant to the cedar-apple rust fungus.  Unfortunately, all of the fruit on the trees were stunted and developed these orange tentacle projections on them, signifying infection with the fungus.  Usually, cedars, apples and crab apples are most susceptible to this fungus.  Whatever, my pears* got a hefty dose of it. Last year, I walked through the neighborhood looking for infected cedar trees, and found none. However, this year the trees seem to be loaded with this fungus.  

For most of the year, the fungus looks like some sort of cone or pod on the cedar tree. However, after the first warm rain in spring, the fungal spore-bearing parts of the gall emerge.  The fungus has a complicated lifestyle, involving transfer back-and-forth from cedar trees to apple trees.  

The treatment for this fungus is two-pronged: first, remove all cedar trees in the vicinity. Of course, this was impossible, as the Eastern Red Cedar grows prolifically in this area in Virginia. The second involves the use of antifungal sprays.  Unfortunately, I was unable to keep up with the organic, anti-fungal sprays given the extent of the infection, which is why I had to remove the trees.

Wonder what it looks like? Here you go:

Weird, huh?  I may not like this fungus, but I can appreciate its strange that interesting looks. So, I am making "lemons out of lemonade" and will be creating a botanical drawing of the cedar-apple rust gall!

*Ah-ha! I did some more research!  While the above photo seems to be of a cedar-apple rust gall, my pear trees more likely suffered from pear-quince rust, which exists in both cedars and junipers!  Wow, a whole world is opening up to me about nasty fungi!  The fruit looked just as shown in this link, from the excellent Missouri Botanical Garden: 

I need to do more research!