Take care of plants before weather changes


Here are some questions I’ve encountered recently.

FORCE RIPENING TOMATOES: There are at least three ways to force ripen tomatoes in case a frost sneaks up on us.

Two to three weeks before our first expected frost (Nov. 15), take a shovel and gently loosen the soil around your tomato roots. This stresses plants to hasten ripening on the vine.

As weather cools, the ripening process slows considerably. Tomatoes approaching maturity take on a whitish-green appearance. Pick them and place them in a cool dark place. Check them periodically, as some ripen sooner than others. Do not wrap them in paper as is often recommended.

Every time you examine your tomatoes, you may bruise them, allowing spoilage to take place. To enhance the ripening process, place an apple with your tomatoes. The ethylene (sweet smell) given off by apples hastens the ripening process.

Or do as my wife, Barbara, does. She uses green tomatoes to make tomato bread. Use the same amount of tomatoes as recommended in zucchini bread recipes.

SPINACH HARD TO GERMINATE: Spinach germination improves as soil temperatures drop below 60 degrees. If the seeds were on seed racks through the summer, they’ll be even harder to germinate. Consider substitute spinach vegetables:

Swiss chard is a versatile vegetable to use in salads as a garnish or for cooking. It’s prepared the same way as spinach. It loves our desert conditions and will produce well into next summer. To enjoy fresh, tender chard, always harvest the outside leaves.

New Zealand spinach is a favorite vegetable of Master Gardener Helen Brown. She swears it ought to be in every garden. Its leaves resemble spinach in appearance and flavor. Soak seeds in warm water for a day before planting now or next March. You only need one plant, as it freely spreads and withstands our droughty condition. It loves full sun during the cool season, but needs some protection through the heat. Expect to be eating it within two months. Like chard, harvest the outside leaves to encourage the plant to bush out and to keep it in production longer.

CONTROLLING WINTER WEEDS: These weeds creep up on you through the winter. Hoeing is the best way to control weeds before they go to seed. Remember our rule of thumb: “One year of weeds going to seed means seven years of weeding.”

After eliminating your weeds, apply a pre-emergent herbicide. It doesn’t kill established weeds but prevents seeds from germinating. Make your next application in February or March to prevent spring weeds from germinating. To get the most out of pre-emergent weed killers, follow the directions exactly or they become ineffective.

TOO LATE TO PINCH BACK MUMS: The Mum Society stops pinching (removing the top growth of each stem) them in August before buds start showing color. Pinching also stiffens mum stems so the display remains tight rather than sprawling to lose its effectiveness. When done right, mums produce a brilliant display of color until Jack Frost visits the valley.

TWO-YEAR-OLD TREE CROWDING WALLS: While it’s still young, remove and replant your tree elsewhere this fall. It will be easy to move, or consider having a tree service move it for you. With leaves on the tree, it continues producing food to develop a strong root system to meet the trials it will encounter next summer.

PEACE LILY BLOOMS BLACKENING: This may be a spent bloom signaling its decline, especially if the leaves are healthy; remove it. But if it’s a new bloom, the plant is under stress. Check your watering methods as the root ball may be either too dry or wet. Make sure water drains freely from the container’s bottom each time you water. Once corrected, your plant will recover.

CONTROLLING ANTS IN TREES: Your nursery sells tangle foot. It’s a sticky goo you “paint” on the tree’s trunk. It becomes a quagmire for ants and they die. Stir the tangle foot often to keep the product gooey.

THE RIGHT PLANT

Let Dr. Q (who Paul Noe is known as on Channel 8), Star Nursery horticulturist, show you how to “Choose the Right Plant for the Right Place” at noon Tuesday at the Paseo Verde Library, 280 S. Green Valley Parkway in Henderson. The Sunset Garden Club is sponsoring this event at its monthly meeting. For more information, view its website at www.sunsetgardenclubofnv.org.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at linnmillslv@gmail.com or call him at 526-1495.