Water stress may cause tomatoes to split

Here are some questions I answered recently.

Q: Why are my tomatoes splitting?

A: Tomatoes are 95 percent water and as such require much water. As I understand it, as plants stress for water, it’s gradually taken from the fruit. Then, if you overwater, it causes the fruit to imbibe water too fast and the skin cracks. Mulching and shading will go a long way to solving this issue.

Q: How do I organically control ants inundating my home?

A: Master Gardener Dr. Bob Stauffer, who wrote the book “Pest Control: The Natural Way,” suggests the following:

Purchase Poison Fire Ant and Roach Killer from Ace Hardware. It has a mint base. He also suggests a more sure way with Organic Fire Ant Killer. It’s a special diatomaceous earth found in Arizona. Once ants crawl through it, the sharp edges cause sap to ooze out and they die. “If you keep the product dry, it will last for years,” he says. To purchase this, call 877-239-1191.

Q: How do I get rid of a black widow spider in my house? I attempted to capture it to take it outside but it got away.

A: If you have spiders around that means you also have insects, as that is their diet. Black widow spiders prefer living outdoors, but occasionally they come inside. Because they are active at night, use a flashlight to find them. If you must destroy them, use a fly swatter or a rolled- up newspaper. Pyrethrum (organic) will control them but you must get the spray on them.

Q: Why did I have so much blossom-end rot on my tomatoes? I placed a soaker hose below my plants before planting and water them every day.

A: Blossom-end rot is a calcium deficiency. It takes moisture to dissolve calcium off the soil, and if plants become stressed for water, blossom-end rot results. It sounds as if your soil is too sandy below the soakers so water leaches down rather than up to the rooted area. Watering from the top down might help.

Q: When do we plant garlic here?

A: Plant in the fall. Amend the soil first and you won’t have to fertilize them. Plant cloves 2 inches deep and space them 3 inches apart. As plants emerge, mulch them to keep the soil moist. In about six months begin harvesting.

Q: What pesticide is most effective for the agave snout beetle?

A: This beetle is difficult to control once it gets into agaves. Use Bayer’s Tree and Shrub Insect Spray. It’s a systemic, meaning it works within the plant to control them. By the time you realize you have them it’s too late to control them.

Q: Can we grow Jerusalem artichokes here?

A: Yes, so plant them early next spring. Buy tubers at your grocery store. Like potatoes, each tuber needs an eye. Amend the soil before planting. Plant this perennial tuber 4 inches deep and 18 inches apart. Be careful where you plant them; they can spread. After plants emerge, cover them with mulch as tubers grow close to the soil surface. The plant itself gets 6 to 7 feet tall with a sunflowerlike bloom topping it off. If this is your first time planting these tubers, you are going to love them.

Q: How do I control tomato hornworms?

A: They feed at night on the top leaves so watch for stripped stems in the early morning. Pick them off and destroy them. Or apply an organic product called Bt to eliminate them.

Q: Are wood ashes bad for our soils?

A: No. Spread them thinly over your garden and thoroughly mix them into the soil or into your compost pile.

Q: When we left on vacation, our 3-year-old, tall bushy sweet acacia was fine. When we returned, the branches were loaded with leaves and seedpods and heavily drooping. Do we trim it, leave it alone or what?

A: Yes you can trim it, but, more importantly, cut back the water. Remember, it’s a desert-loving plant.

Q: Why does my crookneck squash get about 3 inches long and then wither?

A: These squashes develop that much, but if not pollinated, wither. It sounds as if you don’t have any bee activity to transfer pollen to the female flower. You can transfer the pollen, but do it early in the morning for best results.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at linnmillslv@gmail.com or call him at 702-526-1495.