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Fighting tomato troubles and a Bermudagrass triple threat

August 07, 2007|By ANNETTE IPSAN

Two garden dilemmas are popping up in gardens throughout Washington County: blossom end rot in tomatoes and Bermudagrass in lawns and gardens. Let's talk about some handy fixes for these baddies.

The rotten truth

ToMAYto. ToMAHto. No matter how you say it or slice it, tomatoes are a treat, the real taste of summer. But like every garden delight, they have their share of problems. Lately, enemy number one is blossom end rot.

Are you seeing large brown leathery spots on the bottom of your tomatoes? Then your tomatoes have blossom end rot.

Caused by a calcium deficiency, blossom end rot is often triggered by a drought or uneven watering. Plants get calcium from the soil through water. When water is scarce, plants send water to the leaves rather than the fruit. Without a steady supply of water - and calcium - the cells at the blossom end of the fruit die, causing those brown patches.

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Tomatoes aren't the only vegetable that can get blossom end rot. Peppers, squash, pumpkin, watermelon and eggplant are also prone.

Fixing blossom end rot is often as easy as changing your watering habits. Water your vegetables deeply twice a week instead of more often with less water. Voila! No more blossom end rot.

To prevent blossom end rot, do two things next year. Test your soil to make sure it has a pH between 6.3 and 6.8. That's the level you need for your plants to absorb calcium from the soil. Also, mix a handful of ground limestone into the soil in each planting hole when you plant your seedlings.

You can also help to prevent blossom end rot by mulching your vegetables. I use grass clippings. They're cheap, easy and make a great soil amendment when turned in at the end of the season. You could also try shredded newspaper or straw. Any mulch will help maintain moisture and prevent blossom end rot.

Battling Bermudagrass

Have you been playing tug of war with a particularly nasty weed? Does it look like a grass gone wild with long, connected roots and multiple tufts of growth? Then you are probably battling Bermudagrass.

A stubborn weed, Bermudagrass causes many of us to curse it in our lawns and gardens. It spreads by seeds, stolons (above-ground horizontal stems) and rhizomes (underground stems), making it a triple threat. It makes thousands of seeds and tends to break off when pulled. What's a gardener to do?

You can try to dig out small infestations in your lawn or garden beds. Know that if you leave the tiniest nub, Bermudagrass will regrow. So be thorough and prepared to take other action.

If Bermudagrass is sneaking into your established beds, you can also spray it with Roundup (or another form of glysophate). Just be careful not to kill other plants with the overspray. Edging your beds regularly also helps keep Bermudagrass and other infiltrators at bay.

Large infestations of Bermudagrass in lawns need stronger action. You can zap it chemically with Roundup to kill the entire area, then reseed it.

If that approach seems too drastic, you can take a longer view and exploit Bermudagrass' weakness. It can't stand shade. So set your lawnmower to cut higher - three inches or more - to encourage other grasses to shade it. This can shade out crabgrass and other pesky weeds, too.

Bermudagrass absorbs most of its nutrients in spring and summer, so you can starve it by fertilizing only in the fall. This gives fescues and other cool-season grasses an advantage since they absorb their nutrients in the fall and winter. You can also overseed your lawn in the fall with cool-seaon grasses to give them a competitive edge.

Battling Bermudagrass is an extreme sport for gardeners. But with persistence, knowledge and careful timing, you can come out a winner.

Gardening teaches patience. Just keep telling yourself that. Neither weed nor drought, disease nor dastardly bug is going to get you down. And when the going gets tough, you turn to other gardeners - and the Extension office - for advice. Keep those calls and e-mails coming. They let me know what's going on in local gardens and help me prepare for the next call. Thanks for helping me help you.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604, or by e-mail at aipsan@umd.edu

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