The Signal Tribune newspaper

Filed under Garden Variety

Be a detective to keep your plants healthy

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Jennifer E. Beaver

Sunday morning my husband discovered me splayed next to the vegetable bed, my head at an unnatural angle. Fortunately, I was neither the victim of foul play nor too much partying at the Hollywood Bowl (Beach Boys rock!). No, I was merely inspecting the tomatoes.
Snap (my intrepid feline gardening companion) and I perform this ritual daily. And I suggest you do the same during spring and summer, when bugs, disease, water issues and other problems can take your fruit, vegetables and flowers from sublime to sinister faster than it takes for CSI to solve a crime.
What should you look for? Start with placement. If tomato, eggplant or pepper leaves drag on the ground, clip them off. They form a dangerous highway for soil-born diseases. Next, take a good look at the leaves. Tomato blights and viruses often first show themselves as yellow or haloed markings. I clip off the offending leaves or branches, which doesn’t stop the disease but might slow it down. Then I wash the clippers with either bleach and water or hydrogen peroxide to avoid spreading the pathogen to other plants.
Do leaves or flowers look chomped? Try deterring the culprit with water mixed with a few drops of liquid detergent. Spray the whole plant, preferably in the morning. Adding a few drops of hot sauce boosts effectiveness but may burn the plant; test the solution first on an obscure area.
Did your inspection reveal holes in the leaves? Suspect snails and slugs. Get rid of them with Sluggo, iron phosphate pellets that nuke offenders but don’t harm cats and dogs. Garden columnist Jack Christensen advises applying it every 10 days to get rid of new snails as they hatch.
Now that June Gloom has arrived, shady days may lead to the disease powdery mildew. You may spot what looks like white chalk or dust on leaves and flowers. Left unchecked, mildew can cripple your plants. The solution is simple. In a spray bottle, mix nine parts water and one part milk. Apply as needed. Be sure to use skim milk— one of the enzymes is the active ingredient that kills mildew.
See how easy it is to be a plant detective? No deerstalker required!

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California and Edible Gardening for California.

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Be a detective to keep your plants healthy