Coming Soon… Tips from the Garden Tool Shed

Time to Grow More and Work Less.

Feed the Bulbs

First shoots of the season

Spring is in stealth mode. I thought it would takes weeks to melt all the snow, but it is slowly retreating, as if I wouldn’t notice. Chiseled ridges of sand flecked, icy snow are giving way to equally sandy and frozen grass. And something else. While filling the bird feeders yesterday, I was astounded to see the bobbing heads of snowdrops and the first hints of daffodils. Spring will come, after all.

Daffodil Shoots

It’s still amazing to me that these bulbs not only survive year after year, they go forth and multiply. We could still get more snow, but I know it won’t faze them as much as it will me.

I’m often asked when to feed spring flowering bulbs.  Hopefully the plants had plenty of time last spring to replenish the storehouse of food in energy. That’s why we’re always cautioned not to cut back the foliage until it fades on its own.

As the plants push up in the spring and eventually bloom, they will go through all their stored. resources. Although leaving the foliage in tact will help them feed themselves, they appreciate a little supplemental food. There’s no hard and fast rule of when to do that, but I prefer to wait until after they have finished blooming, while they’re working hard to plump up before going dormant again.

I like to sprinkle a high phosphorous, slow release organic fertilizer on the soil, when the buds are not quite open. Phosphorous takes awhile to work into the soil and bulbs have such a short growing season anyway, I like to have it accessible when they need it.

And speaking of spring bulbs, one of the first things up in my vegetable garden is invariably the garlic I planted last fall. I haven’t had a chance to check on them yet, because I have to chip away the ice in front of the vegetable garden gate. (I’m taking the lazy approach and praying for a warm rain.) This is some of last year’s garlic. 2013 was not a good year, in my garden. We had a general lack of heat and very erratic moisture. The bulbs were small, but still tasty. However I ordered new bulbs to plant last fall, instead of saving my own, which is always a disappointment.

Harvested Garlic

Just like flowering spring bulbs, garlic is going to need a boost – and then some. I’m sure we all have lovely, rich soil that is full of organic matter, but garlic grows fast and it gets hungry. A bi-weekly foliage feeding or monthly serving of a balanced fertilizer with a leaning toward phosphorous again, will help the plants develop lush green grow, that will support the roots. Start as soon as you see the leaves emerging, but stop in late spring, usually around mid-May, so that the plants can turn their focus from growing leaves to bulking up their bulbs. And equally important, if not more so, make sure your garlic gets regular water. Garlic does not handle stress well.

All this talk of sprouting plants has made me even more impatient to get outdoors. I wonder what will surprise me today?

Garden Show Fever

Lordy, this has been one long winter! I would give my first ripe tomato, to be able to get to work outside. I took a spin around the display still up from the Adams Garden Show. Breathe. It’s always lovely, but I would still rather the greenhouse be full of plants I could buy and bring home. If you’ve ever wondered how they get all those plants and trees and stone in there, were’ a really cool time lapse video of them putting one of their shows together.


The Capital District Flower Show is coming up on March 21st. True, it’s not the Philly Flower Show, but once again you get to inhale all that scent of damp soil. And there are plants to buy!


Garden shows are really pretty amazing. There we all are, walking around a big cavern with a cement floor, gaping at plants that don’t even grow and bloom at the same time, in the garden. Most of the time there’s a black curtain behind them – hiding what, I don’t know. But we love it. It must be sense memory that makes us suspend belief and revel in setting. After this winter, I’ll take it.

There’s a Reason They Call it Weather

It was only about a week ago that everyone was worried we were going to have another mild winter Well, not everyone was worried. Some were quite happy about it. But it’s not what we remember. Sure we’d had a couple of frosts, but it wasn’t enough to knock out many plants. Some, like this purple-leaved Huechera, (I always say I’ll remember which one is which, but I always forget), look even better with a light frosting.


But a mild winter just wasn’t in the cards. Within a week of the Heuchera photo, I was shoveling paths to the birds feeders. We have a foot of snow and it’s not even winter yet. Next I have to dig out the hoop house and see how things look under there. I’m very pleased to see it still standing.


I wont’ be doing much outdoor gardening for awhile, so today seems like a good day to dip into the larder and open my first jars of tomato sauce of the season. Suddenly all that peeling and boiling seems worth it.


Made my version of Pasta e fagioli, or as I’ve I’ve always called it, pasta fazool. It’s basically just a small pasta, I used ditalini, and beans. I always use cannolini beans. My father used to lie it made with Campbell’s baked beans, but I could never warm to that.  Some people add other vegetables, but I’m a purist. Add my mother-in-law’s popovers and I can handle however much snow is headed our way.

So Many Green Tomatoes, So Little Time

This has not been a great year for tomatoes in my garden and from what I hear, I’m not alone. Since they’re heat lovers, I would have thought the plants would revel in the scorching temperatures of late July. But I’ve recently read that heat isn’t the key to ripening. In a regional update, Dr. Steve Reiners of Cornell University Capital District Vegetable & Small Fruit Program, says that the “…optimum temperature for ripening tomatoes is 70 to 75 F.” and temperatures in excess of 85 F causes ripening to slow – apparently to a crawl. The red pigments in tomatoes are caused by carotene and lycopene and at high temperatures, tomatoes stop producing them. Go figure!

Tomatoes stalled in the green stage.

It takes as long as it takes. There’s no rushing the ripening.

So my tomatoes are pouting. And since we’ve had such a wet and humid season, they are also spotting and sprouting all kinds of fungal disease. I tried Spinosad this year, but it doesn’t seem to work as well as copper or sulfur, as a preventative.

Dr. Reiners says exposure to sunlight has nothing to do with ripening tomatoes and can have the opposite results, because more sunlight means more heat. So don’t try the old trick of trimming away leaves and branches. That will just lead to sun scald.

What can we do? Well we could learn some patience, I guess, but what’s the chance of that happening? At this point in the season, whatever fruits were going to form, pretty much have. Pinching the remaining flowers off the vine will allow it to focus on ripening the fruit that is already set. If that’s too drastic for you, at least pinch a few.

Or you can take matters into your own hands and harvest any fruits showing a blush of color on their blossom end and bring them indoors, to finish ripening. Place them in paper bags with an apple. The ethylene gas given off by the apple will speed the ripening process. They’ll still taste summer fresh.

Source: Why Aren’t My Tomatoes Ripening?

Bring On the Cicadas

My yard looks like it’s ready for Halloween or maybe a ghost tour of Savannah. I heard the cicadas were expected this week, today, to be precise, so I spent Sunday netted my young fruit trees. I guess they are bidding their time, because I haven’t heard a chirp.

Peach tree netted for protection against cicadas.

I don’t remember them visiting in 1996. I remember hearing them, but I don’t recall seeing any in my yard. I have a lot of birds, so maybe they didn’t stand a chance. More likely it’s because I don’t have a lot of hardwood trees.  The more trees, the more cicadas. Forests should be loaded with them.

But since their last emergence, I’ve planted some fruit trees and they all have branches under ½ in. in diameter. I don’t want to start over with them, so I covered them with a light netting. You need a net with squares that are less than ½ in. wide, to keep the females from getting in and laying their eggs inside the branches.
Cherry tree netted for protection from cicadas.
That’s the damage they do. As overwhelming as they can be in numbers, they don’t really have any interest in people or pets. But the females insert their ovipositor into small branches and if they don’t snap them off, the emerging larva may.

They’ll only be around for a couple of weeks. Then they’ll go back under ground, munch on tree roots and hang out as nymphs for another 17 years.

Updated expected arrival is now the end of May or the first week in June. Learn more about cicadas from the Cornell Chronicle.