1. Be aware of blossom end rot and the reasons for its development. This is not a disease but a physiological disorder often caused by soil moisture fluctuation. It begins as a water-soaked spot that becomes brown and fleshy at the base of tomatoes, squash, peppers, cucumbers, and melons. Yes, its proximate cause is a calcium deficiency in the fruit. However, if these crops had been nurtured correctly, the problem never would have developed. To prevent blossom end rot, do not fertilize excessively with nitrogen, water twice a week maintaining moisture at a six-inch depth, maintain a 2-3 inch layer of mulch, and keep soil pH slightly acidic with the application of gypsum (calcium sulfate).
2. Be on the lookout for scales, aphid-related insects as small as one-tenth of an inch in diameter. They are classified as either soft or armored, and are white, grey, brown, yellow, or black. They are sap suckers and so you often see them lined up on the central leaf vein where sap is most plentiful, although they will also appear on stems and fruit, especially citrus. The simplest form of control is to dip a cloth in alcohol and wipe them off or, on more delicate indoor plants, dip a Q-tip in alcohol for their removal. During the growing season, spray scales with Neem or horticultural soap and, on perennials, spray horticultural oil in winter. Ants feed off their honeydew excretions so controlling ants — slather petroleum jelly on the trunks of affected plants — who move scales around to their benefit, will also help in scale control.
3. You may wish to experiment with sheet composting, also known as cold composting or lasagna composting. It’s much easier than hot composting and can be done at your leisure wherever you wish to create or enrich a garden bed, or enrich the soil around your fruit trees. On bare soil, put down five layers of newspaper or cardboard. Soak with a hose. Cover with a one inch layer of a nitrogenous material such as manure, coffee grounds, kitchen vegetable scraps, fresh weeds or grass clippings. Add a one-inch layer of a carbonaceous material such as straw, sawdust, wood chips, fallen leaves, or pine needles. Continue to add alternating layers of materials from nitrogen and carbon sources until a height of 1-2 feet is reached. Just make sure if kitchen scraps are used for the nitrogen layer, they are immediately covered with a carbon layer in order not to attract flies.
4. Remove suckers and water sprouts from trees and roses. Suckers are the rapidly growing shoots that sprout from the base of tree trunks, rose bushes, and tomato plants, and take away from tree trunk, rose cane and tomato fruit development. Water sprouts are the spindly vertical growth seen especially on certain fruit trees, such as apples and citrus; they depress fruit growth on existing branches. An aside: Suckers are easier to root than water sprouts since their closer proximity to roots means they have a higher concentration of root growth promoting hormones in their tissues.
5. Propagate cacti by cutting off stem sections (pads) and letting them lie in the shade for a few days to a week or more until they form callus at the point of detachment. Then their bottom ends can be inserted in fast-draining soil to the minimum depth at which they can stand on their own. Stemless rosettes such as those formed on echeverias and sempervivums can simply be cut and laid on the surface of fast-draining potting soil to root. Terminal shoot pieces of stem-forming succulents such as sedums can be cut, callused, and then rooted directly in well-drained garden soil or in containers.
If you have a cactus or succulent plant — not mentioned above — which has fragrant flowers or enjoys a long bloom period, let me know about it by sending its story to the email address given below.
Please send questions, comments, and photos to [email protected].