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By Sue Kittek For The Morning Call | Apr 08, 2021 at 9: 11 AM I’m hoping you can help me find the problem with the little “bug-like” things that are on my African violets. I’m hoping you will tell me a treatment to get rid of this, what might be a fungus. Is there a spray I can use to protect my violets? I’m hoping you can help me. African violets need bright but indirect light. (FRAN KITTEK, SPECIAL TO THE MORNING CALL) My first thought is to be sure that the spots are spots and not tiny insects. The next likely culprit is fungus, powdery mildew. Although usually described as a light grey or white dusting, it can appear as small white spots. Start by examining your conditions and correcting any potential problems: Water carefully, keeping the water off the leaves and using room temperature water. Do not allow plants to sit in excess water. Make sure there is ample space between plants. Air circulation is important in the fight against fungal problems. You may also consider a low fan moving air through the area. Check the light. African violets need bright but indirect light. An eastern exposure is great but not essential. Check the temperature. The temperature, night and day, should not move up or down by more than 10°F. Fluctuations in temperature can affect the humidity around the plants. Increased humidity will encourage the growth of powdery mildew. Keep plants clean. Remove spent flowers and any plant parts that have signs of mildew. Keep the soil surface clear of plant debris. If only one or two plants are affected, isolate them from others. When cultural changes are not improving the situation, you can resort to chemical means. Clean the area around the problem plants with a disinfecting spray. Other options include applying a spray of neem oil, jojoba oil; both according to package directions, One final suggestion is a spray of baking soda and water (1 teaspoon soda to 1 quart of water). I am sending this email on behalf of my father. He recently read your article in the Morning Call on Saturday, April 3, 2021, in which you state the following: “Test soil for new beds, retest soil in poorly performing areas or those that haven’t been tested in the last 3 to 5 years.” He will be using an area of soil that he has used for the past few years. Can you let us know how he can test the soil and what it is that he should be looking for? Last year the tomato and pepper plants that he put in this soil did not do well. The leaves curled up and the blossoms fell off when the plants were about 14-16″ high. Also, do you have any recommendations on what he can add to the soil to improve it? To make sure the soil you’re using has the right pH, metals, salts and other nutrients, you can send it into a laboratory run by a university or scientific institution, or use an at-home testing kit. (Microgen/Shutterstock) I suggest soil testing to determine if there are any deficiencies in the soil and the pH. Knowing more about the soil can help you decide what to grow or not grow, what amendments will be useful and what not to add. My preferred test is the Penn State Soil test available through the local extension offices and at many local nurseries. Contact the Lehigh or Northampton County Extension offices to locate tests. I like these tests beaus they are reliable and users can get specific recommendations for whatever they want to grow in the spot. When an area is becoming a new bed or if the bed has been used for several seasons, soil conditions can be affecting the performance of the garden. In this case Roger’s father is noticing a problem with his tomato and pepper plants. Often blossom drop is caused by temperatures. Above 85°F in the daytime, above 75°F or below 55°F can cause the blossoms to drop on tomatoes. Peppers can also drop blossoms during temperature extremes. Unfertilized flowers will also drop. Here the culprits can be humidity, both low and high that affect the production and distribution of pollen. Wind, insects and movement all contribute to pollenating tomatoes. You can gently shake the plants to assist pollen distribution. Wilts (Verticillium and fusarium wilt) can winter over in the soil. This is one of the reasons for rotating your planting areas. It is not enough to move the tomatoes, you must also avoid planting related plants You need to consider that if the problem is a yearly event, you may have a disease or virus in the soil. This is best avoided by not planting the same family of plants in the same area each year. Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and more are all members of the nightshade family and suffer from similar growing problems. Curled leaves also have multiple causes: Exposure to herbicides, even drifting spray from a neighbor, can cause curling leaves. Viral diseases cause curling and often result in the death of the plants. More commonly, leaf curl is a result of environmental factors. The stress of too much moisture, too much nitrogen, inadequate watering, high temperatures, and excessive pruning all may result in leaf curling, So, although I do recommend testing the soil regularly, the problems encountered here are most likely not related to the soil structure or composition. Select varieties that have some resistance to problems. This is often indicated on the tag or in the description of the variety. Keep soil uniformly moist but not wet. An inch of water a week is usually sufficient for most vegetable gardens. Water early enough in the day to allow leaves to dry off before the cooler nighttime temperatures. Also, watering the roots, not the foliage is a good practice. Allow proper spacing so that air can circulate around the plant. Keep the bed clean by removing all dropped leaves, dead plants, weeds, dropped fruit. Finally, the easiest and least harmful amendment to the soil is the addition of organic material, usually provided by compost. If you do not have a personal compost pile, it is available at many garden centers and municipal yard waste sites. I am a bit hesitant to use municipal compost on edibles because there is no way to determine what chemicals may have been applied to the material before composting. Sue Kittek is a freelance garden columnist, writer, and lecturer. Send questions to Garden Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, PO Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105. Start seed for: Baby’s breath, cosmos and zinnias. Direct sow: Chinese cabbage, endive, escarole, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, head and leaf lettuce. Also sow: beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips. Continue planting seeds for transplanting for: Balsam bachelor buttons, calendula, cockscomb, gaillardia, marigold, morning glory, nasturtium, cantaloupe, melon and Swiss chard. When the soil warms, plant bare root trees and shrubs. Make sure the soil is dry enough to work — don’t dig or plant in mud. Follow your schedule for starting seeds. Visit nurseries when they open for inspiration as well as new plants. Shop for summer bulbs as well. Apply a top dressing of compost to lawns and beds. Move indoor plants into brighter light and start regular watering. Rake back winter mulches. Spring and summer mulch should be two to three inches deep and applied a few inches away from foundations, tree trunks and other plants. Fluff mulch and add more if necessary. Calculate amount of spring mulch needed then order or buy it. Test soil for new beds, Retest soil in poorly performing areas or those that haven’t been tested in the last 3-5 years. Cut back ornamental grasses. Divide when you see new green growth. Prune and divide perennials that bloom in late summer or fall. Examine trees and shrubs. Note damaged limbs and candidates for pruning. Please check proper pruning information for each plant and prune as needed and recommended. Keep amaryllis greens warm and watered in a sunny area if you plan on keeping them until next year. Discard paperwhites after blooming. If you use corn gluten-based weed control in the garden, start applying this month and establish a schedule for reapplication, usually at four- to six-week intervals. Clear lawns of winter debris. Begin broadleaf weed control now through mid-May. Plan and order sod for installation in mid-April through May. Apply preemergent crabgrass control in the next few weeks. Fill in holes and low spots in lawn and seed. Seed or overseed lawns now until mid-May. Mark off beds, new plantings, plants that are late to break dormancy in the spring and delicate plants. Water any recent plantings anytime the ground isn’t frozen and we experience a week with less than an inch of rain. Fix damaged screens and garden hoses. Note damaged caulking around doors and windows. Provide deer, rabbit and groundhog protection for vulnerable plants. Reapply taste or scent deterrents. Clean and fill bird feeders regularly. Clean up spilled seed and empty hulls. Dump, scrub and refill birdbaths at least once a week. gutters and direct rainwater runoff away from house foundations. Tools, equipment, and supplies Store winter equipment and replace or repair as needed. Check spring/summer equipment — repair or replace damaged or worn-out tools. Check power tools and mowers and send for service if needed. Sharpen shovels and hand tools. Store garden chemicals indoors away from pets and children. Discard outdated ones at local chemical collection events. Photograph storm damage before clearing or repairing for insurance claims and file promptly. Anytime you are outside and the temperatures are about 50°F or warmer watch for tick bites. Use an insect repellent containing Deet on the skin. Apply a permethrin product to clothing. Wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves, hats and long pants when working in the garden. Stay hydrated. Drink water or other non-caffeinated, nonalcoholic beverages. Apply sunscreen, wear hats and limit exposure to sun. Wear closed-toe shoes and gloves; use eye protection; and use ear protection when using any loud power tools.
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