Garden Myth: Tums for Tomatoes

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Applying Tums to tomato plants is simply a waste of time and money. Photo: Brett Hondow, Pixabay,

There is no limit to the human imagination … nor to far-fetched ways to treat our plants. Here’s one example among many, the belief that giving antacid pills, specifically Tums, can be useful to tomato plants.

The tip suggests placing a Tums antacid pill at the base of the tomato plant, then watering well afterwards. Exactly what this is supposed to do to help the plant is rarely mentioned. Just do it: it’s good for your plant. And I’m sure plenty of people blindly follow this advice.

I can, however, tell you where the idea originally came from and also why giving Tums or any other calcium-rich antacid tablet to your tomatoes won’t work.

Preventing Blossom-End Rot

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Blossom end rot is caused by irregular watering. Photo: Scot Nelson, Flickr

Tomatoes often suffer from blossom end rot (read Tomatoes and Peppers: How to Avoid Blossom End Rot for more details on this disease). The tip of the fruit becomes brown and sunken and the fruit begins to rot. And blossom end rot is known to be caused by a calcium deficiency. And that’s why Tums pills are supposed to come to the rescue, as they are mostly composed of calcium carbonate. Calcium, in other words, and in a highly soluble form to boot. That should solve the problem, shouldn’t it?

But that’s misunderstanding the situation. Blossom end rot is rarely caused by a lack of calcium in the soil, but rather by a lack of calcium in the plant. Calcium is abundant and available in almost all soils, even in artificial soils or poor quality ones. In fact, it’s one of the most abundant elements in soils all over the world. Almost any soil contains more than enough calcium to satisfy a tomato plant. And essentially all fertilizers also contain calcium as well. As a result, the average tomato plant has an abundance of calcium in the soil in which it grows: you don’t need to add more.

In fact, blossom end rot is really due to the inability of the plant to absorb the calcium present in the soil. And this is related to moisture stress and uneven watering. If the plant lacks water during the critical period of fruit formation, the roots can’t absorb all the minerals that are available and therefore what little sap now reaches the fruit will be carrying less calcium than it should. Since the fruit isn’t getting sap of the quality it requires, a calcium deficiency occurs … and blossom end rot sets in.

Just Keep the Plants Moist

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To prevent blossom end rot, just water. Tums aren’t necessary! Photo: Graphicstock

So, if you water your tomato plants more regularly, thus avoiding moisture stress, the fruits won’t suffer from blossom end rot. Applying Tums won’t be necessary, nor will using a fertilizer rich in calcium. Just keep the plants evenly moist and all will be fine.

So, if you apply a Tums to the soil at the foot of a tomato plant and you water it, as the garden myth recommends, true enough, that will cure future cases of blossom end rot … but because you watered, not because of the Tums.

Just skip the Tums and go straight to step 2, watering. It’s as easy as that!20170821A Brett Hondow, Pixabay

Don’t Carve Initials on Tree Bark

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There’s nothing romantic about defacing a tree! Photo: bogitw, Pixabay

It just seems so romantic, doesn’t it? You’re in love, so you take your penknife and carve your initials and those of your beloved in the bark of a nearby tree, perhaps engraving a heart around it for more emphasis. Then you show her…

Well, if she’s the slightest bit of a tree hugger, she’ll probably slap you.

This isn’t the 1920s and people today have more respect for nature. Trees are not billboards designed to be written on, they’re living beings and you’d shouldn’t deface living beings. If you want to give yourself a tattoo, that’s your business, but tattooing someone else without their permission is just … wrong! And tree carvings are tree tattoos.

Doesn’t Carving Actually Hurt the Tree?

You may have heard that carving a tree can harm it, allowing in pathogens that can cause rot or even lead to its death. That’s the kind of slightly false information it really does little harm to let circulate, but let’s be honest here. In fact, carving letters into a tree probably won’t hurt it.

That kind of engraving (quite unlike stripping a tree of its bark: that will kill it!) rarely goes deep enough to do any serious damage to the integrity of the tree itself. Sure, there’s a risk the wound could become infected with pathogens, but it’s very, very slight. In general, the tree will compartmentalize the wound and it will heal over. The initials that remain visible are essentially scar tissue, permanent scar tissue.

What tree carving does do is destroy the tree’s beauty for others … for as long as it lives. Unlike graffiti that can often be removed or covered over, tree wounds are permanent. There’s nothing you can do to erase them.

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One carving often others to also leave their mark! Photo: geograph.org.uk, Wikimedia Commons

Also, seeing one tree with carved initials often encourages others to do the same … and repeated carving to the same tree is much more likely to eventually lead to some sort of invasive fungus or microbe attacking it. Certainly, multiplying carvings will seriously degrade the tree’s appearance!

Private Property

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A tree is usually either private property or belongs to the community. Defacing it is illegal.

Remember that tree probably belongs to someone. Either the owner of the lot on which it grows or, if it’s in a public place, the community. Would you want someone carving their initials on your car? Or on your arm? It’s the same thing!

And yes, you could be arrested. I don’t know that there is any specific law against carving initials in a tree, but there are against vandalism. And that’s what carving initials in a tree is.

Sad Story

What brought on this article was a sad situation that occurred just last week. I was touring a public garden with the manager and a small group when we came across initials freshly carved on a tree. You should have seen the look of shock on the guy’s face. He didn’t say anything, but I could tell he was both furious and embarrassed. You could feel the others in the group were equally shocked. “Horrible!” muttered one woman, but otherwise no one actually spoke up. We’d didn’t have to. When something is wrong, it’s simply wrong.

The tour went on… but in a subdued manner.

A Better Memorial

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Show your love by planting a tree! Photo: Graphicstock

Do you want to memorialize your new love? Why not plant a tree in her name rather than destroy another tree’s appearance. That way everybody wins!20170820B bogitw, Pixabay

Faked Photos Indicate an Unreliable Catalog

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A classic case: the tulip ’Bleu Aimable’ is far from being blue … but that doesn’t stop unscrupulous dealers from colorizing its photo to make it bluer!

What you see isn’t always what you get … at least, not when it comes to bulb catalogs. Most, of course, are strictly honest and give impeccable service and top quality, true-to-type bulbs, but there are a few shady dealers you have to watch out for. And some of them are quite aggressive in their sales pitches.

I don’t dare mention the names of the disappointing sources of bulbs for fear of being taken to court by their team of lawyers, but I can tell you, from long experience, how to tell an honest bulb supplier from a crook. And it’s as simple as looking at the photos in their catalog, be it printed or on line.

Honest, knowledgeable merchants use honest photos. What you see in their catalog is what you’ll actually get when you plant the bulbs. (I like that!) But merchants given to exaggeration and exploitation (or ones who have absolutely no knowledge about what they’re selling, which is no better) can’t seem to help but cheat. They always have their graphic designers “improve” the photos to give the bulb a more saleable color. That really makes the choice easy for me: when I see an obviously retouched photo, I know I’m dealing with a fraudster and look elsewhere.

How Can You Tell?

You’re not knowledgeable enough about bulbs to tell which photos are realistic and which have been falsified? Here are 3 easy examples that even a novice bulb gardener can use to tell a quality bulb catalog from a second-rate one.

  1. There are no blue tulips

120170819A EngThere simply are no blue tulips. They just don’t exist. If the tulip in a catalog looks blue, it’s because it has been retouched. See the photos above of the popular ‘Bleu Aimable’. The center of the flower is indeed blue, which is how it got its name, but the tepals are violet to purple, not blue at all.

  1. Pink Daffodils are Still Just Wishful Thinking

120170819B EngMuch progress has been made in bringing pink shades to the flowers of narcissus (also called daffodils or jonquils), but, to be brutally honest, a true, pure pink is still wishful thinking. All those “pink narcissus” you may see in catalogs may be very pretty and well worth growing, but they’re actually closer to apricot or peach. So if you see a truly pink narcissus in a catalog, you know you’re dealing with a disreputable dealer.

  1. ‘Pink Sunrise’ Muscari is Actually Closer to White

120170819C EngThe muscari ‘Pink Sunrise’ is the first pink muscari … but just barely. You’d have a hard time finding a pink more washed out than that. It’s sort of pink-ish for first day or two, then white as a ghost from then on. Such a disappointment! So, despite so many catalogs promoting it as the first pink muscari and my having quite a nice collection of muserais, I’m holding off on buying any pink ones for the moment, hoping some hybridizer somewhere will come up with the real thing. That doesn’t stop some merchants from “pinkifying” the plant’s photo, though. Shame on them!


So there you go: now you know how to distinguish between an honest bulb catalog and one that is trying to rip you off. Just check out the colors of the blue tulips, pink narcissus and pink muscaris!

Garden Myth: A Tree Wound Requires a Coat of Paint

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Despite a common belief to the contrary, it’s rarely wise to cover tree wounds with tree paint. Photo: Max Pixel

Is it true that it’s important to apply pruning paint, paste or some other sealant (I’ll call all of them “wound dressings” from now on) to prevent rot when you cut off a tree branch?

My father certainly used to think so. He’d have us carry a pot of paint (yes, any kind of paint: some of our trees had bright blue or orange spots when he finished!) and a brush and hand both to him whenever he cut off a branch when he pruned his apple trees. “Any hole larger than a quarter needs to be dressed,” he insisted, convinced he was saving his trees from that supreme tree killer, rot.

And that was considered standard practice until well into the 1970s when an upstart biologist named Dr. Alex Shigo, later to be considered the world’s greatest arborist, first began to take a serious took a serious look at how trees grew … and shot that theory to smithereens.

Shigo discovered that trees actually do a pretty good job of protecting themselves. Almost as soon as a branch is removed, the tree starts to wall off the wound, plugging up the cells to keep sap in and air (and microbes) out. Over time, bark will grow over the wound, sealing it off entirely.

He found that tree dressing (then as now, a petroleum-based product was usually used) damaged the cambium around the cut, slowly the healing process and preventing a new layer of bark from forming over the wound. And instead of keeping the wound drier, it actually kept it moister, sealing in fungus spores and giving them the ideal conditions under which to germinate. Plus tree dressings eventually cracked, giving disease organisms that missed their first chance to infect the tree a second opportunity.

As a result, trees treated with tree sealants were actually more subject to fungi and thus rot than ones that weren’t treated at all.

This is the kind of fungus tree wound dressing is supposed to prevent … but doesn’t! Photo: IngaMun, Flickr

In most cases, the best thing to do after you prune a tree is … nothing at all, at least, other than evening out the wound to leave as small an exposed surface as possible if it was caused by breakage or tearing. Just let Mother Nature do her job.

Don’t believe me? Watch a certified arborist at work. They never use wound dressings any more.

Exceptions

Of course, the above assumes you’re pruning living trees when they are dormant, in late fall or early spring. If they are in a period of active growth, notably in from mid-spring through early fall, it may be wise to apply, not wound dressing, but an insecticide/fungicide to trees susceptible to insects or disease, such as elms. And ideally, you’d avoid pruning them at all during the summer.

And, by the way, you can remove dead wood at any season. I almost feel like adding “of course,” as that seems obvious to me, but a lot of people don’t realize that.


Tree wounds that take care of themselves: who would ever have guessed that Mother Nature knew best?20180818D EN

Set Your Grapes Free!

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Free-growing grape vines like the one above produce many more grapes than severely pruned ones. Photo: Gellinger, Pixabay

Laidback gardeners who ask an expert grape grower how to grow grapes (Vitis vinifera and others) will quickly lose all hope of ever succeeding. They’ll hear all about pinching, pruning, trellising, training, cordons and so much more. It’s enough to scare anybody  off!

Yet none of this is necessary for the home gardener. Ideally they’d consider a grape vines to be an ornamental climbing plant that can decorate a pergola or an arbor and that can also, at the end of the season, produce an excellent crop of delicious grapes. That attitude removes all the pressure of having to conform to the harsh training and rigorous pruning regime promoted by professional grape growers.

Why Vineyards Prune Their Vines

To understand why you don’t have to prune grapes to any great degree in a home garden setting, it’s important to understand why vineyards do train and prune their grapes so severely.

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Commercial vineyards train and prune their grape vines so they are easier for grape pickers to harvest. Photo: Mark Smith, Wikimedia Commons

Most train them onto short trellises, then prune very carefully so that all bunches are at almost exactly the same height, because this allows grape pickers to work faster. Yes, not because it gives you more grapes, but to make large scale harvesting easier. If you have no intention of hiring a team of pickers (and so few of us do!), little of that pruning is really necessary.

Easy Grape Care

You’ll discover that grapevines can actually be very easy to grow and need little care.

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In cold areas, look for extra-hardy grape vines. You’ll find some in Grape Vines for Cold Climates. Photo: aha.com

Start by choosing a grape variety adapted to your climate and your growing conditions and plant it in well-drained that is not too acid and can even be a bit alkaline. If you want the grapes to be nice and sweet, make sure the plant is in a sunny spot!

You also need to supply a solid support for such a vigorous vine (grapes can be very heavy!): a pergola, an arbor, a chainlink fence, a strong trellis, a small tree, a balcony railing, an old clothesline, etc. (The average garden center trellis is too small and too fragile.) The grape plant will do the rest, using its twisting tendrils to cling to the nearest support.

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Grapes cling to their support through twisting tendrils that wrap around thin supports. Photo: Max Pixel

Since the grape’s short, thin tendrils can’t cling to smooth surfaces nor can they wrap themselves around thick posts, you’ll need a fairly thin support they can cling to. If you want to grow your grape up a wall, for example, you should install some sort of strong metal meshing or trellising. In the case of a pergola or arbor, it may be necessary to run a wire or rope up the main posts so the grapes can work their way up to the trellised roof. Once at the top, they should be fine.

Patience Is a Virtue

You have to be patient too. Whether you prune it or not, a vine will probably produce nothing the first year and very little the second year. It’s from the third year onwards that harvests really start in earnest.

And Pruning?

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Grape pruning is easy! Just remove any wayward branches, something you can do at any season. Illus.: Clipart Panda et Clipart Library

What about pruning?

The only pruning really needed for a home-grown grapevine is just to prune off any wayward branches plus the dead wood that accumulates over time.

There is no particular season for this. Whenever you see a branch heading up a nearby tree or making a grab for your clothesline, just chop it off. And if your vine becomes a tangled mess after 7 or 8 years—and that can happen!—, just hack it back in spring and let it start anew. Simple!

Less Pruning = More Grapes

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Free-growing grapes are much more productive than pruned ones. Kathryn Greenhill, Flickr

“But won’t I have fewer grapes as if I let my vines grow on their own?” That’s what many vineyard web sites claim, but they’re very wrong! Actually, you’ll have many more grapes. By pruning severely, the commercial grape grower knowingly sacrifices most of the potential fruits. A free-growing grapevine will produce bucket after bucket of fruit rather than a few bunches. But it’s true that the grapes from free-growing vines will be a bit smaller. Smaller but much more abundant: is that really so bad?

A few bunches of big grapes or pails full of smaller ones? You choose.

But I prefer the “less work, more fruit” option!20170817A Gellinger, Pixabay

New Plants From the GWA Conference

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Some of the 2018 introductions.

Every year for over 25 years, I’ve attended the Garden Writers Association Conference and Exposition, one of the rare opportunities for people like me, who write about plants and gardens, have to meet each year. In 2017, it was in Buffalo, New York from August 4 to 7. At each convention we visit beautiful gardens (Buffalo’s Garden Walk is absolutely to die for!), attend lectures … and there is also a trade show, trial gardens and a presentation on the most interesting new plants that will be launched the following year.

What Does “New” Mean?

Not all of the plants presented below will be 100% new to all gardeners. Some have been available on other continents for several years while others were launched gradually, region by region, over a number of years and are only just reaching nationwide distribution. I guarantee, though, that many will be new to most of you!

The following plants were some of my favorites from among the dozens of 2018 introductions I saw at the show.

Anemone Wild Swan™ (Anemone ‘Macane 001’)

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Anemone Wild Swan. Photo: Pride of Place Plants

This is the first anemone with non-stop bloom. It starts to flower at the end of May and continues until October! The slightly nodding flowers are rather cup-shaped, although they open wider when fully expanded, and about 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm) wide. They are pure white with a boss of bright yellow stamens on the inside and  white with lavender blue bands on the back. I’ve had my eye on this perennial since I saw it at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2011 where it won the Plant of the Year award, but it’s been very slow in making its way to where I live. 18 inches (45 cm) tall and 18 to 22 inches (45 to 55 cm) in diameter. Prefers rich, moist soil, so a mulch is wise. Sun or partial shade. Zone 4.

Hydrangea Invincibelle Wee White® (Hydrangea arborescens ’NCHA5’)

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Hydrangea arborescens Invincibelle Wee White. Photo: Proven Winners

Who wouldn’t want a dwarf ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea? ‘Annabelle’ has to be one of the most widely planted shrubs in temperate climates and its huge balls of white flowers dominate the scene in many neighborhoods, but … its thin stems are floppy and who has the time and energy to stake? Well, that won’t be necessary with Invincible Wee White. It’s short and sturdy — even short enough for use as a border plant! — yet shares all the good qualities of ‘Annabelle’, including huge white balls of bloom from July to October or November. It only reaches 12 to 30 inches (30 to 75 cm) in height, yet spreads to 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) in diameter. The flowers are pure white at first, then turn greenish as the season advances. Invincibelle Wee White Hydrangea is also reblooms, producing fresh flowers as the season advances. Prefers rich, well-drained, moist soil. Sun or partial shade. Zone 3.

Pepper ‘Candy Cane Red’ (Capsicum annuum ‘Candy Cane Red’)

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Pepper ‘Candy Cane Red’. Photo: Pan American Seed

With its green and white variegated foliage and its two-tone fruits, ‘Candy Cane Red’ is certainly the most decorative sweet pepper on the market. The elongated fruits are crisp and sweet, measuring 3 ½ to 4 inches (9 to 10 cm) in length. They can be eaten immature at the green and white stage, 40–45 days after transplanting, or mature when fully red, 60–65 days after transplanting. The plant reaches 18 to 24 inches (45–60 cm) in height and 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) in diameter. Plant it in rich soil in full sun. Annual.

Oregano ‘Bellissimo’ (Origanum x hybrida ‘Bellisimo’)

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Oregano ‘Bellissimo’. Photo: Plants Nouveau

This is a strictly ornamental oregano, not designed to be used in cooking. It resembles another ornamental oregano, ‘Kent Beauty’, but is denser with more flowers. In fact, it is covered with candy pink bracts from mid-summer to early fall and its flowers are so numerous that they almost completely hide the aromatic blue-green foliage. ‘Bellissimo’ can be used as a ground cover in regions with mild winters, but in colder climates, it won’t be hardy enough and is best used as a container plant. It reaches 6 to 9 inches (15 to 20 cm) in height and 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) in diameter. It will grow in almost any well-drained soil and is quite drought resistant once it’s well established. Sun. Zone 7, borderline in zone 6. You can overwinter it in a slightly heated garage in cold regions.

Rose At Last® (Rosa ‘HORcogjil’)

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Rosa At Last. Photo: Proven Winners

When I was a lad, hybrid tea, grandiflora and floribunda roses — the so-called bush roses — were by far the most popular in gardens, beloved for their heavenly perfume and their large flowers in wide range of colors. However, they were extremely susceptible to foliar diseases, especially black spot and powdery mildew, plus they needed massive amounts of winter protection for survival in many climates. Then in came modern shrub roses and groundcover roses — plants like ‘John Cabot’ and Knock Out® — that bloomed on and on all summer, needed no spraying with toxic pesticides and nor any winter protection in many climates … and they nearly knocked the bush roses off the market. The one flaw of the newcomers? They had no perfume, or at least, only very little. But that may be changing!

At Last is a rose with a shrub rose constitution and hybrid tea flowers. Thanks to its excellent disease resistance, no spraying is needed, plus its fully double apricot-orange flowers are big as hybrid tea blooms … and are highly perfumed as well. Also, they bloom repeatedly from early summer well into fall. Gardeners will indeed be exclaiming, “At last, a fragrant rose that’s easy to grow!” Full sun. Well-drained soil. Height: 30 to 36 inches (75 to 90 cm). Diameter: 30 to 36 inches (75 to 90 cm). USDA Zone 5, AgCan Zone 6.

Snap Pea ‘Sugar Magnolia’ (Pisum sativum macrocarpon ‘Sugar Magnolia’)

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Snap Pea ‘Sugar Magnolia’. Photo: Territorial Seeds

This is the first snap pea (also called sugar snap) with purple pods! Their color makes the long 3 to 4 inch (7.5-10 cm) pods are easier to spot than more typical green snap peas and they are just as sweet and tasty. Harvest them when the pods are just starting to fill out. The extra-vigorous plant reaches up to 7 feet (2 m) in height—yes, that’s no exaggeration!—with abundant tendrils that cling tightly to their support, so it will climb to great heights if you supply an appropriate support. It will look great in a flower garden too thanks to its purple and magenta flowers. Long harvest season. Sun. 70 days. Annual.

Sunflower Sunfinity™ Yellow Dark Center (Helianthus x Sunfinity Yellow Dark Center)

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Sunflower Sunfinity™ Yellow Dark Center. Photo: Sygenta Flowers

Imagine a sunflower that blooms not just for 2 to 3 weeks, but all summer long! That’s the case with Sunfinity, an interspecific hybrid between the classic annual sunflower, H. annuus, and another species (the hybridizer is keeping mum about the species name). If started indoors early, it will bloom all summer, from late spring well into fall, producing over 100 flowers per plant. It doesn’t have the rigidly upright habit of a typical sunflower either but rather a shrubby appearance with numerous branches and blooms. This first release has bright yellow flowers nearly 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter with a dark center, but other colors are in the works. The flowers are fertile, too, thus attracting and feeding bees, butterflies and seed-eating birds. (At the Buffalo display garden, the plants were full of goldfinches!) Excellent cut flower. Good resistance to leaf diseases. Height: 3 to 4 feet (90 to 120 cm). Diameter: 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm). Sun. Annual.

Tomato F1 ‘Sweet Valentine’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Sweet Valentine’)

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Tomato F1 ‘Sweet Valentine’. Photo: HemGenetics

How would you like a tomato that is so attractive it can serve as an ornamental… while still delivering an excellent crop of small, sugary tomatoes? However, the most striking feature is that the fruits are heart-shaped, hence the name Valentine. They’re cute as a button! It’s a very dwarf plant (12 to 14 inches/30 to 40 cm in height and diameter), ideal for pots, baskets and window boxes. Fleuroselect winner. Sun. Rich, well-drained soil. This plant will be an annual in most climates.

Weigela Czechmark Triology™ (Weigela florida ‘VUKOZGemini’)

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Weigela Czechmark Triology. Photo: Proven Winners

This particularly floriferous weigela, an improved version of ‘Carnaval’, offers three flower colors on the same plant, since the blooms change color. They start out white, then turn pink and finally red, creating a tricolor effect. This is a spring bloomer, though: don’t expect repeat flowering. Czechmark weigelas (there are other cultivars in the series) come from a Czech hybridization program that seeks to improve the floribundity of weigelas as well as their hardiness and adaptability to garden conditions. Green foliage. Rich, fairly humid soil. Dimensions: 36 to 40 inches (90 to 100 cm) x 40 to 60 inches (100 to 150 cm). Sun. Zone 4.

Zinnia ‘Profusion Red’ (Zinnia x hybrida ‘Profusion Red’)

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Zinnia ‘Profusion Red’. Photo: All America Selections

Finally, a dwarf zinnia with deep red flowers that don’t fade to pink as they age! The plant forms a rounded dome and is covered with single 2.5 inch (6.5 cm) flowers from spring until frost. Zinnia ‘Profusion Red’ won the two major awards available to annuals: Selections All America and Fleuroselect, as did three other zinnias in the Profusion series, quite an accomplishment, so expect perfect results every time! Easy to grow from seed. Sun or part shade. Any well-drained soil will do. Dimensions: 12 inches (30 cm) x 12 to 15 inches (30 to 40 cm). Annual.

Yarrow Ritzy Ruby™ (Achillea millefolium Ritzy Ruby)

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Achillea millefolium Ritzy Ruby. Photo: Darwin Perennials

This is a very compact, very floriferous yarrow that blooms on and on from late spring to late summer. The intense red flowers with yellow hearts keep their coloring well, staying red all summer, unlike most other red yarrow that quickly fade to pink. Prefers sun and well-drained soil. Height: 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 cm). Diameter: 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 cm). Zone 4.

Where to Find Them

Here’s the catch! It’s always very difficult to predict what will appear on the market in a given region. At least you can order the vegetables and annuals presented here by mail, as they’ll be featured in several seed catalogs. For perennials and shrubs, though, you’ll probably have to wait until spring to see what your garden center has to offer.

Or … present this text to your local garden center this fall and ask them if they can order the varieties that interest you. All the plants presented will be available in 2018, but sometimes it takes a clear sign of consumer interest to ensure they show up in local nurseries.20170816L

Garden Myth: Tomato Leaves Are Poisonous

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Common knowledge insists tomato leaves are poisonous, but is it true? Photo: Max Pixel

Well, this is kind of a mix of myth and truth, because tomato leaves can be seen as toxic or nontoxic, depending on your point of view.

Yes, they are toxic because they do contain toxic alkaloids, including tomatine and solanine.

But they’re not toxic enough to poison you unless you consume them in very large quantities. (An adult would have to consume about 1 pound/450 g of tomato leaves to become sick.) Also, the leaves’ unpleasant smell is usually enough to discourage most people from munching on them.

Since they can be safely eaten under most circumstances, some chefs recommend adding one or two tomato leaves to tomato recipes to enhance their “tomato flavor” which can otherwise be diluted by cooking.

Green Fruits Too

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Immature (green) tomatoes do contain toxic alkaloids, but not enough to be harmful. Photo: Hans, pixabay

Still not sure you should try them? Remember that many people who would never think of eating tomato leaves use green tomatoes (that is, immature ones, not the “green tomatoes” that remain green when ripe) in recipes (fried green tomatoes, tomato chutney, tomato relish, etc.), yet immature tomatoes are as rich in tomatine and solanine as tomato leaves. In fact, the level of those alkaloids only diminishes to almost nothing when the fruit reaches its final coloration.

Destroyed by Cooking?

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Cooking won’t significantly reduce alkaloid levels in tomato leaves. Photo: Ildar Sagdejev, Wikimedia Commons

A few sources I looked at suggested that tomatine and solanine are destroyed by cooking, which would make the leaves safe to eat, but in fact, they are very stable compounds that don’t break down to any great degree when they are heated. On the other hand, they do dissolve in water, so if for some reason you boiled tomato leaves, then drained away the cooking water, that would be a way of reducing any toxicity.

Can Toxins Be Good for You?

Like many toxins, alkaloids like tomatine and solanine can also be, at the appropriate dose, good for your health. Tomatine, for example, has antibiotic and antifungal properties and it would appear it can even help prevent cancer … but many studies still need to be done before offering tomato leaf pills as a cure-all!

Leaves as Insecticide?

While tomato leaves when used in moderation may be non-toxic to humans, they do appear to be toxic to some insects, especially aphids. In fact, some gardeners produce an insecticidal spray by soaking tomato leaves overnight in water. But what is toxic to insects is not always for humans, so that really proves nothing.

Conclusion

There appears to be no risk in consuming tomato leaves in moderate quantities, so it’s best to conclude that the idea that tomato leaves are toxic is a myth. Just don’t overdo it!Plant Tomato Leaf Vegetable Tomato Growing Leaf