Sunday, October 30, 2011

Good Nutrition is for your Plants too!

Everyday we are bombarded by news reports and TV commercials stressing good nutrition. Eat right, stay away from fat and sugars, blah, blah, blah.
The past week or so I have been extremely busy as a Master Gardener. I have been working the Home and Garden Show, doing a lecture or two, and working our information booth out at the Coastal Carolina Fair. At every single event I got asked "What is wrong with my plant?"
I think we need to start having those nutrition commercials for plants also. It is absolutely amazing to me the amount of people that think they know how to grow plants, but have no idea that they need to be fed!
Okay, to be fair, I was asked by one nice lady....Why do I need to feed my plants? Nobody is feeding the plants in the forest.
I told her she was partially right. Mother Nature was feeding them. She had a very perplexed look on her face after that.
We have basically screwed with the natural order of things. In the forest, leaves drop off every Autumn. They fall to the ground and decompose. Nobody rakes them up into a nice neat pile and hauls them away. That is food for the plants for next year. Along with animal droppings, worm castings, other plants that die, and all kinds of other micro-organisms. That is how Mother Nature feeds her plants. In short, she has a HUGE compost bin. In our yards we clean, primp, rake, and remove all of that food. It is even worst in our container plants. THAT is why we must feed our plants. She walked away with a brand new look on feeding.
If you look at a bag of plant food, you will see three numbers. There are all kinds of combinations, I will use 5-1-3. The 5 is the amount of Nitrogen in this product.
Nitrogen is the primary component of proteins and is a part of every living cell. This nutrient is usually more responsible for increasing plant growth than any other nutrient, as long as it is used within reason and in conjunction with other nutrients. Shortages can cause slow growth, reduced leaf size, yellowing, short branches, premature Fall color and leaf drop, and increases the likelihood of some diseases. An over abundance can cause excessive shoot and foliage growth, reduced root growth, and increased susceptibility to environmental stresses and some other plant diseases.
This what a Nitrogen deficiency can look like:

Notice the yellow leaves compared to everything around it? This is a Citrus tree that some how or another kept getting missed when it came to feeding time. Everything else around it looks fine. Nitrogen is a nutrient that moves very freely through the soil and is literally washed out every time you water or it rains, especially in a container such as this one. Even in the ground, Nitrogen can be depleted and needs to be replaced.
The second number (1 in my example) is Phosphorus. This nutrient plays a role in photosynthesis, respiration, energy storage and transfer, cell division, and cell enlargement.
Though less common than Nitrogen deficiency, Phosphorus shortages can look like this:

Purple veins may appear on the leaves or the leaves may take on a purplish color. It will also produce stunted growth and small thin stems. Like I mentioned, it is much less common a problem. If you have ever applied any fertilizer, the chances are good that the Phosphorus is still there. It does not move through the soil hardly at all.
The third number, (3 in my example) is Potassium. I should pause here a second and give you a tiny memory trick. Do you have trouble trying to figure out what order the numbers are in on the bag? As long as you can remember the three nutrients, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium are the three numbers listed on a fertilizer bag, it is always listed in alphabetical order.
Now, back to Potassium deficiency. It too is involved in many of the plants growth processes. It is also vital to photosynthesis and helps regulate water in plants. Potassium fertilization helps plants overcome drought stress, increases disease resistance, and improves Winter hardiness.
It can look like this:

Typical symptoms of Potassium deficiency in plants include brown scorching and curling of leaf tips. The symptoms generally first appear on older leaves. Potassium can move through the soil fairly quickly, faster than Phosphorus, but not as fast as Nitrogen.
That is a very quick idea of what are called the Macro-Nutrients. These are what a plant needs the most of.
There is also a list of Micro-Nutrients. These are needed by the plant, but in much lesser amounts.
This list includes:
Boron. Believed to be involved in carbohydrate transport in plants; it also assists in metabolic regulation. Boron deficiency will often result in bud dieback.
Chlorine. Necessary for osmosis and ionic balance; it also plays a role in photosynthesis.
Copper. A component of some enzymes and of vitamin A. Symptoms of copper deficiency include browning of leaf tips and chlorosis (leaf yellowing).
Iron. Essential for chlorophyll synthesis, which is often why an iron deficiency also results in chlorosis.
Manganese. Activates some important enzymes involved in chlorophyll formation. Manganese deficient plants can develop chlorosis between the veins of its leaves. The availability of manganese is partially dependent on soil pH.
Molybdenum. Essential to plant health. Molybdenum is used by plants to reduce nitrates into usable forms. Some plants use it for nitrogen fixation, thus it may need to be added to some soils before seeding legumes (Beans and Peas).
Zinc. This also participates in chlorophyll formation, and activates many enzymes. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include chlorosis and stunted growth.
So, as you can see, many nutrients rely on each other, or deficiencies can mimic each other.
There is not much need to worry about the Micro-nutrients, most good fertilizers already have them.
Which brings me to my next point. Types of fertilizers.
You should ALWAYS get your soil tested by your local extension office before applying any fertilizer. It could actually save you some money, time, and headaches in the end.
With that being said, the shear number of fertilizers on the market can be overwhelming! There are granules, water soluable, slow release, quick release, natural, and on and on. In a way I can see why people don't feed their plants, they have no idea what to use!!
Let me break down a few of the more common ones.
Slow release fertilizer. It is exactly what it sounds like. They release nutrients at a rate that makes them available to plants over a long period. They are applied less often and many believe they are better for the environment because they have less chance of leaching into the water supply. While I am on this topic, please do not use fertilizer spikes. If you want the whole story as to why not, I can give it to you. Suffice to say, they are just bad news.
Water Soluable. Again, exactly what it sounds like. This fertilizer is mixed with water at a specified rate. This type of fertilizer needs to be applied more often, but it is available to the plant much more quickly.
Natural Fertilizers. When it comes to the naturals, there is often a lot of quess work involved. Most natural materials are far less predictable in nutrient content, nutrient release, and nutrient efficiency than commercial grade fertilizers. Before most natural fertilizers can be absorbed by plants, they have to be broken down to an inorganic form by soil microorganisms through a decaying process called mineralization. This process is affected by moisture, temperature, and the microbial species and populations in the soil. Some examples of Natural fertilizers include, Blood Meal, Sewer Sludge, Animal Manures, Fish Emulsion and Cottonseed Meal.
The advantages and disadvantages of natural and synthetic fertilizers relate to the consumer, not to the plant. Use what you feel comfortable with, or have had success with.
This whole article just barely scratches the surface of fertilizers. I did not even get into the effect soil pH has on fertilizers. Or "when" to fertilize the plant if it is in the ground or in a container, especially if you will be protecting the containerized plants over the Winter or anything else like that. If you have a specific question in that regard, please feel free to contact
There is so much information out there and new studies are being done almost on a weekly schedule. I wanted to bring your attention to the fact that plants DO need to be fed, whether it be naturally or artificially.
I will leave you with this story, completely true!
A woman came to me with a Citrus problem. She had a Meyer Lemon that she bought two years ago. It was a nice little tree already bearing fruit. She was growing it in a pot. When she came to me, the tree had not produced any fruit the prior year and was turning yellow. After a few questions I found out she did not know it needed to be fed, and had not given it anything to eat in the two years she had owned it!! I asked her how she would feel if she had not eaten in two years!?
Please remember to feed your plants!!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Good, Bad Bug?

I was alerted to today's topic by one of my followers,
(Thank You Alicia..a.k.a. lpyrbby )
I figured this was a problem that is starting to reach many parts of the Southeast, so I might want to get a handle on it. This is one of those situations, are you a good bug or a bad bug? Think Wizard of Oz here.
It's scientific name is Megacopta cribraria. It is better known as Bean Plataspid, Lablab Bug, Globular Stink Bug, or Kudzu Bug. It is pea-sized and brownish with a wide back end, kind of like a boxy ladybug.

It was first discovered, I use discovered because it had not been found anywhere on this continent, until Halloween weekend 2009 in Northeast Georgia. Gives a whole new meaning to "Trick or Treat" doesn't it? Let me give you the evidence for good versus bad.
I will start here. The Kudzu Bug eats, what else? Kudzu.
Kudzu is itself an invasive plant. Some of its nicknames include, "Mile a Minute Plant" and "The Vine that Ate the South".

Photo courtesy of Insectsinthecity

The Kudzu plant was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, then was introduced into the Southeastern United States in 1883 at the New Orleans Exposition. The vine was widely marketed as an ornamental plant to be used to shade porches. In the first half of the 20th century, Kudzu was distributed as a high protein cattle fodder. It was also used as a cover plant to help prevent soil erosion. The Soil Erosion Service recommended its use to control the erosion of slopes, which led to the government aided distribution of 85 million seedlings and government funded plantings. Since then it has been spreading in the Southern U.S. at the rate of 150,000 acres annually. Its quick growth wreaks havoc on the ecosystem, it smothers and strangles other plants, uproots trees and breaks branches with its weight. It tops the nation's invasive species list.
Now, along comes the Kudzu Bug. Its favorite delicacy, Kudzu. The good news here is, it may slow down the spread of this rapidly growing vine, though not significantly. Any help is greatly appreciated.
Sounds like all good news huh?
Well, hold on a second. Did I mention this thing is a type of stinkbug? The smell has been described as "not an awful smell, more of a bittersweet, pungent, unpleasant odor". Some people have reported being able to smell the stench from their cars while crews are cutting Kudzu overgrowth along highways.
Okay fine, get a heavy duty air freshener for your car.
Well, there is more. As Fall approaches and the Kudzu begins to lose its leaves, the bug needs somewhere to go. Apparently they have been seen congregating on light colored surfaces, especially the white parts of houses.

They can invade your attic or crawl space, looking for a place to hunker down for the Winter. A basic insecticide for household pests will temporarily control them around your home, but the best defense is to have good screening up on all of your openings. You will want to gently remove these guys from your home, should they get inside. Squishing them will leave a stain and stink up the joint. Use a vacuum to suck them up, then remove the bag immediately to an outside trash can or place the bugs in a container of soapy water.
Have you decided yet? Good Bug or Bad Bug?
It may help alleviate our Kudzu problem here in the Southeast. The bug can now be found in 143 Georgia counties, all South Carolina counties, 42 North Carolina counties and 5 Alabama counties. As long as we have a good air freshener and some bug spray, we can kind of control him and his stench.
HOWEVER, you knew there was one more caveat didn't you?
The folks in the agriculture world are a little nervous. See, this thing has an appetite for more than just Kudzu. Apparently, it has discovered it likes Wisteria, which again may not be a bad thing here in the South, but also Soybeans, Green Beans and it possibly could be heading for a famous legume, Peanuts. There is also concern that its tastes could broaden even wider. There is no known natural enemy to the Kudzu Bug here in the United States.
How the bug got here remains a mystery. So you decide, Good Bug or Bad Bug? Either way, this is one wicked "Trick or Treat" bestowed upon the United States!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Rash of Radishes

Here in the South, we are lucky enough to have almost a 365 day growing season. The cool season crops are just going in. As I was talking to my mother the other day, we were comparing what we had planted so far and what we were planning on planting.
The topic of radishes came up. The California Rare Fruit Growers Association has made this the year of the Pomegranate, I disagree, I think it should be the year of the radish. Apparently my brother has decided to plant LOTS of them and as far as I know, the consumption of radishes in my family is not exactly brisk. Though, for some apparent reason, I even planted some this year. A radish conspiracy?
I had the seeds, so why not?
The radish, Raphanus sativus, is thought to have originated in East Asia or more than likely China, but the exact location is unknown. Egyptian writing reports that radishes were a common food in ancient Egypt before the pyramids were built. In Greece, radishes were so highly valued that imitations of them were made of gold. The radish did not make its way to England until approximately 1548. By 1629 they were being cultivated in Massachusetts.
The earliest radishes to be cultivated were the black varieties.

This variety is turnip-like in size and shape, approximately eight
inches long. Black radishes have a dull black or dark brown skin. When
peeled, their flesh is white, quite pungent, and drier than their other color counterparts.
Black radishes have a longer shelf-life than most other varieties, so they are
available year-round.
Red Globe is the radish most people know. It is the most popular variety in the United States. This is the familiar looking red and white "button".

One other radish I would like to mention is the Daikons. They are very large, carrot-shaped radishes that are up to 18 inches long and weigh one to two pounds. Daikons have a white flesh that is juicy and a bit hotter than a red radish, but milder than black.

I mentioned that here in the South we have an almost year round growing season. Radishes are considered a cool season crop, preferring temperatures between 40-70 degrees. Optimum temperature range is 60-65 degrees. The nice thing about radishes is, they are a very quick crop to turn around from seed to table. Most requiring only 20-35 days to mature. Even some of my friends up North may still have time to plant some. If nothing else, they work great in a container and can be brought into a garage if the temperature starts to go below freezing. There are some varieties that require 40-50 days.
Because radishes grow so rapidly, a rich, fertile soil is essential. Sandy or sandy-loam soils are preferred. The soil should be free of stones, clods, lumps, and undecayed organic matter. To be mild, tender, and attractive, the radishes must be grown rapidly. Slow growth or checked growth results in roots that are tough, woody, pithy, and pungent. The "hotness" of radishes results from the length of time they have grown rather than from their size.
To plant, sow seeds one quarter to a half inch deep in rows spaced 3 inches apart. After the seedlings appear, you will want to thin them out so they have room to grow. Usually you will want about 2-3 inches apart on all side. Seeds typically sprout in three to seven days when sown in 60 degree soil.
Keep an even moisture level. Sometimes radishes simply split open as they mature and get older, this is the result of uneven watering. Trying to make up for a period of drought with a lot of water all at once will cause the radish to grow too rapidly and split open.
Diseases are not usually a problem when growing radishes, probably due to their quick growth. There are a few pests that you may need to look out for. Flea beetles make numerous small holes in radish leaves.

Flea Beetle

Cabbage root maggots and cutworms sometimes rasp holes or channels into radish skins. Aphids and various caterpillars, such as cabbage loopers and diamondback moths will also eat the leaves. All of these pests are easily prevented by covering the plants with lightweight floating rowcovers.
There are many, many different named radishes on the market, it might take a little research to uncover many of them. Some to look for include: Cherry Belle, Easter Egg, Round Black Spanish,Icicle and the unusual sounding French Breakfast.
Radishes are most often eaten raw. Use a stiff vegetable brush and scrub them under cold running water. Do not peel radishes, unless there is some kind of problem with the skin. Pare away the top and root end then slice, dice, shred, or serve whole.
I have discovered some other interesting ways to eat and use these tasty little treats.
In China and Japan, most of the radish crop is pickled in brine, in much the same way that we pickle cucumbers.
How about an Open-Faced Radish Sandwich

4 bagels cut in half or 8 slices bread
8 ounces cream cheese
6 small globe radishes
salt and pepper

1. Spread bagels or bread slices with 1/4 inch cream cheese.
2. Using s sharp knife or mandolin, slice radishes very thin. Overlap the radish slices on top of the cream cheese. Sprinkle each sandwich with salt and pepper.
Maybe my brother has already seen these recipes and that is why he planted so many. If any of these recipes pan out to be good, maybe I will be planting a Rash Of Radishes myself!
Happy Growing!