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Ask Dr. Hort: Don't wait any longer to plant tomatoes

Today's Q&A focuses on tomatoes and common problems, as their fall growing season is under way.

Get moving on planting

Q: I usually put my tomato plants in the ground around this time each fall. But our temperatures continue to be very hot. When would be the best time to put them in the ground? I live in Hudson in Pasco County. Beverly Mattix

A: The night temperature has dropped just enough to make your tomatoes happy. The fall garden should be largely planted by now. If not, get to it, posthaste.

Bugs suck juice from fruit

Q: Can you please tell me if the bugs on my Roma tomatoes are harmful to them or my other plants?

Shelly Anderson

A: Your plants are under attack by the leaf-footed plant bug, one of the largest sucking insects to attack our vegetables and fruits. They pierce the skin of tomatoes, and even oranges, and suck out the juices. Bacterial rot may follow. A single bug isn't a problem. En masse, they are a problem. Spray products containing spinosad or pyrethrin on the bugs. Alternatively, you can always bag your fruit with paper bags to keep it free of intruders.

Pesticide may be root of problem

Q: My cherry tomato plant was fine until some tan stuff started creeping up the branches. When I pulled the plant, all the stems were almost covered with it. I had been spraying it with the organic Walmart solution containing pyrethrin, canola oil and other ingredients. Doris Konyha

A: What has popped out all over your tomato plant are baby roots called "adventitious roots." Tomatoes commonly have some rooting up the stem, but nothing of that magnitude. It could be a result of spraying your oil solution repeatedly, but looks more like an herbicide like Roundup was used nearby. Is this possible? The scorched leaves and adventitious roots spell pesticide toxicity.

Eliminate caterpillars

Q: I have tomato plants that are being attacked by caterpillars as well as a bug that looks almost like a beetle with a round body and several legs. These are on the tomatoes and seem to change color from brown to green. I have sprayed the plants with Ortho Max to no avail. I have also sprayed with soapy water, again to no avail. Help! What can I do to get rid of these pests?

Rosemarie Teitler

A: For your caterpillars, spray diligently with Thuricide or Dipel, a bacterium that only kills caterpillars. This works well when caterpillars are small. Inspect every inch of the plant and soil surface for horn worms or cut worms and handpick those. I don't think the beetles are a problem.

Late planting requires calcium

Q: I belong to a garden club in Sun City Center. Every year, we plant our seedlings in the ground, in earth boxes and in tubs. Everything seems to be normal for the first six weeks or so. Then we start to notice that the lowest leaves are turning brown. As the season progresses the leaves continue to die and turn brown from the bottom up. We may get a dozen ripe tomatoes before the whole plant is dead. We have tried just about every spray there is, both nontoxic and "killer," to no avail. Can you help? Our group of 70 gardeners would be very grateful.

J Labadie

A: As you know, the rule of thumb for fall planting of tomatoes is generally around Labor Day. But I share this information with gardeners whose plants are just beginning to take off. With your vines dying from the bottom up, it sounds, indeed, like you are planting too late in the season. Make sure to give your tomatoes a calcium supplement, which is not in your basic fertilizer, products like calcium nitrate or calcium chloride.

Need help? Greg "Dr. Hort" Charles answers questions about landscape and garden pests in this space. E-mail questions to drhort@tampabay.rr.com or to features@sptimes.com (put Dr. Hort in the subject line). Mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe your problem in full. Important: Include your full name, city and contact information, and photo, if possible.

Ask Dr. Hort: Don't wait any longer to plant tomatoes 10/01/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 1, 2010 5:30am]
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