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Get past the failures and grow great tomatoes

Move past those tomato failures

Q: Two seasons in a row I have tried to grow tomato plants. First I purchased plants from an ag fair. I planted them on the south side of a wooden fence in sandy soil with compost added. The plants grew very tall and produced zero tomatoes. This spring, I planted three plants — one cherry, two medium variety — on the north side of the house, mixing potting soil with compost into sandy soil. The plants grew lush and the cherry tomato produced about three tomatoes a week. Tomatoes on the medium plants mostly fell off, but others were black on the bottom, and some burst. What do you suggest for my next attempt? Diana Anderson, Brandon

A: Try raising them in buckets. Get some used 15-gallon growing containers and some growing mix. Look for a soluble plant starter fertilizer such as Peters 8-45-14, or 9-40-25 or similar, which will build a strong root system and stem for all of the fruit that you're going to harvest. The black spot on the fruit bottom is blossom-end rot caused by a calcium deficiency, so add some calcium nitrate (follow label directions, a little goes a long way). When planting your new crop, bury all but about 5 inches of the stem into your potting mix, water in with your plant start fertilizer and continue once a week until flowering. After your tomatoes begin flowering and the night temperature drops into the 60s, alternate your plant start fertilizer with the calcium nitrate every other week. I hope you like tomatoes!

How to get the better of tangelo's weevils

Q: A little leaf notcher weevil is chewing up my tangelo tree. I have gone to garden centers and they have sold me malathion, then Naturalyte. Neither worked. V.G. Kubilas, St. Pete Beach

A: There are several weevils that can attack citrus, the worst being the Diaprepes Root Weevil. Flushes of growth occur from May to June and August to September, and adult weevils are seen on tree leaves where they shred newer growth, with the female laying eggs in between leaves. If you see this, pick and destroy.

As the eggs hatch, the grubs fall to the ground where they feed on the roots of the tree, then pupate (rest) in the soil before maturing and restarting the cycle. Spray the foliage when adults are noticed with horticultural or neem oil. Apply Talstar (bifenthrin) under the tree, from the trunk to the dripline, to kill grubs. Apply all products based on label directions.

Trim jatropha hedge no more than 25 percent

Q: I'm trying to grow jatropha for a privacy hedge. Last winter, it was about 3 1/2 feet tall, but it got beaten up a little bit and lost a lot of leaves and most flowers. I cut it back to about 3 feet, but with all the rain this year it has taken off and is now about 6 feet high. When can I trim it and how much? Joe Curry, St. Pete Beach

A: There are several species of ja­tropha. The most common is peregrina, Jatropha integerrima, with large clusters of red flowers pretty much all year. As you have witnessed, your peregrina will suffer from winter temperatures, which makes your privacy seasonal.

Perhaps a more cold hardy native would be in order, like Walters viburnum, Viburnum obovatum.

A good rule when pruning is to remove no more than 25 percent of the foliage at any time, and summer is a great time to prune so the new growth will have hardened off before winter. A hint when pruning a hedge is to leave the base wider than the top, like a Christmas tree. This way light reaches all of the way to the ground and the hedge stays full instead of thinning out as all do when pruned like a box.

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. E-mail him at drhort@tampabay.rr.com or mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe the problem in full, and include your name, city of residence and contact information. If possible, include a good-quality photo. Fuzzy ones won't do. Photos cannot be returned.

Meet Dr. Hort: Greg Charles will be at Carroll Brothers Nursery, 4950 38th Ave. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 527-5418, on Saturday as part of the nursery's Urban Farming 101 event. He will be available to meet from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will give a demonstration on garden care at 1 p.m.

Get past the failures and grow great tomatoes 09/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 5:32am]

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