A troubling time with tomatoes
Q: I saved your article from April 8. I'm having difficulties growing tomatoes. We retired here in January 2009 and came from Ohio where we planted two to three tomato plants on May 15. We had all you could eat by mid to late July and they lasted until the October freeze. Now I plant eight plants and may get 12 to 20 tomatoes from one plant, none from five plants and six to seven barely okay tomatoes from the other two.
I've learned the hot sun and warm nights are not good for growing tomatoes, and I seem to get all kinds of insects even though I spray each plant one to two times a week with flower and vegetable insect spray, use Miracle-Gro and water every other day. I tried to go to patio tomatoes and used an EarthBox Growing System with the same results. One plant gave us 15 tomatoes, the other zero.
I get a lot of rust-colored leaves, and sometimes when I shake the plants lightly, small gnatlike bugs fly away. We planted two additional plants on the west corner of the house and they only get four to five hours of direct sun but same results: One plant had zero and the other had 20-plus very good tomatoes. Please help. Larry and M.J. England
A: You're not in Ohio anymore! When it comes to gardening in Florida you have to do just the opposite of everything you did up North.
To be successful, plant seeds for the fall garden in mid to late August, then transplants by Labor Day. Plant seeds for the spring garden on Valentine's Day, then transplants the first week of March.
When it comes to insect and disease management, less and least toxic is best, and in many instances, the more you spray, the more you pay! Neem oil (100 percent is best, available at neemtreefarms.com) is a great insectcide/fungicide and controls the small sucking insects and the most prevalent fungus, powdery mildew. For caterpillars, try Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a bacterium sold as Dipel or Thuricide. Both products are organic, doing no harm to you, the plants or the environment, and they are very effective.
To be totally prepared for the fall garden, review the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021.
Taming the toadstool
Q: Toadstools! With all the rain these days I've been growing a fine crop, and when they open up they're as big as saucers. Is there a way to get rid of them other than just cutting them out? When I have done that there seems to be a residue of spores, so perhaps the cutting is like deadheading, encouraging more growth. Virginia Melidosian
A: Commonly, toadstools will grow in circles, called "fairy rings," which do no harm. In fact, if they're in the lawn, the grass will be greener. They are the fruiting body (mushroom) that disperses spores, (their microscopic seed) to continue the growth of the saprophytic (decomposer) fungus. There is probably an old tree stump, large dead root or other rotting wood source the fungus is feeding on.
A lesson in sago anatomy
Q: Could you please tell me what is going on with my sago palm? Last year was the first time we found out it was male. After the spike withered, we cut it off and, lo and behold, two heads appeared. This year we had two spikes, and once again after we cut them off, another head appeared. Now we have three heads all growing new leaves.
We also have another sago palm with a different problem. It is a female plant with only one head. Last year all of the new growth browned out a few weeks after it appeared. So we cut it off. The rest of the plant was doing okay. This year, the same thing happened. As of now, we did not cut the brown leaves off. The rest of the plant looks healthy. What's going on? Joanne Internicola, Hudson
A: Thanks for the three-headed king sago picture. You have beheaded your king sago, Cycas revoluta! By cutting the male flower at its base, you actually cut its apical meristem (growing point), which signals to the plant "it's time to branch." Sagos are cycads, not palms (cycads date back to the dinosaur days), and do have multiple growing points, unlike palms, so they will branch. If you were to cut the end off of a hibiscus branch (terminal bud), it would branch, same principle.
The death of the new whorl of leaves on your other sago is most likely nutritional — probably a manganese deficiency. Buy some S/A Essential Minor Nutrients from your local family-owned garden center and apply as directed. More than one application will be needed, and it may be applied during the Pinellas County fertilizer blackout period. When micronutrients (minor) are deficient, new growth will be stunted and disfigured.