Month: August 2012

Tomato Mystery–Part One

Why are many of my tomatoes ripening on a table inside instead of on the vine?

Prudens Purple In Foreground Cherokee Purple In Background 8 24 12 Thumb     Milano Plum Tomatoes 8 24 12 Thumb

These are Pruden’s Purple (foreground) and Cherokee Purple (background) on the left, and Milano Plum tomatoes on the right, in a scene I’m used to creating just before frost when all potentially viable tomatoes are brought inside to ripen. This is not a sight I want to see in August.

But … when tomato vines begin developing brown patches on leaves and stems, and continue to do so at an ever increasing rate, it’s time to take action.

JMH 8 2012 Tomato Disease 6 Thumb

Fearing dreaded tomato late blight, I took photos and collected samples of leaves and stems with brown patches. I then carefully removed the plants, cutting each stem into pieces that would fit into a trash bag. Four five-foot tall tomatoes that I nurtured from seed, and should have been in their prime, were reduced to common trash. Normally, I compost plant waste but it’s not good practice to compost diseased plant material.

I called the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and reached Dr. Yonghao Li, plant pathologist in the Plant Disease Information Office. After reviewing my emailed photos Dr. Li asked to see the actual samples. He suspected some sort of blight.

JMH 8 2012 Tomato Disease 13 Thumb

I packed each tomato leaflet between dry paper towels and sealed two stacks of samples in zip-lock bags, then mailed them, express delivery, so they would get to Dr. Li before completely drying out.

Dr. Li called after inspecting the samples under microscope to report no blight; no bacterial disease of any type.  We ruled out pesticide/herbicide drift from a neighboring property, sunscald as this would not cause browning patches on stems, and soil (I used new commercial composted potting soil for each potted tomato). Dr. Li suggested some sort of virus might be the cause.

Unfortunately, he said testing for a virus is not as simple as microscopic inspection for bacterial infection. Each virus test requires an individual test kit and still may not provide definitive results. In other words, virus testing is not cost effective. I’ve compared my diseased tomatoes with photos of virus-infected tomatoes and found no match.

Dr. Li suggested my tomato problem may be seed-borne. I started this year’s plants from the same seed (from two separate seed suppliers) as last year and had the same problem at about the same time with my 2011 tomatoes. In both seasons, this and last, small brown spots began showing up on leaves at all levels of the plant, some expanded to larger size with yellowing at the outer edges while brown patches developed on some stems and at some leaf nodes. The heirloom Pruden’s Purple and Cherokee Purple tomatoes were the first to show these signs, followed by Milano Plum tomatoes. Last year the Manyel tomatoes were the last heirloom to show signs and, this year, my one Manyel plant still looks healthy.

I’m very appreciative of the assistance of Dr. Li and highly recommend other gardeners seek the advice of the Plant Disease Information Office.

I’m relieved that my tomatoes don’t have blight but I’m still at a loss to explain the disease cause. I can guarantee that next year I’ll start with fresh tomato seed, likely from  different companies.

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Planting for Year-Round Interest

Late summer into autumn is a perfect time to plant shrubs with year-round interest. Evergreen shrubs of varying shapes anchor planting beds while providing structure and greenery to brighten the gray days of winter.

Here’s a planting plan that does just that. Two pyramidal holly bushes, or similar shaped evergreens, and three mounding hollies provide year-round structure. Spring brings purple blooms of iris and the first lavender blossoms of scabiosa along the front of the border, while climbing hydrangea leafs out along the center of the brick wall to show off its large white blooms.  A few bulbs could be tucked in here and there for really early spring color.

As summer approaches, pale yellow rose shrubs grab attention along with pale pink and magenta day lilies. Purple globe allium stand tall on either side of the center holly bush and annual gerbera in pale yellow and magenta line the front of the bed. Lavender blue scabiosa continue to bloom along either end of the front border in sharp contrast to the lime green foliage and magenta blossoms of low-growing spiraea shrubs, also at either end.

Mid-summer brings tall, showy phlox and lily flowers, as well as purple coneflowers peaking from behind the center holly. At the foot of the center holly, and behind the gerbera, rests a low-growing variety of catmint. The roses, spiraea, scabiosa, and gerbera continue to bloom until frost.






Once cold weather hits, the annuals and herbaceous perennials die back, leaving the bones of the spiraea shrubs and the climbing hydrangea vine to keep company with the shapely evergreen holly, hopefully spotted with bright red berries.


This particular design is for a bed that’s about 30 feet long and 10 feet wide, but the plan can be adjusted to other sizes. The perennials around the center mounded shrub could easily be replaced with prostrate golden-foliage evergreens. A couple of yellow-fruited winterberry shrubs would add additional height to either side of the center shrub.

Gardeners on a tight budget could add two shrubs one year and two or three more in subsequent years. Once your create your planting plan it can be implemented as time and funds allow.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry