Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gardening Season Off to Slow Start

Novice Gardeners Challenged by Spring’s “Baptism by Fire”

BOISE, Idaho—University of Idaho Extension educator Wayne Jones hopes Idaho’s novice gardeners aren’t getting discouraged. “Ugly” weather is hindering heat-loving sweet corn, tomatoes, squash and peppers and leaving seed and seedlings disease-prone in cold, wet soils, says the Idaho Falls-based Jones. “If this is their first year of gardening, they’re having a baptism by fire.”

In southeastern Idaho’s Franklin County, colleague Stuart Parkinson says record rainfall and flooding—coupled with cold weather—are turning plants yellow. “The rain fills the soil profile and drives out the oxygen, and the plant can’t get the oxygen it needs.”

“Timing was everything this spring,” said Extension educator Jo Ann Robbins of Jerome County. “We had a week of summer, and if you got your garden planted right before then, it’s doing well. I got mine in after that, and my peas haven’t even come up. Some people are even farther behind schedule—and, this year, that may not be a bad thing.”

In southwestern Idaho’s Canyon County, colleague Ariel Agenbroad is seeing physiological leafroll in tomatoes—an upward rolling of leaves that occurs when tomatoes sit in waterlogged soils. The plants “usually come out of it” unless anxious gardeners overreact, Agenbroad said. “They think their tomatoes are wilting, so they keep watering them.”

The Treasure Valley’s warm, wet, windy weather has also been the “magic combination” for fireblight. It’s striking pears and is poised to spread to apples, she said. “It’s too late to treat it with sprays, so it’s time to prune out the damage.”

Novice gardeners are “still enthusiastic,” Agenbroad said, despite this year’s especially bountiful crop of weeds. “Weeds torment novices and experienced gardeners alike in the best of seasons, but with all the wet weather, no one has been able to get into their soggy garden to remove them, so they’ve become even more of a problem this year. We tell gardeners to try and be vigilant with hand-weeding and hoeing and get them while they’re small. We don’t like to recommend using herbicides in the vegetable garden, as the likelihood of harming desirable plants is too high.”

In northern Idaho, Bonner County Advanced Master Gardener Mikey Haven says bugs—especially cutworms—are starting to rumble and roll. “They eat anything with a stem, right through the middle.” But the county’s surging population of gardeners is persevering. “There’s a lot more interest this year in home gardening because of the economy,” said Haven. “People either lost jobs or are trying to find ways to be self-sufficient.”

She helps them keep their gardening costs low by researching problems and encouraging appropriate pest management. “Usually they have two questions: What is it and how do I get rid of it? Sometimes it turns out to be a beneficial insect—one of the good guys—or the problem is not that big. Just because you have a spot on a leaf doesn’t mean you have to spray the whole garden down with a pesticide.”

Parkinson agrees that what novice gardeners worry most about is losing crops to insects. Usually, their fears are unfounded. “We work with them and explain economic thresholds—how long they can let the insect go and not worry about it and when to start thinking about it—and we talk to them about the value of natural predators. If you’re out there spraying every week or 10 days, you’re probably killing the predators and upsetting the balance in the yard.”

But Parkinson describes his new gardeners as “still excited. They’re hanging in there.” For more information on Idaho gardening, contact your University of Idaho Extension educator or visit https://webmail.idfbins.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=0e956543346c4a268ae307fe7eb9738c&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.extension.uidaho.edu%2f or https://webmail.idfbins.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=0e956543346c4a268ae307fe7eb9738c&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.extension.uidaho.edu%2fidahogardens .

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