September 24, 2009 in Washington Voices

Gardeners hit corn jackpot this year

Pat Munts
 
Pat Munts Special to photo

Some varieties of zucchini are prone to powdery mildew in the late summer and early fall. Special to
(Full-size photo)

The local casinos have nothing on Inland Northwest gardeners.

Mother Nature starts the gardening year with the deck and she deals what she wants. We can only hope to draw a good hand with our experience and effort.

Like gamblers, though, we are always looking for ways to get inside information on how to beat the system. So here are some observations about this year’s gardening season to file away for the next year.

Last winter’s early cold snap just before the Big Dump took a toll on a lot of plants. Many of them hadn’t gone completely into dormancy and got nailed. Grafted roses were particularly hard-hit. Those that survived took forever to bud out in the spring and seemed to grow more slowly through the summer.

We were lucky the Christmas snows were for the most part very dry and didn’t weigh down tall trees and shrubs enough to break them. Unfortunately, the snow was so deep we couldn’t get out to clear it off smaller shrubs and weeping trees. As the snow compacted into ice, it tore branches off these small trees. Weeping Japanese maples were particularly hard-hit, and local arborists were busy much of the spring repairing damage to the trees that could be saved.

In the vegetable garden, the spring started slowly because the ground was cold and the weather cooler than usual. In early July the nights were consistently below 55 degrees, preventing many vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and squash from setting fruit. By the time the nights warmed up, we were into the two weeks of 90-plus-degree days, and it was actually too hot for them to set fruit. As a result, the plants dropped flowers or set on tiny fruits that just shriveled up. I saw a lot of zucchini with shriveled yellow tips as proof of this. The pollinating insects were also less active in the high heat.

Another side effect of the heat was difficulty in keeping vegetable plants evenly watered. As a result, tomatoes suffered from blossom end rot and splitting, and summer squash, zucchinis and cucumbers were misshapen because their growth was slowed during the dry spells.

The heat was good for the corn crop, though, and many folks have said it’s been the best year in recent memory.

Once the hot weather ended and we cycled into cooler weather, powdery mildew started showing up. While it usually doesn’t kill plants, it covered the leaves of many plants like squash, perennials and maples with an unsightly white, spidery haze. Unfortunately, when it gets to this stage, it isn’t going away even with treatment.

Now we are waiting for the first frosts. Some of the colder areas of the region got hit lightly over Labor Day. The rest of us aren’t far behind. While we are still picking tomatoes, squash and late corn, the day will come. So keep those green tomato recipes handy and remember the immortal words of Willie Nelson: “Know when to fold ’em.”

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached by e-mail at pat@ inlandnwgardening.com.


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