Ask any gardener about their gardening experience and they will have a few bits of information they have found useful. Some of this information has been substantiated by research and some is just best practice.
Pulling weeds out by hand doesn’t always work because even part of some weeds, like dandelion, will quickly grow back into a whole plant. Gardeners need to remove all crowns, tubers, and rhizome segments and that means digging deep. Various tools are available to make weeding more efficient, including manual tines, weed hoes and tillers.
Mulching is probably the best method of weed control. Weeds will grow earlier than vegetables, crowding out the desirable crop. By applying a weed-blocking mulch early, vegetable seedlings can get a head start on the weeds. Plus, the mulch keeps the soil cool, moist and can be grown as organic matter for next season’s growth.
Most of the soils in southwestern Oklahoma are rich in minerals, but poor in organic matter. Using organic mulches in the vegetable garden increases the organic matter content of the soil, improves the physical condition of the soil and adds nutrients.
Azaleas may be the first flowering shrub and many homeowners want them in their landscape. Even though they’re sold in retail stores here, azaleas don’t grow well in southwestern Oklahoma. Azaleas are not adapted to this region due to heavy clay soils and higher pH (alkaline) soils. To successfully grow azaleas and for the same reason blueberries, the gardener must change the pH of the soil, add organic matter and ensure good drainage.
The speed at which water moves through the soil affects plant growth. The movement of water through the soil is called drainage. When the soil is waterlogged, all the pore spaces that normally hold air are instead filled with water, so the roots cannot get oxygen. Soil poor in oxygen also suffocates earthworms and other beneficial soil organisms.
In contrast, soils that drain too quickly (usually sandy soils) cannot provide enough water to the roots. Such soils do not retain nutrients long enough for plants to use them. Gardeners with excessively drained soil find that they need to irrigate and fertilize constantly.
Fertilizers are available in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. Plants take up nutrients from the roots as elements in an aqueous solution. Plants have no way of differentiating between elements that come from organic materials or inorganic man-made fertilizers. For plants, it is simply nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Fertilizers are sold in forms such as granules, water soluble and liquid, tips, cartridges and encapsulated pellets. Generally, the granular form is the cheapest and easiest to distribute evenly over a large lawn. Depending on the source of the nutrient, the granules can provide fast or scheduled release elements. In addition, they are available with insecticides, weed killers and other additives.
Many gardeners have observed the flowers of cucumbers and squash closely and have seen a bloom form at the end of the small fruit. They may have seen other flowers that had no fruit connected. The first is the female flower and the second is the male flower.
Some plants produce bisexual flowers. These are flowers considered to be “perfect” flowers that can pollinate themselves. Female flowers are only susceptible to pollination from the morning of their opening until the afternoon of that day. For better pollination of tomato plants in hot, dry weather, use a small, soft brush to transfer pollen from the anthers of the male flower to the stigmas of the female flower.
Bad tomato pollen can also be caused by extreme temperatures. Daytime temperatures above 90 degrees and night temperatures above 70 degrees will result in reduced fruit set. There is ample evidence that nighttime temperature is the critical factor in tomato fruit set; the optimum range being 59 to 68 degrees.
Jim Coe writes a weekly gardening column for The Lawton Constitution.