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Your wacky vegetables, and help for a disappointing crape myrtle
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I recently wrote about the spotted lanternfly and some misconceptions that I’d seen circulating on social media.
Since this is an important topic to everyone living in an affected region, I revisited that post on Thursday to update it with the latest guidance regarding the insect, its preferred host, the tree of heaven, and whether or not you should report sightings — and, if so, to whom.
You can read the update here.
📬 Ask Jessica
DEAR JESSICA: I have two well-established crepe myrtles. They budded leaves this year about a month earlier than in the past. I’m guessing it had to do with a warm winter. Usually, by this time of year, they are full of flowers. I’m finally seeing buds on one of them, but not too many. Why is this happening? Has it been too dry this year? —Robin Zeisel, Old Westbury, NY
DEAR ROBIN: There are some insects and diseases that could reduce the blooming of crape myrtles, but since you didn’t mention the presence of black sooty mold on foliage (an indication of aphid or another infestation) or sickly, spotted leaves (a symptom of disease), I’m going to rule those out.
A lack of sunlight, water or nutrients could be to blame, but since you said your trees are well-established, if nothing has changed since last year, we can probably rule those out, as well.
Did you prune them during the growing season? Crape myrtles don't typically need to be cut back. But if they do, they should be pruned only in late winter before they break dormancy. Pruning after they resume growth risks removing flower buds.
And you could be right about the weather. Since your trees emerged from dormancy earlier than usual, it’s possible their flower buds were nipped by a late frost.
Giving them a dose of high-phosphorus, low-nitrogen fertilizer as soon as they break dormancy in spring will encourage more flowering.
💡 If you do one thing this week…
Check whether houseplants vacationing outdoors for the summer have outgrown their pots. If so, replant into a container 2” larger (not more) than their current ones.
👏 Sunday shoutout
So many shoutouts today!
Thanks to all who responded to my call for photos of mutant tomatoes.
Unfortunately, only a handful could be published with my AP column. But they all gave me a laugh. I hope they bring a smile to your face, as well.
Betty Jean McCarroll grew this “Mickey Mouse” tomato.
Becky over at @plot7c on Instagram shared this little devil.
Karen Engels sent in this specimen with a disclaimer: “I hope this isn’t too weird!” No, Karen, it’s not weird at allllllllll 🙈
Linda Gottschalk of Tulsa, OK, shared this 5-pointed beauty. It reminds me of a Christmas ornament. Anybody else?
Linda Lauretta sent in this… flamingo?
Is it a bird? Is it Murray the Cop? (if you don’t get the reference, look him up!)
Wendy Williams of Spring Green, Wisconsin, writes, “My grandson picked this one a few weeks ago, and we froze it so he could share it, and here we are with a reason to share! He said [it looks like it has] a nose, and I said [it looks like] a large chick!
John Del Grosso picked this “weird tomato” in 2018: “Some people think it looks like an odd nose. My daughter thinks it looks like the face of a blob fish. Others with questionable senses of humor (like me) think it looks like, well, you use your imagination!”
Is it a mummy? A pig? I'm not quite sure, but it's a little scary. Grown near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by Karen Hilliard, who currently resides in Florida.
Speaking of scary, Joy Heller Carlson of Northeast Iowa named her homegrown oddity the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Tomato."
Gail Sharpsteen writes: “I didn’t grow this tomato but saw it at our local farmers’ market. I thought it was a tomato worm at first!”
I see a rubber ducky, Gail!
Not tomatoes, but equally amusing
“Our tomatoes were a bust this year, but the boys did grow Japanese eggplants, which were very prolific,” writes Terry Prudente of Northport, NY. “I’m sending along a picture of one that my grandson, now 12, couldn’t resist putting eyes on.”
“I grew this sweet potato duck last year,” writes Susan Evanecko. “When it sprouted a tail, I put it in water. I will start checking my tomatoes now for any ‘horns’ ”
I think we all will, Susan!
Read this week’s gardening column for more wacky tomatoes — and an explanation of why they go mutant.
Send in photos of your plants and garden, and you could be featured next (bonus points if you’re in the picture!)
📰This week in my Associated Press gardening column
I write a weekly gardening column for the AP, so you might have seen my byline in your local paper (or news website) — wherever in the world you happen to be. In case you miss it, I’ll post the most recent here every week.
Last week: Annuals are the loyal friends every gardener can use, especially as the season winds down. Here’s why I learned to love them.
You can read all my AP gardening columns here.
📚📺🎵 Random things I enjoyed this week
🐶 I put my pruning skills (but don’t worry — not my pruners) to use and gave Miguel a haircut. He looks almost as good as my roses.
🎼 I drove to Philadelphia for last night’s Peter Gabriel concert, and it was absolutely worth the trip!
🌶️ I picked what seems to be the last of this year’s miserable tomato and pepper crop, chargrilled the fruits, peeled off their skins and tossed them with garlic, oil, fresh basil, salt and pepper, then filled a jar with the “salsa” — like my father used to. It tastes like summer!
🎥 For the first time in my life, I went to the movies alone — and it wasn’t as awkward as I’d feared. In fact, I was surprised to see several others watching “Stop Making Sense” solo at my local IMAX theater. The restoration of the Talking Heads 1984 concert film, which I’d seen in theaters when it was first released, was truly spectacular. And as a big fan, I’m so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and went, even it if meant sitting alone (well, I wasn’t alone — I had a giant tub of popcorn on my lap).
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Until next week, stay safe. Be well. And always keep your mind in the dirt. —Jessica
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