For the last post of 2012, I’ll recap some of the questions Dr. Sue and I received on “Garden Talk” this morning. If you have not heard the show, it’s on every Saturday morning at 8:00 on WNOX-FM 100.3, and is sponsored by Stanley’s Greenhouses and Ellenburg Nursery. [www.ellenburgnursery.com] I am filling in as co-host with Dr. Susan Hamilton of UT Gardens. Listeners can call in with questions like these:
I received a plant called “sweet box” for Christmas. How should I grow it? Sweet box (Sarcococca) is an evergreen creeping shrub from Asia that grows best in partial shade is moisture-retentive soil high in organic matter. Sometimes called “Christmas box” it blooms very early in the season, usually in February in the Tennessee Valley. The relatively insignificant flowers are sweetly fragrant and perfume the air near the plant. Sweet box is an excellent subject for edging or for softening corners in a shaded garden space. It is rarely bothered by pests or disease.
Another great question concerned controlling the Colorado potato beetle. This insect is a native American pest that even has its own web site www.potatobeetle.org
While it is susceptible to the natural pesticide, spinosad, the beetle can also be controlled by taking advantage of certain aspects of its behavior and life cycle. For example, beetle pupae overwinter in the ground and emerge when the weather warms. They literally walk to the potato patch from wherever they were hibernating. Therefore, locating this year’s patch a good distance from last year’s can be effective. This won’t work, however, on a small property. Another approach that works is to dig a narrow trench all around the potato patch, and line it with plastic sheeting. Potato beetles fall into the trench but cannot climb up the slick plastic sides. Periodially flooding the trench with water drowns them.
Because Colorado potato beetles appear as the weather warms, getting potatoes in the ground early and choosing an early-maturing variety can allow you to bring in a crop before the beetles pose a serious threat to the plants. Popular varieties in the Tennessee Valley are Kennebec and Red Pontiac. The traditional time to plant potatoes around here is St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.
Now is a great time to be planning your garden for next year. Seed catalogs will soon appear in your inbox or your snail mailbox. So stay warm inside and garden with your laptop. Recent months have seen the appearance of many gardening apps for smartphone and computer. You can access a garden planner from Mother Earth News that offers many useful features. The web site provides a free 30-day trial, after which they charge a modest annual fee. This type of help for the novice vegetable gardener is almost like having a personal gardening coach, and is highly recommended. http://www.motherearthnews.com/garden-planner/vegetable-garden-planner.aspx