The Block Island Times

Gardening Times

By Fred Nelson | Apr 11, 2013

Our long-awaited gardening season is just around the corner — so the calendar tells us. Most Block Island gardeners are pretty well accustomed to the irregularities that are associated with our springtime weather. Besides the cool temperatures, often rainy, foggy days and unrelenting wind, opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in the garden are few and far between.

Regardless, I suspect that many, like me, have not taken the time to take a soil sample from any of your garden areas. Without repeating past instructions on preparing and submitting soil samples, I shall leave it up to the gardener to contact the University of Rhode Island Outreach Center by calling 1 (800) 448-1011. The primary purpose of a soil sample is to find the pH level of the soil. Soils with the desired level between 6.0 and 7.0 provide the optimum soil solution to maximize the effect of any fertilizer nutrients in your garden. The pH level can only be accurately determined through a laboratory test. Levels of pH below 6.0 will most likely require an application of ground limestone anywhere from 50 pounds or more per 1,000 square feet.

Plant breeding is a huge industry. Look at any nursery, vegetable or flower catalog and the results of years of breeding are evident. The objective is to develop improved varieties with specific characteristics, such as improved production, taste, flower color, plant vigor, growth, (dwarf, columnar, spreading), and even resistance to particular insects or diseases. In the case of turfgrass, added characteristics include color, density of growth, tolerence of low fertility as well as adaptability to wet and/or dry soils and with the ultimate demands of required maintenance such as with home lawns, golf courses and athletic fields.

Perhaps you might remember last fall when numerous publications brought the latest news that the beloved impatiens has been inundated by a downey mildew fungus. This was a widespread disease that some called the “doomsday for impatiens.” This disease affects traditional impatiens (impatiens wallereriana) and most of its hybrids. New Guinea impatiens are immune. Look for speckled, off-color leaves, leaf edges that curl downward and a white, downy layer on the undersides of the leaves. There currently is no cure for downy mildew. Susceptibility is enhanced by being planted in dense beds with poor air circulation that keeps water on leaves from evaporating; being planted in full shade that slows drying of foliage; being watered at night when it is cool; being watered with overhead sprinklers that splash water and spreads the spores from plant to plant. To be on the safe side plant New Guinea impatiens instead of regular impatiens.

Should you plant impatiens that become infected with downey mildew, rogue out all of the plants, put them in a trash bag and send them to the Transfer Station. Do not compost them. Do not plant impatiens in the same area in the future.

An interesting note from a Southern publication — The Daily South: “A single impatiens is not an impatien. Two impatiens plants are not impatienses. The word impatiens is both a single and plural. Don’t test my impatience.”

“We may see on a spring day in one place more beauty in a wood than in any garden.” — William Robison, The Garden Beautiful (1907)

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