The Block Island Times

Tomato wilt strategies, grubs in the lawn, apples and a surprising lily

By Fred Nelson | Nov 01, 2011

While spring is the time thoughts naturally turn to gardening, the fall season offers its fair share of gardening experiences. Besides the traditional fall foliage and display of berries such as bittersweet, bayberry and winterberry, there are colorful roses downtown. Roses do very well in cool weather, flowering until heavy frost, and offer a tremendous variety of colors and habits of growth. Unfortunately, those of us outside of downtown find the deer eat them all, and we can enjoy roses only if we construct fencing — which rather defeats the effort of beautification.

We finally have consumed the last of our tomatoes. While we had plenty of fruit, I had to watch the vines slowly succumb to disease, shriveling to nothing by the middle of October. It is unfortunate that tomatoes are susceptible to so many diseases that are difficult or impossible to control. The possibilities include early blight, late blight, anthracnose, fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt, and blossom-end rot. One means of limiting the wilts is by crop rotation. If you don’t plant tomatoes, peppers and eggplant in the same spot for three years, it minimizes the incidence of disease. Another means of minimizing is to select varieties that are listed as VFT, which is short for resistant to verticillium, fusarium, and tobacco mosaic virus. Note the word is resistant — not immune.

In my last column I mentioned that a fellow gardener had suggested planting a few radish seeds next to squash plants to repel the squash vine borer, a simple trick worth trying. Another fellow gardener wrote to me to divulge her control of the borer. She has been using diatomaceous earth — the kind used in pool filters. She sprinkles this on the vines to deter the borers, and directly into the hole in the vine if one has entered the vine. She has been using this method for 40 years with good success.

I don’t know if anyone else is having the problem that I have. Great sections of my lawn have been torn apart by crows devouring the grubs that have infested the area. Grubs feed on the roots of the turf, causing it to either die off or certainly show severe signs of stress. I can go out and pull sections of turf without any resistance, and underneath there are multitudes of grubs. Beetles, most notably the Japanese beetle, lay eggs in the grass in early summer that hatch into grubs about late July and feed upon the roots. I am not sure just which beetle is responsible for this fall infestation — I saw only one Japanese beetle all summer so I suspect that this infestation is another pest. I left a sample of the grubs at the URI Cooperative Extension office to have them identified. I also requested the current control for whatever is the culprit so that I may take precautionary measures next year. I’ll report back whatever I find out.

Often, people stop and ask me gardening questions on the street. A recent question had to do with a lily that was blooming in her garden in August. There was no foliage and the blossoms were on the top of an extended stem. From the description I was pretty sure that this was a naked lady or surprise lily (Lycoris squamigera). This is an interesting plant. As a lily, it grows from a bulb. The foliage comes up in late winter to early spring, and looks like a clump of daffodils without the flowers. Soon the foliage dies down and disappears. Then, sometime in August, a flower stalk emerges from the ground, without any foliage, and a cluster of flowers blooms at the top. It is a colorful addition to the August garden. One problem is remembering where you plant the lily so you don’t plant other plants on top of them, and the other is finding a nursery that sells them. I finally found a source: Jung Seeds and Plants, 335 S High Street, Randolph, WI 53957-0001. They list it as “Mystery Lily.”

In the October issue of The Avant Gardener was an article that explains the old adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

“The newest superfood is the apple,” reads the article. “Its high content of flavonoids, triterpenoides, fiber and other nutrients has been shown to combat many cancers and cardiovascular diseases. Most recently, studies at Cornell University found that quercetin, an antioxidant in which apples are particularly rich, considerably reduces the risk of certain cancers and also protects brain cells from damage leading to Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.” And now you know the rest of the story.


Flowers in my time which everyone would praise,

Though thrown like weeds from gardens nowadays.”

—John Clare (1793-1864)

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