Topics in this issue: Impatiens, apples,
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Cold's a crippler for impatiens, other annuals
I have a bed of impatiens on the north side of my house.
Each year they seem to become diseased, rot and die. Could you tell
me what's wrong? E.R., Detroit
Someone who grows lots of impatiens, as well as other annuals
and perennials, is George Papadelis at Telly's Greenhouse in Troy. I
asked him for his views.
"Putting tender annuals like impatiens out when it's too cold,
or watering them too much, can lead to rot. Soil is cold on the
north side of a house, so wait an extra week or so for it to warm
up. See my annuals there, outside? With very few exceptions, all I
have out there are the ones that aren't going to be affected by the
cold. I'm growing impatiens, too, but they're still inside the
greenhouse for at least another week."
"Plants also need to be hardened off, if you buy them from
within a greenhouse Hardening off is gradually acclimating them to
wind, sun and outdoor temperature. Set them outdoors in a shaded,
wind-protected area for a day, then bring them into a
frost-protected place at night. Do this for another day and a
night, and then plant them out on the third day into a moist bed.
This prevents stress and transplant shock that can lead to later
disease, stunting, and leaf scorch. Plants that have been held
outdoors don't need to be hardened off, but not every garden center
has their stock outside quite yet."
Another thought: when your impatiens rotted, did you replace
them right away with more impatiens? If so, that was a set-up for
repeat infection. Fungus spores would have been waiting there to
infect the next batch of impatiens, entering through any breaks in
the stems or leaves.
(And a final thought added years later: We all know now about impatiens
downy mildew moving into our region in 2012. That was the
killing year, when the disease became so widespread all the major
growers agreed, 'no more growing impatiens!' However, it's likely
that the disease got its foothold here and there before that year
and may have accounted for some losses such as this one.)
More about Telly's Greenhouse, where great plants and
helpful information grow together
should be rotated, just as vegetable crops are, to prevent a cycle
of disease/insect build up and reinfestation. Switch to begonias or
annual periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) every few years to break
the cycle. Or ask at the garden center for other suggestions - I
overheard the staff at Telly's answering questions like this, and
they not only had good ideas, they actually seemed to enjoy sharing
Stop the apple tree from
I have an apple tree in the back yard. The tree is large
and very nice but I find it very dificult to pick up apples and
keep the yard clean. Is there something I can do so it won't bear
apples? R.S., Oak Park
There is something, though it may not be practical for everyone.
Apple growers thin the fruit on trees, to get fewer but larger
apples. They use a thinning agent (a simulated hormone, also called
a growth regulator) to do this. Applied properly, this can cause
almost all the fruit to drop off.
Marv Wiegand and Dennis Wegner at Ray Wiegand's Nursery in
Macomb have used this, on crabapples. (Crabapples and apples are
the same species, distinguished only by the size of the fruit, so
this advice applies to both.) Wiegand's produces top-notch plants,
so I'm confident that anything they do would also be safe on our
Marv explained, "Normally, we don't want to prevent our
crabapples from fruiting. We select varieties in part for their
fruit, which can be beautiful through the winter. But last year we
had quite a number of small crabapples heeled in up at our farm
that we didn't want to bear fruit. We wanted them to divert that
energy for leaf growth, instead."
Dennis gave me the details. "We sprayed them with a thinning
agent when about 90% of the flower petals had fallen off - the
label of the product told us how much and when to spray. On all but
one variety of crabapple, about 90% of the fruit fell off."
Marv added these qualifiers. "For us, it worked. There are
considerations a homeowner would want to keep in mind, though.
Spraying a full sized tree may take special equipment, expensive.
Also, what we used is probably not available in quantities suitable
for a homeowner - we made 100 gallons of spray mixture from each
package. It's also been hard to get hold of this year, maybe
because regulations regarding its use are changing. And you can't
overlook the fact that improperly used, it can also harm bees,
which is not good: bees are essential to agriculture and their
populations are already way down recently because of mite
The product Wiegand's used is based on napthaleneacetimide,
which is also the basis of a product called Florel. Florel is
currently registered for use on apples to promote flower and reduce
fruiting. Write for further information about Florel to the
manufacturer, Monterey Chemical Co., P.O. Box 5317, Fresno, CA
Maybe it would be simpler to do what I do with my apples? I'm
not particularly interested in harvesting my apples, so I don't
have to tend to cleanliness for the sake of disease and insect
control. I put a large bed of groundcover under the tree, let the
apples fall into it and decompose there. It may not be for
everyone, but it works fine here.
corn doesn't mix well with others
Perhaps you can clear up a confusion for me. Is it all
right to plant different varieties of sweet corn together? I'm
referring to the "normal sugary" or "sugary enhanced" varieties. I
understand that supersweet requires isolation. I have heard that
cross-pollination can ruin both varieties if planted together yet
I've also seen the suggestion to plant varieties with different
maturities, which seems contrary. I have a small garden and the
most I could separate two types is by ten feet or so. D.H.,
Yes, you can mix and match sweet corns (sweet, sugar or sugary
enhanced), but keep the supersweets away from both sweet and sugary
Most of us choose our corn variety from among three basic
groups: normal sweet corn (also called sugar corn - 'Silver Queen'
is one); sugary enhanced varieties ('Sugar Buns' just begs to be
included in my garden); and supersweet types (such as 'Northern
Xtra-Sweet'). What sets each group apart from the others are genes.
Sweet/sugar corn is unique for its "su" sugar gene, sugary enhanced
has an "se" gene, and super sweet has an "sh" gene. Good catalogs
list each group separately.
Corn with an su or se gene can grow near other corn with su or
se genes without problems. But if sweet or sugary enhanced corn is
pollinated by a plant that has an sh (supersweet) gene or vice
versa, the offspring - the kernels on the cob - may well be starchy
rather than sugary. So supersweet corn types have to be grown
separately from sweet and sugary enhanced corns.
Within the supersweet group, or within the combined sweet-sugar
enhanced group, you can mix several varieties without problem.
That's where the different maturities come in. This mixed group of
sweet and sugar enhanced types would be fine together: 'Quickie'
sugar corn with an se (sugary enhanced) gene ripens in 65 days; it
can be grown with 'Tuxedo' which also has an se gene but takes 79
days to ripen; round out the season with 'Silver Queen' with an su
gene and 91 days to ripen. This combination of supersweets would
give you fresh corn over several weeks: 'Northern X-tra Sweet' (71
days to maturity); 'Starstruck' (78 days); 'Hudson' (86 days).
To grow supersweet corn and sweet, or supersweet
and sugar enhanced, you would have to plant the groups
at least 400 yards apart or plant one group 4 weeks before or after
the other, to prevent cross-pollination. Certainly you can't do
this - but doesn't it also make you wonder what types of corn your
neighbors are planting?
I don't know anyone who can keep up with all the subtle
differences in vegetable and flower types without a current
reference. No matter how many you've grown, another variety or
another whole group is introduced every year! I turned to my
Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog for help in this - it's a great
resource for gardening information as well as excellent seeds.
Write for a catalog to Johnny's Selected Seeds, Foss
Hill Road, Albion, Maine 04910-9731 or call (207) 437-4301.
Originally published 5/7/94