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Jackie Clay

Q and A: tomato plants, moving canned food, pruning melon plants, and fungus on pepper plants

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Tomato plants and moving canned food

How do you mark your tomato plants so that you know which varieties produce what? I can’t seem to find anything that lasts through the growing season. Also, I have one tomato plant that looks wilted but not eaten on. What can be causing that? It does have a few small green tomatoes on it.

When a person moves filled canning jars to a much higher altitude, will the seals hold? Should you put the rings back on the jars to move them?

J from Missouri

Instead of marking your individual tomatoes, you might do as we do and make a map of your garden in a notebook that you leave in the house. When you want to identify tomatoes, just take it to the garden with you. Simple and you don’t lose track of who’s who! If you really want to have instant identification, you can cut aluminum cans into strips and write the names with a pencil on tags you’ve cut out. Then poke a hole in the end and wire the tag to the tomato cage where it’s handy to read.

There are several causes for tomatoes to wilt besides the obvious (not enough water), which doesn’t seem to be the case as your other tomatoes probably aren’t wilting. Unfortunately, none are treatable and the plant must be pulled and burned. These reasons range from a stem borer, bacterial wilt, and fungal infection. I’d get the wilting tomato pulled and examine the roots. Sometimes root nematodes will cause wilting. These cause knobs on the roots. Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for that one either.

There is generally no problem in moving filled canning jars from a lower altitude to a higher one. We moved my pantry from Minnesota at 1,400 feet to Montana at 7,400 feet and didn’t lose a seal. No, you don’t need to put rings back on. If the jars are sealed, the rings won’t help keep them that way. Just pack them well. However, when you send home canning via air, sometimes the seals do fail, which is why I stopped sending anything but jams and jellies in the mail. — Jackie

Pruning melon plants

I had about 500 “volunteer” melon plants start up in some bags of composted manure I purchased. I left one alone to see what it was. Can I trim it way back? It is running EVERYWHERE and I don’t have the room. Will trimming it back force it to ripen?

Sandra Agostini
Nixa, Missouri

Yes, you can prune it back but if you want fruit, don’t prune it back past the flowering areas or any melons that have set. I’d be interested to see if these really are melons. I remember I once found “volunteer watermelons” down by the river where folks fished. Thinking they’d spit out seeds which sprouted the following year, I was thrilled with my find. I carefully transplanted them into my garden only to find later on that they were only wild cucumbers, a spiny, vining weed! Boy, was I bummed out! Let us know how yours turn out, okay? — Jackie

Fungus on pepper plants

I have a problem with my bell peppers. I put the store bought seedlings (four) out in raised beds this spring and they took right off. About two weeks ago, one of them suddenly looked very wilted from top to bottom. Everything else near it (including the other peppers) looked fine. I watered it and continued to watch it, thinking maybe one of the kids had run into it or hit it with a ball and dislodged the root system. It continues to hang on with some new leaves, but has not recovered. This morning I notice another pepper has done the same thing. There is a little bit of whitish fungus at the base of the stalk where the plant meets the soil. I had been mulching them with compost earlier in the spring (I don’t use any store bought fertilizers at this point); did I put too much on, too high up the plant? We have had a relatively wet spring and early summer and I have watered some as well. I have never seen anything like this. If it is the fungus, what would you suggest to kill it? The other peppers have a little bit of this fungus, but are not wilting as of yet.

Josh
Fredericksburg, Virginia

It sounds like you have white fungus in your pepper plants. This is fairly common, especially when the plants have been grown in contaminated soil or potting medium. (This is one reason we always grow our own plants here at home.) Unfortunately there isn’t any treatment and the fungus is quite contagious. And once it’s in your soil, it often remains for years. Few affected plants will live. If it were me, I’d dig up all the plants, including the soil around the roots and any mulch in contact with the stems. Burn it all. There is still time for you to plant some more peppers if you can find plants for sale. But don’t plant them in the same raised bed. As your season is wet, I’d hold the mulch back from the plants and avoid too much watering. Peppers like it a bit dry between waterings, whether from rain or the garden hose. — Jackie

6 Responses to “Q and A: tomato plants, moving canned food, pruning melon plants, and fungus on pepper plants”

  1. zelda Says:

    Identifying tomato plants: This would require more time than Jackie’s suggestions, but it is possible to use a Pilot permanent marker, one of the wider points, and write the tomato name on an upper leaf when you plant them. You might need to repeat that as the tomato grows if the leaf isn’t easily visible or falls off. You can also color code them with yarn or tape and keep the key in the house until you need it. I have to do that because I don’t plant my tomatoes in rows or in a block – they are scattered all around. You can put tape or yarn loosely around the tomato stem before you plant it and either move or replace it as needed. (You can also write IDs on iris leaves when re-doing an iris bed.)

  2. Jack in NH Says:

    Re- general garden ID:

    We use cut up milk jugs (Jackie, you probably don’t have any of those ;-) & Sharpie markers for any necessary ID’s. The map is better overall, but sometimes I’ll plug a hole from a lost transplant with another, unmapped, plant.
    We can always use another pepper plant…

  3. Ann Says:

    We saved the slats from a broken blind and cut them to size with one end cut into a V to stick into the pot or ground. I write on them with Sharpie permanent markers and they last for the season. Punching a hole and tying to the plant of the tomato cage would also work. I always start with a map but somewhere not too far along forget to update it.

  4. Sandy A. Says:

    I use clothespins and write the plant name on the sides with t a permanent marker. Then, just clip it to the cage, or to the plant itself. I use cattle panels to grow my tomatoes and cucumbers on, so I just clip it to the panel.

  5. Robin Says:

    Regarding pulling tomatoes with wilt diseases, personally I wait until the tomato has completely given up the ghost. Sometimes the plant can beat the wilt, or at least still produce something for you. It’s an individual decision, and one that’s best made after learning about the various diseases and the pros and cons of this kind of action, but just so the original asker knows, some of us (Big Ag included) tend to take a wait-and-see approach rather than the more drastic approach.

  6. jackie clay-atkinson Says:

    Robin,

    I agree that some tomatoes with wilt will go ahead and produce something. The only trouble with leaving them in place is that while they are in the garden, they are often spreading the disease. In a smaller garden, this can be devistating where BIG AG with acres and acres of plants, it doesn’t matter so much as the affected area is small, compared to the whole field.

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