Q. My son visited us last year and tried growing tomatoes in our yard. Even though he added manure, mulch, and good potting soil, the tomato production was marginal. The expert at the local nursery said that the ground was not right for tomato production without added nutrients. I am planning a raised bed for growing vegetables. Do you have instructions on building a raised bed including the type of soil to add?
A. In simplest terms build 6 inch or deeper walls with used railroad ties or other materials and fill it with a raised bed soil with 1/3 each of soil, compost, and sand. Most horticultural supply stores sell it. Fertilize the new bed with 10 cups of slow release lawn fertilizer, 19- 5-9 works well. Install drip irrigation for efficient, effective watering. For more information visit plantanswers.com.
Q. I am a long-time reader of your articles. I am especially careful about treating our St. Augustine lawn well. The lawn for the last two years has had dead areas that we have diagnosed as brown patch disease. I sent you a photo of the problem. Do you agree it is brown patch? Can it be spread by the landscaper’s mowers? We have treated it with a fungicide to stop the spread, but it returned for a second year. Are we fertilizing too much? Does top dressing with soil help? Does cornmeal help? What is the best preventative?
A. Yes, I agree that it looks like brown patch fungus. It can be spread by equipment and even foot traffic, but the main cause looks to me to be that the infection centers are low spots in the lawn where the water accumulates. Use your top dressing to level the grade and make sure you cut back on the watering in the fall. Any of the lawn fungicides labeled for brown patch work to stop the spread of the disease but the leveling and reducing the irrigation in the fall is the key to preventing the disease. Fertilizer and cornmeal are not factors.
Q Why can’t we get a Japanese maple to survive in our landscape. Is there a trick to grow them?
A. The main issues are that Japanese maples do not prosper in alkaline soils or hot, droughty weather. The individuals that survive are usually in artificial situations like arboretums or center courts where they are planted in acidified soil, receive morning sun and benefit from temperature control.
Q. My local nursery usually carries the Rodeo tomato from San Antonio every year, but they say it is not available this year. Is that true?
A. I have heard rumors to the effect that the Red Snapper, this years Rodeo tomato is sold out and no more seed is available! The Rodeo tomatoes from the last two years HM 8849 and HM 2247 are available. Other recommended varieties include Tycoon, Red Deuce, Phoenix, 444, Celebrity, 602, Valley Cat, and BHN 968 (cherry).
Q. When can we plant zinnia seed? We like it for the butterflies and hummingbirds it attracts.
A. Zinnia seed can be planted now if you have the space. The problem in some landscapes is that the snapdragons look so good now it is hard to remove them!