Garden Blog

Tomatillo Fruit

First year lessons growing Tomatillos . . .

This was my first year growing Tomatillos. I had grown Tomatoes for years, but never it’s relative, Tomatillos. Both are members of the nightshade family and require similar growing conditions, such as full sun and warm temperatures. I quickly learned Tomatillos are much easier to grow than Tomatoes. Tomatoes are notorious for succumbing to blossom end rot in the Pacific Northwest. Tomatillos can get blossom end rot too, but their tolerance is much higher to poor soil conditions. Tomatoes also need plenty of space for their roots. Tomatillos don’t seem to mind sharing the soil with other plants. Both Tomatoes and Tomatillos grow well in containers early in the season and both perform better in the ground late in the season.

Will my Tomatillo plants ever produce fruit?

After wondering if my Tomatillos would ever produce Tomatillo fruits, I finally saw one of the empty husks I read about. That’s exactly what I was looking for, big fluffy balloons! Eventually those empty husks should fill up with Tomatillo fruit for sauces and salsa.

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It didn’t take long before all of my plants were covered with big beautiful Tomatillo husks! What a relief.

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After reading about the empty husks that form before the fruit on Tomatillos, I was curious about the fruit inside of the husks on my Tomatillos. Here’s what I found after opening one of the empty husks. Yes, it was small, but it was fantastic!

The promise of Tomatillo fruit . . .

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Male flowers . . .

Tomatillos require a male and female flower to reproduce. The remnants of a male flower are shown below.

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If you’re wondering if your Tomatillos will ever produce fruit, don’t worry. As long as you planted at least two plants to cross pollinate, you will have Tomatillo fruits.

Plants Bees Love

If you plant a garden for the bees, your vegetables will love you for it!

Because vegetables require pollination to set fruit, growing plants bees love near your vegetable garden increases your harvest. Pollination happens when the wind blows the pollen from a male flower to a female flower or when a bee feeds on a male flower followed by a female flower thus spreading the pollen and fertilizing the female flower. If you grow plants bees love near your vegetable garden, the bees will most likely share the love with your vegetables, thus pollinating your veggies and giving you a bigger harvest!

Try planting these six plants bees love

1. Caryopteris

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The number one bee attracting plant is Caryopteris! These shrubs look alive with all the bees buzzing around on them. There must be fifty or more bees on each plant when it is flowering.
Caryopyeris x clandonensis ‘White Surprise’, shown above, is a newer variety with interesting variegation and blue flowers starting in late summer and lasting throughout the fall. This drought tolerant shrub performs well in a sunny location. They especially love slopes and well-drained areas.

2. Eryngium
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Not only do the bees love Eryngium, they make fabulous cut flowers. Grow them in a low water perennial bed because they are also drought tolerant!

3. Geranium ‘Rozanne’
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Geranium ‘Rozanne’ attracts a fraction of the bees that Caryopyeris do when they are in bloom, however they do it over an extremely long period. Blooming June-October, this perennial attracts bees though out the entire growing season for most vegetables. Starting to bloom before your cucumbers have flowers and well after your pumpkins turn orange.

4. Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’
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Coreopsis Zagreb offers mid-summer nectar to bees. This hardy, drought tolerant variety likes full sun and dislikes wet feet. The bright yellow flowers pack quite a show.

5. Lavender
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Throughout late spring and early summer each Lavender plant in my yard feeds no less than 3-4 bees at anytime during daylight hours. Having them planted near the veggies encourages the bees to pollinate them, though I’m not sure they ever leave the Lavender until the blooms dry up just after the squash, cucumbers and pumpkins begin flowering profusely. Plant will a late summer and fall bloomer like Caryopteris for mega bees throughout the growing season.

6. Oregano
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Oregano will endure neglect and infertile soil. My Oregano bloomed the second year throughout spring, summer and fall. Submerged in flowers, I harvested them anyway using the fresh leaves to flavor all of my dishes leaving the long stems and flowers for vases. Trust me, this is far better than drying the herb.

Why perennials?

Plants bees love come in many forms. Imagine for a moment buying one bee-loving plant each year for your garden and every year, they come back bigger and better. Eventually, you divide them to make two or more plants bees love. You might even share them with a friend trade them for a new plant. That’s how a bee-loving garden grows on a budget. Why else grow perennials? Most perennials require less water than annuals. The six on this post are all drought tolerant and low maintenance for your gardening enjoyment.

June Blooming Perennials

If you are like many of us, you look at your garden with  great satisfaction in June. We accomplished a lot over the past few months! We cleaned up the winter debris. Planted vegetables in abundance and even harvested our first crops. Our containers are brimming with colorful annuals!  Bulbs, fruit trees and shrubs carried us through the spring colorfully while we did our work. Unfortunately, in June the spring color faded away leaving us wishing for more color in our gardens and landscapes. Perennials are the perfect solution to our color woes for so many reasons. They are an investment that pays back year after year with very little care and most transplant well after it’s too late to plant vegetables and herbs. Because I’ve been gardening in the Pacific Northwest for over ten years, I have succeeded and failed with many perennials here. These are just a few of the best June blooming perennials that I have grown or seen growing in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

Short June Blooming Perennials:

  • Geranium ‘Rozanne’ – Blooms June through October with an incredibly wide spread and vigorous habit that competes well with weeds. Rozanne can grow tall and wide or stay small depending on the location.
  • Arenaria – Fits perfectly in the landscape in a tidy little mound.
  • Saponaria ocymoides – Pink blooms on large mounds in May and June. Vernalization required for flowers, so patience helps.
  • Campanula Blue Waterfall – Flowers June through September in the ground or in a container garden.
  • Geranium Orkney Cherry – Tender perennial with dark foliage and pink flowers. The first year was the most interesting year. It grew tall and skinny, like a Thuja. After three years in my Bellingham garden, Orkney Cherry grows in a short mound.
Geranium Rozanne
Geranium ‘Rozanne’ with Spiraea Magic Carpet
Geranium Orkney Cherry
Geranium Orkney Cherry
Saponaria and Aquilegia
Saponaria and Aquilegia

Medium Height June Blooming Perennials:

  • Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ – Pink blooms begin in May and last through June. Cut off spent flowers for a rebloom. Though this Heuchera is an older variety, it is still one of the best performers out there because of the fantastic foliage and attractive flowers that last a long time.
  • Primula viali – One of the most unique perennial flowers  and grows well in the sun or shade.
  • Penstemon Red Riding Hood – Gives a fantastic show of bright red flowers in May and June.
  • Lavender -Low maintenance woody perennial with lavender flowers beginning in June and lasting through August. Cut back the top one-third of the plant after flowering to encourage a tidy habit.
  • Dianthus First Love ® – Shades of pink and white adorn this taller-than-your-average-Dianthus April through September.
Lavender Munstead
Lavender Munstead
Penstemon Red Riding Hood
Penstemon Red Riding Hood
Campanula ‘Sarastro’
Primula vialli
Primula vialli

Tall June Blooming Perennials:

  • Leucanthemum ‘Becky’ – This Shasta Daisy grows much taller than the others and blooms on very strong stems May through August. No need to stake ‘Becky’ even though it can grow nearly four feet tall.
  • Penstemon Husker Red & ‘Pocahontas’ – Dark foliage grows tall in the spring when flowering. After blooms fade, the stems can be cut back leaving a cute little burgundy mound. White flowers top ‘Husker Red’ while lavender flowers top the newer variety ‘Pocahontas’.
  • Delphinium – Most Delphinium will bloom in June and re-bloom if you cut them back.
  • Campanula medium and Cup and Saucers – These Campanula are biennials not perennial. They will reseed or you can collect the seed to start indoors and plant them exactly where you want them in your garden the following year. They are a little more maintenance than a perennial, but well worth it! I wrote about them in my last post at cheetahgarden.com/campanula-medium/
Penstemon Pocahontas
Penstemon ‘Pocahontas’
Campanula medium
Campanula medium after flowers were harvested for bouquets

 

Campanula medium

Campanula medium aka Canterbury Bells

If you always wanted to indulge in the pleasures of cut flowers, Campanula medium is a quintessential cut flower from France—romantic, bold and old-fashioned. It is full of history and beauty. It is one of the least expensive and most interesting cut flowers.

Campanula medium  migrated from France and Italy to the warmer climes of Europe before making its way to the rest of the world. We are so glad it did! The strong stems on Canterbury Bells grow to at least two or three feet tall and produce plenty of beautiful and  bold bell-shaped flowers in the spring of the second year. Because it is a biennial, only a rosette grows the first year. Campanula medium ‘Calycanthema’—Cup and Saucer is a popular cultivar of Campanula medium which is even more superb than the species. The large calyx under the bells creates the saucer-under-the-cup look. If you buy a seed pack labelled Campanula Cup and Saucer Mix chances are good that you will end up with some plants with saucers and some without saucers.

Campanula Cup and Saucers
Campanula Cup and Saucers

Utilization 

Campanula medium fits into a cottage garden or perennial border. They fit in best if planted toward the back of the border with other tall plants such as Digitalis and Delphinium. Campanula medium companion plants include Chrysanthemum, Iris, Peonies and other tall plants that bloom in the spring. Planting perennials like Echinacea and Gallardia with them fills the void after the flowers fade, carrying the garden through the summer and fall with plenty of color. Campanula medium also makes the most stunning cut flowers ranging in colors from blue and lavender to pink and white. Cut flowers will last a week or more if you change the water and make a fresh cut. Your cut flowers will be curvy if grown laying down—not necessarily a bad thing.  An interesting arrangement sometimes includes curvy stems.

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Canterbury Bells Bouquet

 

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Canterbury Bells in a mixed bouquet with Heuchera, Penstemon and Fern

After breaking one of the stems while attempting a late staking, I discovered that mixing the not-yet-ripe green flowers with the flowers in full color create an interesting arrangement.

Mixed Campanula Bouquet
Mixed Campanula Bouquet

No need to throw out the short stemmed flowers. They make small inexpensive arrangements to share with friends. They will absolutely love them!

Campanula Cup and Saucer Extras Bouquet
Campanula Cup and Saucer Extras Bouquet

Care

As with most garden plants, it’s a good idea to add compost to the soil when planting. Give them a little boost with fertilizer in early spring before they bloom. Protection from slugs when the plants are still young may prove helpful to your small plants, though I don’t see any slug damage on mature plants. Canterbury Bells may need staking to prevent the tall stems from tipping over. Campanula Cup and Saucer, heavier with the large calyx, may grow taller than the species Campanula medium. Therefore, they will most likely benefit from staking. Good advice is to stake the plants before they tip over which is right about when the flowers open. Staking keeps the stems from breaking and will also allow the racemes to grow in an upright manner for better cut flowers. If you don’t cut off all the flowers for bouquets, you can collect seed for new starts after they finish flowering. After you collect the seeds, cut the plant back to promote a second batch of leaves and possibly even another wave of color. The second bloom is never as profuse as the first one, but still worth it. If you leave the last batch of flowers on the plants they may self seed for next season. Because Campanula medium is a biennial, do not count on its return the third year. Be ready to seed a new crop each year in the spring or summer to assure yourself a continual succession of flowers each year. You can transition the seedlings to a larger pot outside to harden them off before transplanting them into the garden in the summer or fall.

All of the cut flowers seen here came from just two plants seeded directly into the garden the prior year. Even after removing all of these flowers, plenty of color is still left in the garden. This is why Canterbury Bells is worth the effort!

Tent Caterpillar Saga Comes To A Close

Last week I wrote about the epidemic of Western Tent Caterpillars. As the saga comes to an end, I’m exploring a little more in-depth about these fascinating creatures. Because Tent Caterpillars devour tree foliage, many people believe their trees will die. Alarm spreads through the neighborhood as fast as the caterpillars do. A neighbor had me in a panic saying the tree will die if more than a certain percent of the leaves are eaten. In actuality, the trees rarely ever die. What usually happens is the tree leafs out again within a few weeks. In some cases, heavy defoliation can kill trees. This usually happens after several years of severe insect damage followed by severe drought.

In a moment of panic, many tree lovers often do things that are more harmful to their trees than the actual caterpillars do. If you can keep your mind when all around you are losing theirs, sit back and enjoy the show. Watch one of the most fascinating life cycles you will ever see. It began early spring, just when the buds on the trees started to open, the eggs of the Western Tent Caterpillar hatched and began devouring the leaves of your Alders, Willows, Aspen, Birch, Fruit Trees, and shrubs. The caterpillars molted several times during their five to six week growing period, increasing in size each time. You can see the old skins within the tents. After their last molt, the caterpillars revolt from their communal lifestyle and become gypsies wondering over large areas searching for food. Their food choices become more random and they may even feed on many garden plants. At this stage we see a larger caterpillars spreading out, appearing to take over. You will find them all over far from their tents as they cross your driveways and perch on your house. After this short-lived stage, they go back into a more secluded lifestyle. They may choose to go back to their old tent or find a new spot to call home. They spin their cocoon just about anywhere.

As a native insect the Tent Caterpillars are food for many other insects. Tachinid flies choose to lays eggs on the caterpillars back. Once the egg hatches, a tiny maggot burrows into the caterpillar to feed on its body. This parasitic fly eventually kills the caterpillar. Tachinids, not available commercially as beneficial insect control, can be attracted to your yard. The mature flies feed on nectar that attract Tachinid Flies. You can plant a garden containing herbs such as parsley, cilantro, thyme, lemon balm and dill to attract them into your yard. You can see the tiny white egg on the head of the caterpillar below.

Parasitized Caterpillar
Tachinid Fly egg on head

Tent caterpillars are also subject to a viral disease called wilt, which spreads through heavily infested trees. The virus quickly destroys the caterpillar communes. You can pick out the dead caterpillars because they droop or smear when killed by a virus. The nest below appears to have been devastated by the a virus.

Tent Caterpillar Virus
Western Tent Caterpillar Virus

Such natural controls eventually reduce population levels gradually. Because an outbreak can persist up to 4 years before nature effectively controls the populations, many trees can be damaged. As conditions become more favorable for the caterpillars, the  population gradually rebuilds. Wide fluctuations in caterpillar populations show a delicate balance of ecological forces. When we choose to interfere with the natural cycle, we can often make the problem worse. By spraying your trees with broad spectrum insecticides, the parasitic flies and wasps may also die, leaving no predator for remaining caterpillars and other insects the beneficial insects hunt. Human intervention is not necessary to end the devastation.

 

Western Tent Caterpillars – What Should You Do About Them?

Everyone seems to be noticing the Western Tent Caterpillars this season. They are not new, but they are causing extensive damage to trees this year. Soon they will be flying around as moths.

Western Tent Caterpillars

If you see the tents in your trees or shrubs this spring they established their home there long ago. Last years adult moths laid eggs on your tree branches. The larvae quietly overwintered there. This spring their tents appeared on the branches. They will partly defoliate some of the branches. The weeping birch pictured below shows fairly extreme defoliation with a large nest. The tree owner watched the defoliation happen in just a day or two. Sometimes tent caterpillars will even defoliate the entire tree. The caterpillars usually don’t kill your tree, especially if it is mature.

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The tree below seems to have succumbed to the caterpillars. It shows no signs of life and tents cover the branches. It is also possible that the tree died from some other cause over the winter.

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Western Tent Caterpillars are cyclical. Epidemics tend to run in two to three-year cycles. A virus tends to spread through the caterpillars when populations become epidemic,  which knocks the populations back to normal levels. The foliage on your trees will most likely grow back. The best course of action is to cut the nest out of the tree in the morning or evening when they are inside their tents, place it in a bag and throw it away. If you cannot reach the nest, you can attempt to use a high pressure hose to spray them down. It’s best not to spray a broad spectrum insecticide because it can kill beneficial insects, which helps control the populations.