Gardening solutions: Heading problems off at the pass

Published 9:07 pm Friday, May 25, 2018

Many gardens are up, growing and looking great. This is the time to head early problems off at the pass. If you haven’t soil tested recently and fertilized according to the test recommendations, blossom end rot may be in your tomato’s future. Adding calcium to the soil so it is readily available for tomato roots to take up may help. 

If you are using liquid fertilizer on your tomatoes, Bob Westerfield, UGA vegetable garden specialist, recommends halving the recommendations on the container. Too much nitrogen will cause vegetative growth and siphon the available calcium from the fruit to the leaves, causing blossom end rot.

It may also be a good idea to treat your tomatoes with a fungicide to ward off disease such as early blight. Pinch off any leaves that start to turn yellow and mulch around the base to prevent soil splashing disease onto the leaves. 

Overwatering is a major cause of root disease. Water only once per week and deeply. A gallon or so per plant should be sufficient. If you are watering with a hand wand, time how long it takes to fill up a gallon bucket and use that time to determine how much you water. Water at the base of the plant. This prevents leaf disease. 

If you are using overhead watering, water in the early morning so the plants can dry off and reduce evaporation. Most plants need only one inch of water per week. Using a pie pan, time your irrigation system to deliver one inch. You can set a timer for half inch twice per week. More water than necessary encourages root rots. 

Check the leaves of your squash plants for egg masses. They are usually on the underside of the leaves. The best control is to squish them. This reduces the stink bug and squash bug populations.

The best time to control weeds is when they’re small, less than an inch in height. Mulching will help prevent weed growth and help build organic matter in the soil. If tilling to reduce weeds, only till less than two inches deep. Deeper tilling brings up more weed seed.

If insects are a problem, spray after 7 p.m. to prevent harming our pollinators. Early in the morning if you notice your tomato branches swaying and there is no discernible wind, suspect tomato horn worms. Look for a well-camouflaged green worm on the underside of the stem munching and crunching. 

The best prescription for your garden problems is your shadow. Keeping an eye out can head problems off at the pass.

Controlling fleas, how to make life more comfortable for pets

Fleas can be a source of intense irritation for both pets and their owners. Anyone who has pets has had to deal with fleas. Fleas are wingless insects that have the capacity to jump 7 inches vertically and 13 inches horizontally. This would be the equivalent of a human jumping 250 feet vertically and 450 feet horizontally. Not even our moon walkers could do that. 

For a creature about 1/16th of an inch long, fleas are the gold medal jumpers of the animal kingdom. These external parasites have mouthparts adapted for one purpose, piecing the skin and sucking blood. 

These agile insects are so tough that they can withstand the pressure of pinching between the fingers or scratching. 

Fleas — besides being extremely irritating by sucking blood and causing allergic reactions — can be vectors for diseases such as murine typhus, tularemia and the plague. The rats on ships infested with fleas transported the black plague from port to port and from country to country during the middle ages. 

Fleabites on pets may cause sores from constant scratching and biting. Fleas usually bite humans on the lower legs and elsewhere. A small, red, itchy spot surrounded by a halo is the usual sign. If you are highly sensitive to the bite, please see a doctor. 

Before you can control fleas, it’s important to know something about their lifecycle. Fleas have four life stages, egg, larva, pupa and adult. The adults only comprise 5 percent of all fleas.

The adult flea will spend its lifetime on the host animal, approximately two weeks in which it will lay up to 20 eggs per day which will drop off. For every flea you see on your pet, add 300 on them or in their environment. The eggs hatch and the larva feed on the flea droppings and organic matter in the carpet. The maggots are blind and avoid sunlight. 

It usually takes about two weeks for the maggots to develop into pupa. They can stay in the pupa stage for up to 200 days until the right conditions are present, warmth, vibration and carbon dioxide, just what you or your pet provides. 

This is why people can move into a new house and suddenly have a flea problem. Fleas love warm, moist areas: dog bedding, carpet, couches, under the porch and moist areas of the yard. 

So, how can we control these pesky parasites? You just can’t control just one aspect of the problem — you must attack them all simultaneously. 

First you vacuum the house and furniture thoroughly and wash the pet bedding in hot water to kill the eggs and larva. Make sure you put the vacuum bags in the trash immediately. 

Treat the fleas on the pets. There are several topical once per month treatments that are effective. Make sure you follow the label directions. Some products are safe on dogs and toxic to cats. Consult with your vet before giving a product to your pet, especially if they are young, nursing, pregnant, sick or old. 

There are effective flea and tick collars as well. Collars do not affect current population of fleas. Flea collars that contain imidacloprid and flumethrin are also very effective. Products that are effective tend to be expensive. 

Areas outside where pets may hang out, usually shaded, moist, areas, can be dusted with insecticides, but be aware if you have children playing outside. You may have to do repeat applications. Fleas do not hang out in the grass.

You may have to keep stray animals and wild life out of the yard as well. Flea control is an ongoing process. Persistence is the key.


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