The Seasons of the Garden column shares seasonal gardening information and tips with MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers.
Seasonal Gardening: Gardeners vs. Joggers, Rose Disease and Live Christmas Trees
ACCORDING TO EXERCISING Expert Dr. Ronald LaPorte, flashy joggers often lose to slow-but-steady gardeners in the "race" to better physical fitness. Why? Because running workouts demand too much effort and commitment, resulting in a high dropout rate. The more moderate (and productive!) effort of gardening attracts and holds far more people. LaPorte figures that "The Victory Garden" is the best exercise show on TV and offers his own simple formula for health: "I'd like to give everyone a garden."
Exactly one year ago in this column, we briefly mentioned a disease called rose rosette that afflicts—and often kills—multiflora roses. (Symptoms include bright red stems and leaves, thick branches, bleached flowers and extra thorns.) Since then, we've received dozens of information requests from readers eager to use a little biological warfare on the pesky briar. Well, don't plan on "poxing" those plants just yet. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists, the disease can strike cultivated roses, as well.
Rosette was first noticed in 1941 on wild roses in the western U.S. and has since spread to much of the Midwest. The disease has attacked some cultivated roses in the Midwest, but apparently not in the West and Southwest. Why? No one knows. Researchers are trying to develop reliable techniques for limiting the spread of the disease (it is apparently transmitted by the mite Phyllocoptes fructiphilus ).
But for now, please don't attempt to import rosette into your area-the risk to cultivated roses is just too great. Rather, USDA scientists recommend that you remove any multiflora roses with rosette symptoms.
Seasonal Gardening Research Briefs
However, a foam chip is not a foam chip . . . McGill University researchers found that some white packing chips work well when added to potting mixes (for promoting aeration and drainage), but certain kinds can be toxic to plants. So use any foam chips on a trial basis at first, keeping an eye out for wilted or yellowed foliage.
Snowed-under Christmas trees. So you've decided on a live Christmas tree this year—but how will you keep it healthy until you can plant it next spring? If you live in the snow belt, take a tip from Canadian researchers: Just move the tree outdoors and cover it completely (not just the roots) with snow. A greenhouse or just-below-freezing chamber also works well.
No picnic for whiteflies. Want a durable yet very inexpensive way to trap those whiteflies that infest your indoor plants? Smear some petroleum jelly on both sides of a few yellow plastic picnic plates and hang them near the plants with string or wire.
Cool tropics. Experiments have shown that, contrary to popular advice, cool water (between 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 86 degrees Fahrenheit) is OK for irrigating tropical foliage plants. Cold (36 degrees Fahrenheit) water, though, does promote leaf dropping.
Arnold Schwarzenseed? Fact or folklore—do germinating seeds really exert enough force to crack sidewalks? No way, say Cornell experimenters. After testing nine kinds of vegetable seeds, they found that even snap beans, the mightiest of the lot, produced less than a pound of push per seed.
Kudos for Chemlawn! A year ago, the giant lawn care company quietly decided to stop using 2,4-D herbicide. Banning the controversial pesticide was reportedly "an expensive decision," but it has improved the company's insurance rates and ability to recruit new employees.
Bravo for Burpee! The largest mail-order company in the U.S. has withdrawn all woodland wildflowers and native ferns from its catalogues, to keep from selling plants collected from the wild. In the future, Burpee will sell only nursery-propagated plants.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Greg and Pat Williams raise most of their own food on a small farm and publish HortIdeas, a fine newsletter on gardening research and products (available for $10 a year from G. & P. Williams, Gravel Switch, KY).