Time to plant cool-season vegetables

We’re new to the valley. When do we plant our vegetable garden around here?

— Scott

The answer is “it depends!” I divide vegetables into two groups: cool-season plants and warm-season plants. The cool-season plants are things like the leaf crops (lettuce, spinach, chard, greens, etc.), root crops (potatoes, onions, carrots, radishes, turnips, etc.), cole crops (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) and peas. It’s time NOW to plant these guys. You see, these plants generally don’t do well in hot weather. Many people are disappointed with their broccoli or lettuce when it sends up flowers and turns bitter. This happens because the plant was planted too late. Warm weather triggers these guys to bloom. Starting them early allows the plant time to grow and mature before it gets hot.

When I used to have a garden (yes, I’m getting fat and lazy in my old age), I seeded most of these things around the first of February. You don’t have to be that early, but don’t wait until April to put them in. And you don’t have to worry about frost either. These guys are surprisingly hardy. I’ve had little 2-inch lettuce and spinach seedlings survive 15 degrees just fine!

The warm-season crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash, melon, cucumbers, beans and corn should wait until we’re past danger of frost. These guys won’t tolerate any frost and just love our hot summers! Figure on putting them in any time from the end of April through May. Hope this all helps.

The leaves and branches of my poinsettia are sticky. What is wrong with it and how do I fix it?

— Irene

When a plant gets sticky leaves and stems (at least when it’s not supposed to be sticky), that’s a pretty good indication that you have some sort of piercing-sucking insect on the plant. These are things like aphids, scale and mealybug.

Actually, all three of these insects can occur on poinsettias. Aphids are small, pear-shaped insects that will usually congregate at the tips of stems. Scales really don’t look like insects at all. They’re usually small brown (sometimes black, gray, or white) hard shelled “bumps” on the leaves and stems of the plant. Since they don’t really look much like a bug, they can be hard to spot for most people. Mealybugs look like small little tufts of white cottony fluff stuck in nooks and crannies on the plant. These insects suck the sap of the plant, weakening it as well as causing other problems like distorted growth, decreased flowering or reduced growth and vigor.

This group of insects will also secrete a clear, syrupy liquid called honeydew. This is what that sticky stuff you’re seeing is all about. Honeydew is partially digested plant sap. There are a number of different treatment options you have to choose from and many spray insecticides will do the job. Of the three, aphids are generally the easiest to control. Sprays with insecticidal soap, a summer weight oil, malathion, or imidacloprid will do a good job. The soap, oil and malathion are all contact insecticides, so you have to spray the plant completely to get good control. The imidacloprid works as a contact insecticide as well as a systemic, so while good complete coverage is very helpful, it’s not a must with it. One or two sprays should do the trick.

The scales and mealybug are tougher problems to solve. You can use the same insecticides as with the aphids, but I’d probably lean more towards the systemic. The hard shell of the scale and the waxy, cottony fluff of the mealybug repel the spray and tend to protect the insect from it. A systemic will absorb into the leaf of the plant and these guys will get a dose of it when they suck the sap out. There are other systemic insecticides out there, but I’ve found that they can have a tendency to burn your plants. I think imidacloprid is really the best one we have available.

You’ll need to treat the plant several times to get control of the problem. I’d be spraying once a week or so for the next month. As soon as the weather warms up enough, move the poinsettia outdoors, it will be easier to spray the plant without making a mess. Plus the insects tend to thrive more in the warm, protected environment they have inside the house.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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