If all these flowers became apples they’d be tiny and unfit for sale. PGR’s are used to both thin the buds and the emerging apples so the few that remain grow into large, salable fruits. There are both chemical and organic PGRs in use.
A catbird aims and lies in wait as it watches an intended insect meal a dozen feet away on the lawn. ANDREW MESSINGER
Sevin, or carbaryl, is a pesticide that is highly toxic to bees and yet it’s still used as a chemical thinner in many commercial (traditional) fruit orchards. ANDREW MESSINGER
When we buy our garden plants, be it annuals or perennials, we want to know what color their flowers are, when they bloom, and what their habit is. Habit refers to size and shape, in terms of branching and compactness.
Plant labels often give us the most basic of information, and if it’s a branded plant like Prove Winners you can go online to their site and get more detailed information. If you want even more details, you can go to a website like Dave’s Garden and look up the plant to see what other gardeners have to say about it and about its performance over time.
To ensure that plants have certain habits, growers can choose plants that have certain naturally occurring genetic traits. Those traits can also be manipulated through breeding, natural mutations, or induced mutations or genetic manipulation. But one of the most common forms of controlling plants is through the use of PGRs, or plant growth regulators.
PGRs are often sprayed on the plants or introduced into their irrigation water during production at the greenhouse or nursery. The results can be plants that are more compact and/or more heavily branched. Essentially, more appealing — and maybe even more functional.
Now, on annuals, this really isn’t a big thing, because you essentially get what you see or what you paid for, and for the most part the plant will maintain the branching habit or compact habit throughout the growing season, and after the first frost it’s gone and done with.
With perennials, however, it’s much more complicated. What you see may not always be exactly what you get.
Let’s take Plantus unknownus as an example. It’s a true herbaceous perennial with large red flowers that begin to open in late August. In the garden center, however, it’s flowering in all its glory in July. And while you had read that it grows to 30 inches tall, the ones you’re seeing are 24 inches tall, and it seems to have many more branches than you’d seen in the pictures or in your friend’s garden last summer.
This Plantus unknownus was probably shipped to the grower as a bare root or starter plug in March or April and started in a greenhouse much earlier than it would begin to emerge in the garden. So, in order to have this plant ready for sale at the garden center, it’s got to be ready when there’s lots of garden center traffic. That’s May, June and early July. But if it flowers in August, how can it be profitably sold earlier?
Ah, maybe PGRs?
If the plant receives a PGR application or two at the wholesale grower, or even the stock nursery where it gets propagated, the plant will stay short, possibly branch and stay more compact, and even flower more and earlier than normal.
Well, then, how do you know if your Plantus unknownus was given a PGR? You don’t. The problem is the following year, when the plant may be taller, have fewer blooms and not be as well branched as what you saw in the magazine or at the garden center.
The solution? Make sure you know what the “mature” habit is of the particular plant you’re buying — and don’t buy based on what you see at the garden center or nursery.
PGRs also are used to enhance or reduce flowering on fruit trees and commercially produced vegetables. The pesticide Sevin, or carbaryl, was widely used as an apple thinner in commercial orchards for years in spite of its extreme toxicity to bees. While Sevin use for this purpose has been reduced, it has not been eliminated.
And, before you go bonkers: Yes, there are organic and “natural” PGRs that are and can be used on a number of crops.
Birds can be a wonderful asset in the garden and landscape.
These days, I’m watching robins busily hunting to feed their broods. A tiny house wren does battle with a large green caterpillar, which it eventually eats, and a pair of catbirds has been patrolling my property for weeks, ferreting out all kinds of bugs I’m happy to have gone.
But some plants, like apples, peaches and blueberries, can need protection from birds that like to dine on fruit. Cedar waxwings are one culprit, but so are crows, blue jays and others. Think netting or a berry house for protection.
One thing to watch for later in the summer are crows gathering in one spot and pecking at the lawn, seemingly ripping it up. This is usually a sign that grubs are present and feeding on the grass plants’ roots.
I’ve received a good deal of email in the past month from folks who are home a lot more and doing much more gardening. As a result, they are paying much more attention, observing much more about what’s going on in their gardens and landscapes — and, yes, complaining about problems.
Most of the issues are in the vegetable garden. It seems that many of you gardened when you were younger, with your parents, or this is your first foray into the challenging mysteries of dirt (soil), seeds, insects, diseases, and, yes, failures.
Yes, of course I have advice. Relax, learn from your mistakes, and make this year the year that makes everything better next year. Don’t give up and don’t give in to frustration.
Remember that garden centers sell vegetable plants that are in wide demand, and what you find locally represents only a fraction of what you can actually grow. In fact, by growing more of your own plants from seeds, you can avoid many of the disease (which includes virus) problems that can go rampant.
Seed catalogs, the good ones, are just incredible sources of fantastic information on what to plant, when to plant and what resistance a particular variety has over others. Also, keep in mind that while we often go back to heirlooms for their legendary taste, there are good reasons why many of them have fallen out of favor.
Make your experiences ones to learn from — and, of course, keep growing!
To see what’s new, click “Start the Tour” to take a tour.
We welcome your feedback. Please click the
“contact/advertise” link in the menu bar to email us.
One fine body…