Question: I was told to set out my tomato and cucumber plants on a cloudy day. Why?
Answer: Some people like to do this if possible because it gives the tomato plants a little more time to become acclimated to harsher outdoor conditions such as a full day of wind and burning sun. Moving a plant that has spent its entire life in the windless, humid atmosphere of a greenhouse to the outdoors can quickly lead to windburn, sunburn and even death.
Some nurseries will harden off tomatoes and some other vegetable plants by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions before they are sold. These hardened-off plants will be better adapted for the move into the garden. However, because they are not usually as green and lush as their hothouse counterparts, some people pass them by even though they are more likely to thrive.
Whenever you have the opportunity to set them out, you should shade tender vegetable plants with branches of shrubs and trees (properly pruned of course), newspapers or commercial hotcaps until the plants are acclimated to the wind and sun. You should also water your tomato plants thoroughly when you set them out and monitor them every day until they become established.
Q: Please help me identify a tree in my neighborhood. It is small, sort of like a flowering dogwood, but the bark is smoother and the overall tree is looser. The flowers are whiter than a dogwood and hang down from the stems. They look sort of like the flowers of mock orange. Any ideas?
A: It sounds like one of the silverbells, perhaps Carolina silverbell (Halesia tetraptera, formerly known as Halesia carolina) or the two-winged silverbell (Halesia diptera). Those are the two species most commonly seen and sold. Silverbells are native to areas of the eastern United States and bloom in mid spring. They prefer moist, well-drained soil and semi-shade.
Silverbells are not planted as often as they deserve to be. They can be more difficult to find than some other trees but are worth searching for. In the landscape they combine well with numerous trees and shrubs including rhododendrons, mountain laurel, native azaleas, fringe tree/grancy graybeard, sarvis/serviceberry, flowering dogwoods and pieris.
Q: What are catkins?
A: Catkins are thin, cylindrical flower clusters that are usually inconspicuous because they have no petals. They are usually wind pollinated. Numerous species of plants have flowers that are catkins including pecans, oaks and willows.
Usually, as in the case of the familiar pecan tree, the catkins are the male (staminate) flowers and the female (pistillate) flowers are at the tips of the branches. Both are needed to produce nuts.
If you have questions about agriculture, horticulture, food safety or services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit the department’s website at www.agr.georgia.gov.