Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

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Troubled Tomatoes?

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Tomatoes were once thought to be poisonous and were avoided at all cost.  Today tomatoes are grown in over 86 percent of home gardens in the United States.  This popular plant has many common diseases and problems that can plague it.  With a little help, you can keep your tomatoes in tip top shape.

Early blight is a common tomato disease.  It is caused by a soil-borne fungus.  Rain water, or overhead irrigation, can cause the soil and fungi to splash onto the lower leaves of the plant.  The infection starts as leaf spots on the lower leaves then causes yellowing then eventually causes the stems to turn brown.  The infection works its way up the plant causing the foliage to die.

There are ways to help prevent the spread of this fungal infection.  Some simple steps that you can take are, to avoid overhead irrigation and to mulch around the plants.  This will keep the soil-borne fungus from splashing onto the leaves.  Caging tomatoes is another good way to increase air flow and get the foliage off of the ground.  Be sure to sanitize your cages after each season, they can also harbor the fungal spores and infect the plants.  Crop rotation and planting resistant varieties will also decrease the fungal infections.  If you do notice some of the lower leaves starting to yellow, pick them off.  This can slow the spread of the fungus.  Severely infected plants can be removed, throw them in the trash not the compost pile to decrease the chance of infecting the pile.  Good fall sanitation practices are the final way to keep the spread of the fungus among us down to a manageable level.  Infections can be reduced or slowed with fungicides labeled for tomatoes.  The fungicide applications can be applied preventatively or they can be applied as soon as the symptoms appear on the lower leaves of the plant to slow the spread.  The applications should be repeated regularly, every 7 to 10 days, or whatever is recommended by the label.

Another issue that plagues tomatoes is blossom end rot.  Blossom end rot causes sunken brown or black lesions on the blossom end of developing tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, or peppers.  It is caused by a calcium deficiency in the fruit.  There is plenty of calcium in the soil, the plant grew so fast that it had to take the calcium that it was going to use in the fruit and use it in the foliage.  Over-fertilization and hot, windy weather are also causes of blossom end rot.  Preventing moisture stress is important to control blossom end rot, especially during fruit set and when the fruits are enlarging.  Mulching around tomato plants will help regulate the soil moisture throughout the season.  The foliar sprays of calcium or adding Epsom salts to the soil won’t correct blossom end rot and are not needed.  Remove infected fruits, the rotten part can be cut off and the rest of the fruit can be eaten if you wish.

Another common tomato problem is caused by neither a disease nor insect.  Tomato leaf roll is caused when tomato plants grow vigorously during mild, moist weather.  This causes the top to grow faster than the roots.  When the first hot days of summer arrive, the roots can’t keep up, and the leaves roll upward.  Tomato leaf roll can also occur after a heavy cultivation, a hard rain, or any sudden weather change.  Too much rain or irrigation can saturate the soil and suffocate roots.  Plant roots need oxygen and do not do well in heavily saturated soils.  Some ways to avoid this problem are to avoid deep hoeing too close to plants, mulch around plants to moderate soil moisture extremes, and water enough to keep the soil moist, but not water logged.  The good news is that leaf roll is temporary and the plant will grow out of it.

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in the home garden by far.  With a little help you can have the best looking tomatoes on the block, and eat them too.

Elizabeth Killinger is the Horticulture Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension in Hall County. For more information contact Elizabeth at, her blog at, or HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter.

Troubled Tomatoes? (PDF)


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Got A Lemony Lawn?

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Timely rains this year may have kept many from running their irrigation systems, but they could have also done much more than that.  Moisture has kept many lawns from going dormant and heavy rains are most likely the reason for many weeds in the turf and in some cases, its yellow appearance. Continue reading

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Wild About Wildflowers


Monarch feeding on joe-pye weed


A week devoted to wildflowers is just about as good as a holiday devoted to trees. While Arbor Day is a well-known holiday celebrated across the state, Nebraska Wildflower Week should be celebrated just as much.


Nebraska Wildflower weeks’ focus is on embracing wildflowers and native plants. The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum (NSA) coordinates Wildflower Week activities bringing together a list of entities that know the true value of wildflowers.  Wildflower Week events are planned across the state June 1-11. View the 2018 Nebraska Wildflower Week events statewide and resources here:

Wildflowers and native plants can be unique and interesting additions to the landscape. What is the difference between native plants and wildflowers?  The terms “native” and “wildflower” are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference.  Native plants in the Great Plains are generally described as those found growing in a defined area prior to European settlers.  Wildflowers are described as flowering plants that grow with little or no human help.  They can either be native or introduced, or brought in from other areas.  Both wildflowers and native plants work well in low maintenance areas and in sites that need hardy, drought tolerant plants.

“Wildflowers endure through hard times, lending beauty and brightness even to landscapes rarely seen by human eyes. Their flowers and seeds feed birds, butterflies and other wildlife; their roots loosen and improve soil; and they lend fragrance and beauty to wild places, making us want to take a closer look at places we might otherwise ignore.”  Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.

Elizabeth’s Top 5 Wildflower Picks of 2018:

Purple Prairie Clover, Dalea purpureum There are several species of Dalea, but this is a very common one.  In June the flower spikes are covered with tiny rose-purple colored flowers that work well as cut flowers.  The plants can get between 1-3 feet tall, prefer full sun, and well-drained soil.  The cultivar ‘Stephanie’ was bred right here in Nebraska.

Joe-pye Weed, Eupatorium purpureum– does very well in wet areas. The straight species can get up to 6 feet tall, but the cultivar ‘Little Joe’ gets only 3-4 foot tall.  The red-violet blooms are held above the foliage in July to September and are a butterfly magnet.

Evening Primrose, Oenothera species- These low growing plants work great near the edge of a bed or used to help to soften the end of a sidewalk. Bright yellow flower show up June through September and are followed by a unique winged seed pod.

Mexican Hat, Ratibida columnifera- This coneflower looks very similar to another native plant we have, upright prairie coneflower, except the petals are bright yellow and deep red. It is a ‘short lived’ perennial that prefers full sun and well drained soils.

Pussytoes, Antennaria species- The name describe the plant very well, the flowers look like little white or pink cat toes at the end of the flower stalk. While the flowers aren’t very showy, this is a tough-as-nails groundcover plant that works well in hot, dry locations.

This is just a sample of my favorites, but there are many more interesting wildflowers to learn about. More information about wildflowers can be found in a Nebraska Extension NebGuide, a University publication, ‘Wildflowers for the Home Landscape’.  Go to  and search for the keyword ‘wildflowers’.

Elizabeth Killinger is the Horticulture Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension in Hall County. For more information contact Elizabeth at, her blog at, or HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter.

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A Tree-mendous Investment


Trees grown in root producing containers

Spring is here which means that it’s a wonderful time to plant a tree.  There are lots of choices out there when it comes to selecting a tree.  Find out some tree selecting and planting tips to make sure your tree is a long-term investment. Continue reading

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Pruning Principles

Pruning yew

Pick the right equipment and make proper pruning cuts.

Pruning is a science, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating.  There are some pruning guidelines that act as a starting point that make pruning a bit easier.  Choosing the correct tools for the job will ensure success and a healthy plant.  Lastly, a little knowledge of the plant you are pruning will help in the process and give you wonderful looking plants. Continue reading