Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

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To-MAY-to or To-MAH-to?

Blossom end rot on tomato. Maintain consistent moisture, try mulching tomatoes first. Don’t reach for the Epsom salts.

Whether you pronounce it to-MAY-to or to-MAH-to, either way you say it they are both delicious.  Tomatoes are grown in over 86 percent of home gardens in the United States, but there are many common diseases and problems that can plague tomatoes.  With a little help, you can keep your tomatoes in tip top shape.

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Mother’s Day and Veggies?


A few frost tolerant plants in a container.

Mother’s Day has come and gone and you know what that means.  No, it is not time to stop being nice to Mom, it’s time to start planting those tender vegetable crops in your garden.  Knowing what, when, and how to plant can offer many rewards in the long run. Continue reading

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Selecting Plants Made Easier with AAS

Seed and plant catalogs have started piling up on excited gardener’s tables everywhere. Thumbing through the catalog, how do you know which of the latest and greatest plants are really good and which ones are duds? There is someone who has already taken on that difficult task for us.


All-America Selections have done the dirty work for you.

One organization was founded to truly help make the difficult task of making selections easier. All-America Selections (AAS) is a non-profit organization that tests new plant varieties across the nation and lets home gardeners know which new cultivars are truly improved. They test new, unsold cultivars then pick out the outstanding plants. The first AAS winners in 1932 were announced a year later, after the results were tabulated from the first trial. Today the winning plants must still follow a strict set of criteria, but they are available for sale the year they are announced as the AAS winners, so the 2016 winners are available in 2016. Continue reading

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The Perfectly Picked Poinsettia



Thanksgiving has come and gone and now it is time to decorate for the holidays. No holiday decorating would be complete without poinsettias in the house. These plants are a part of most holiday traditions, but do you know what it takes to pick out the best one and makes it last long into the new year? Continue reading

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Fall Garden Clean Up

The presence of frost usually means that your vegetable garden is either limping toward the finish line or has completed production for the year. Fall is the pgarden cleanuperfect time to clean up the vegetable garden and its tools to prepare them for next year. Continue reading

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Never say never…

I had never been a fan of Brussels sprouts. The only ones I had growing up were bitter, mushy, frozen balls of nasty (can you tell just how much I didn’t like them). I grew up in a house where you took as many bites of a vegetable for every year old you were, Brussels sprout days were really rough.

Enough about my childhood, fast forward to this spring. While shopping for transplants for our garden, there where the dreaded sprouts in the nursery. I let our 2 year old son help me pick out what veges we would grow in our garden and you guessed it, he picked the Brussels sprouts.

Not wanting to dash his dreams of growing the veges he picked out, we got the sprouts. I feel that it is important for my child to grow the vegetables we eat so he can make the connection between the garden and what is on his plate… SO we got the Brussels sprouts.

In terms of vegetables, they are one of the easiest ones I have grown. The only issue we had were the cabbage worms, which were fairly easy to control.

I was told the key to Brussels sprouts was to wait until after the first frost before picking the tiny cabbages. After our first frost, we picked a few sprouts.

The good news about these vegetables is that they can handle the cool temperature until it drops into the 20’s , extending the harvest.

With the impending polar vortex and drop in temperatures, the time had come to harvest the plants.

I removed the sprouts from the stalks, took off the outer leaves, then placed the sprouts in salted water. This is just in case I wasn’t as good at cabbage worm control as I thought.

I consider our Brussels sprout experiment a success. My son might not love them yet, but I have to say they are not as bad as I previously thought. I am having fun trying the sprouts in different recipes.

So never count any vegetables out, and never say never.


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Don’t Forget the Fruit

Apple tree.  Photo courtesy

Apple tree. Photo courtesy

You know the saying; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Even though apple and other fall fruit harvest is nearing its end, that doesn’t mean that the work is over. Fall sanitation is a key part of fruit management. A little extra work now could ensure a successful growing season next year.

Make sure your fruit trees are ready for the winter to come. Start by making sure that your tree goes into winter with an adequate amount of moisture. The recommendation for trees is to have about 1” of supplemental water per week. This is about enough water to get the top 8” of the soil moist. Fruit trees do not require much fertilization, especially in the fall. As long as the fruit tree is planted in a healthy soil, it will not require fertilization. In the fall we want trees to go dormant, not produce more growth, which is why we avoid fertilizing trees in the fall.

Fruit trees can benefit from good fall sanitation. Healthy fallen fruits or leaves can be collected and placed in the compost pile. Removal of rotting dropped fruit as well as diseased fruit and leaves will help decrease the potential for pathogens to infect next year’s crop. Fruit mummies, dried fruits that remained on the branch, and diseased fruits and leaves should be picked up and thrown away, not put into the compost pile or worked into the soil. Branches that were infected with fire blight and other bacterial or fungal cankers should be removed and disposed of as well.

Protect your fruit trees now for pesky critters. Mow the grass under the tree and as close to the trunk as you can get without causing damage. This will remove good overwintering sites for rodents. Also, be on the lookout for rodent paths or holes where they burrow and use the desired form of control. Before the ground freezes, consider protecting the tree as well. A well-constructed rabbit fence will help to protect smaller trees from becoming a bunny’s next meal. Be sure that the fence is not only 15-18” tall, just in case we get snow, but it also should be buried in the ground 6” to keep the rascals from trying to dig under.

Strawberries could also benefit from a little care before winter. Thinning plants, providing adequate moisture throughout the fall, and mulching in late fall are all important fall care practices. Thin strawberry plants in mid-October and aim for a spacing of five to seven plants per square foot to help allow optimum fruit production the following year. Remove small and weak plants as well as any new runners or daughter plants that have not rooted down yet.

Mulching strawberry plants is another good practice to use. Winter mulch will help prevent or reduce winter damage to the crowns and flower buds of the plants. Wait to mulch strawberries until late November or early December, after the soil has frozen at a depth of ½ an inch or the airtime temperatures have dropped into the 20’s. Mulch applied too early in the fall can delay hardening off, which can lead to the plants being more susceptible to winter injury and possibly crown rot. Mulches that work well for strawberries can include wood chips, pine straw, newspapers, coarse sawdust, clean straw or hay, or any loose mulch that will not compact heavily. Leave the mulch on the plants until the new growth begins, usually in mid-April.

There are a few steps you can take to decrease the spread of pathogens. Machinery and tools should be disinfected on a regular basis and when they come into contact with infected plant material. Steam, hot water under pressure, or a 10% bleach solution can be used to disinfect. Before and after pruning out diseased branches, disinfect pruners and loppers to keep from spreading diseases.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

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Sneaky Squash

Early frost in my area meant that the winter squash vines died before the fruits were completely ripe. Winter squash is ripe when the skin can not be punctured with your thumbnail. The squash are perfectly fine to eat, they just wouldn’t have as long as a shelf life as I would liked.

Last night I roasted one of these squashes in the oven. My son was having noodles for supper, so I decided to sneak in some squash. I am not an accomplished chef by any means, but I think the resulting squash bechamel turned out pretty tasty!

It almost looks like Mac and cheese!

That got me wondering about the many uses of this versatile ingredient.

How do you like your squash?


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Impatiens Downy Mildew

Impatiens with downy mildew

Impatiens with downy mildew

Did your once gorgeous flowering impatiens turn into bare looking sticks by the end of the summer? If so you are not alone. Impatiens downy mildew is a fungal-like infection that has been reported across the state this year. Find out more about this disease, how it spreads, and what you can do in the future to prevent another infection.

The symptoms of the infections aren’t as easy to spot as you might think. The first symptoms are leaves starting to appear light yellow or stippled yellow and green. The leaf edges begin to curl downward and appear to be wilted. The tell-tale sign is the fluffy white growth on the underside of the leaves. Often these symptoms are over-looked until the plant begins to lose its blooms and leaves, leaving bare stems. Eventually, the entire stems will begin to collapse and turn soft and mushy. All varieties and hybrids of Impatiens walleriana, common bedding plant impatiens, are susceptible to impatiens downy mildew. New Guinea impatiens, Impatiens hawkerii, are highly resistant as are other bedding plants in different genera that aren’t related to impatiens.

Underside of the leaf. Photo courtesy

Underside of the leaf. Photo courtesy

The development of impatiens downy mildew is highly influenced by the weather. Wet foliage, cool night temperatures, and moist air all contribute to ideal conditions for this disease development. Plants in heavily shaded locations where the leaves stay wet for extended periods of time will tend to have higher incidence and severity of this disease because moisture promotes infection. Impatiens downy mildew tends to be worse in locations where leaves stay wet for extended periods of time, beds that are densely planted, or in beds that receive overhead sprinkler irrigation, due to the leaves not being able to dry quickly.

It takes perfect environmental conditions for this disease to take hold. The pathogen can be introduced into a garden on infected transplants that aren’t yet showing the symptoms. Additionally, impatiens that are planted into beds that were infected the previous year may also become infected. A close cousin to the pathogen that causes impatiens downy mildew has been found to survive for 8-10 years in the soil.

Impatiens downy mildew can spread throughout the landscape. The pathogen produces spore-like structures called sporangia on the lower surface of the leaves of infected plants. These structures can be splashed short distances or become airborne and travel long distances on moist air currents and spread the infection. It only takes about four hours of a wet leaf surface for sporangia to form. Under hot, dry conditions, infected plants may not show symptoms of disease and produce sporangia on the lower leaf surface.

There are several management approaches for the landscape beds. Avoid planting Impatiens walleriana in those beds that had plants infected this past year. Consider alternative plants in those areas like coleus, caladium, begonia, or New Guinea impatiens. In beds with no history of impatiens downy mildew, I. walleriana can be planted, but take care to inspect and select disease free plants. Once a plant is infected, there isn’t a cure and it should be removed from the landscape. Also pick up any fallen leaves or blooms and consider removing neighboring plants. At the end of the growing season, completely remove all plant material to prevent the pathogen from overwintering.

Changing cultural practices can also help prevent this disease. If possible, reduce the amount of moisture and humidity that the plants are getting. Aim to water the plants in the early morning and provide deep infrequent irrigation to reduce the amount of time the leaves are wet. Space plants out so that there is adequate air circulation between the plants.

Fungicide applications are another option. Most fungicides can help prevent infection, but there aren’t any that will cure the disease once the infection has occurred.

Don’t let impatiens downy mildew stop you from enjoying these shade-loving annuals. Take precautions to ensure this disease doesn’t take hold of your landscape. But if it does, be prepared to try other interesting annuals.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

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Weeds In the Garden: A Blessing or a Curse?



All things considered, it’s been a good year for the home gardener. No doubt some of you with gardens are being buried by the amount of produce. Before too long the zucchini fairy will start leaving ‘gifts’ on the door steps of neighbors and friends. The weeds are thriving just like the rest of the garden and we still have a long garden season ahead of us. Find out what you can do to keep your garden weed-free up until frost.

The biggest problems for most vegetable gardeners include bugs, diseases, weather, and most commonly, weeds. A weed by definition is a plant out of place. In the vegetable garden, that can mean any plant that isn’t eaten eventually. Proper identification of the plant ensures that you are removing the ‘weed’ and not pulling up the garden crop you worked so hard to get to grow. The best time to control weeds is when they are seedlings, but that doesn’t always happen. It is important not to let the weeds go to seed, which can make future weed problems worst in the long run. One shepherd’s purse plant can produce 38,500 seeds in a single growing season and one redroot pigweed can produce 117,400 tiny seeds in a year.

There are several methods that can be used in the war on weeds. Mechanical control, chemical control, and mulching are three common methods used to combat weeds in the vegetable garden. Mechanical control can mean a wide variety of methods, all of which manually disrupt the growth of the weed. Rotary hoes, wheel hoes, powered garden tillers can work in those areas between wide rows and those areas where weeds are winning the war. Hand pulling or using hand tools may be needed closer to the crop. Pulling early and pulling often is the motto for most vegetable gardeners when it comes to weeds. If the weeds have gotten away from you and they are starting to set seeds, more drastic measures may need to be taken…the lawn mower. Mow off the weeds before their seeds fully mature. Mowing short on a hot summer day is enough to set the weeds back enough to buy some time for you to try to regain control, or even kill them in some instances.

Carefully selected herbicides are another option for weed control in the vegetable garden. An early season choice for the vegetable garden would include preemergence products that contain trifluralin, like Preen Garden Weed Preventer, or corn gluten meal, like in Preen Vegetable Garden Organic Weed Preventer. These products keep the weed seeds from germinating, or sprouting. Use caution in areas where you want to direct seed garden crops as they can also keep your garden seeds from germinating as well.

Herbicide control on already emerged weeds can get be a little more risky. Some post emergence herbicides like those that contain 2,4-D can volatilize into the air and cause damage to sensitive crops like tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. If you do select a post emergent herbicide for the vegetable garden, be sure that the labeled for use in the garden and follow the label’s instructions.

Monitoring weeds before they get out of control is easier said than done. Watch for weeds, apply preemergence herbicides early in the season, scout throughout the season, and pull weeds often. If all else fails, just remember some weeds are edible making them a tasty addition to the garden.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website: