Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Ripe black tomatoes turn red at blossom end

Dear Helen: I’ve grown a black-fruited tomato for the first time this year and I’m not sure, because of the almost all-black colour, when the tomatoes are properly ripe.

A.M.

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As the fruits develop, really black tomatoes like Indigo Rose are green at the far (blossom) end. As they ripen, that part of the tomato turns red.

Dear Helen: Why would tan spots have appeared in my lawn last month? Is there a remedy?

C.H.

There is a condition that sometimes occurs in lawns called “brown patch.” It appears most commonly during summer when temperatures are warm and humidity is high. Your lawn developed the problem in July, which in recent summers has been a hot, dry month. This year was different. Humidity levels were high during most of July. I have certainly felt the difference this summer as gardening sessions have been much more sweaty endeavours than usual.

We cannot do anything about humidity levels in the air, but monitoring watering practices can help to prevent lawn problems. Try to avoid watering late in the day. Measure the amount of water applied. Lawns require only 2.5 cm of water applied just once or twice a week. Place a container on the lawn to measure the amount of water you are applying.

Too much water can lead to diseases. A water-soaked soil will also lack the aeration that the grass roots need to thrive. Over-fertilizing, especially with nitrogen, in spring and summer can also lead to lawn problems.

Dear Helen: Starting in late July I have woken each morning to find my lawn torn up during the night — I suspect by some nocturnal creatures such as raccoons rooting for grubs. I planted micro-clover in the lawn a few years ago and wonder why, after a decade living with this garden, the lawn should suddenly be attacked. I would like a non-toxic, non-harmful way to fix the problem.

K.M.

You are right. The damage you describe is done by raccoons, skunks, or crows digging for juicy morsels to eat. The beetles that lay the eggs that develop into fat grubs prefer pure grass lawns for their egg laying.

Lawns can be a sticky issue among gardeners. For some, nothing will do but a pristine, golf course type, all-grass lawn. Not a weed in sight. Just the kind of lawn that attracts beetle egg laying.

This is not to criticize that option. But there are interesting alternatives for those who choose not to expend the energy and resources needed to maintain a perfect turf.

You have already embarked upon an environmentally benign method of discouraging grub populations by seeding micro-clover to create a more bio-diverse and less appealing lawn for egg laying. It could be that you need now to consider making follow-up clover seedings in early fall or early spring.

More people each year are going an environmentally beneficial step further by seeding “pollinator” lawns like the Bee Turf blend from West Coast Seeds. It is a mix of clovers and low-growing wildflowers that offer habitat and forage for pollinators. This sort of flowering lawn is low-maintenance and unattractive to chafer beetles, as is a clover lawn.

Another option is to seed West Coast Seed’s Chafer Beetle Resistant Lawn Blend of micro-clover and tall fescue — a grass with less attraction than other types for chafer beetle egg laying.

Readers in the past have sent along various solutions for protecting lawns. Some arrange chicken wire over the grass. Others use netting. One wrote to say they eliminated the grub-seeking damage by covering the lawn with old tarps at night. The raccoons “did not attempt to walk on or go under the tarps.” And with the covering, “the lawn grew lush and thick without much watering. Previously, every morning there would be over two dozen new holes dug in the lawn.”

Obviously, such covering methods would be practical only on limited areas of lawn.

GARDEN EVENTS

Government House plants. The Plant Nursery at Government House, 1401 Rockland Ave., is holding its last three days of plant sales on Thursday, Tuesday, Aug. 27, and Thursday, Aug. 29, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The nursery is opposite the Tea Room. The extensive plant choices include the golden Choisya ‘Sundance’, feathery astilbes, small red Japanese maples, tough and showy heucheras (coral bells) as well as salvias, phlox, sedums and much more. Plenty of plants for sun and shade.

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