Archive for Thursday, February 21, 2002

Watermelons with thick white mesocarps make the best pickles

February 21, 2002


I like to make watermelon-rind pickles, but modern watermelons have very thin rinds compared with the older varieties. What variety can I grow that will have thick rinds good for pickle-making?

Technically, the rind is just the thin skin of a watermelon. The white uneaten stuff that's good for pickling is part of what scientists call the mesocarp. But would anybody eat mesocarp pickles?

Todd Wehner, a horticultural scientist at North Carolina State University, suggests Charleston Gray and Jubilee varieties, which are old cultivars with thick white zones. Both will come true  that is, produce the same variety  if you save the seeds and plant them.

Larry Hollar, whose wholesale seed company in Colorado specializes in watermelons and similar vining fruits, was even keener on Congo for thick rinds.

The following companies list one or more of those three varieties in their catalogs: Willhite Seed of Texas, (800) 828-1840; Toscoga of Georgia, (888) 949-2818,;

Bunton Seed, (502) 584-0136, 939 E. Jefferson St., Louisville, Ky. 40206; Rispens Seeds of Illinois, (888) 874-0241; and Cooper Feed & Seed of Georgia, (877) 463-6697,

My four peach trees produce a lot of peaches, but when they begin to ripen they have rot spots and drop off the trees. What can I do to prevent this?

The problem is caused by a fungus known as brown rot. Brown rot does its worst damage where plum curculio weevils are not controlled. These pests mar the developing fruit and provide a convenient place for infections to start.

Control the curculio by spraying the trees with an orchard pesticide labeled specifically for plum curculio; apply the pesticide once when the buds first show pink color from the petals inside and again when the petals are falling from the flowers.

Hand-thin the fruits when they reach the size of marbles. Thinning fruit also reduces rotting by promoting good air movement and rapid drying. In spring, remove young fruits so that there is one every 6 inches or so on each fruiting branch.

Prune peach trees to keep the center of the tree open and allow sun and drying breezes to reach all the fruiting branches. All mummified fruit should be removed and destroyed in winter. During the growing season, disfigured or blemished fruits should be removed as they are noticed.

Even if you control the curculio, prune properly and thin the fruit, you might need to do some spraying to prevent brown rot. The fungicide is meant to be applied at the same time you treat for the weevil, and you can buy a combination orchard spray that controls both.

These two treatments help to prevent the disease through the spring and early summer, but as the fruit develops color and begins to ripen it becomes very susceptible. Additional spraying at this time is a good idea, particularly if the weather is warm and rainy or humid.

Although many fungicides are labeled for brown rot, care must be taken to follow the label directions to discontinue spraying for the prescribed preharvest period. The active ingredient myclobutanil, found in a product called Immunox, is labeled for use closer to harvest than most other fungicides.

Two years ago, I purchased a rose variety named Bewitched from a Northern Virginia nursery. A few weeks later, I visited the nursery again but was told that they had discontinued it. Three months ago, I ordered one by mail but it arrived dead.

Bewitched is a hybrid tea rose, medium pink in color and valued for holding its moderately fragrant blooms in hot climates. Ask your favorite nursery to order it for you. Call now before it places its orders to plant wholesalers.

Another option is to try the mail-order route again. Rose bushes shipped in early spring by a reputable company should not be a problem. If you have Internet access, go to Use the search feature to find mail-order nurseries that supply this rose. You can find other favorite rose varieties this way too.

Could you please tell me when to prune my holly bushes? Two years ago I pruned them, but I can't remember what month it was. The result was no berries.

Here's the problem. Your holly is in the wrong space if it requires pruning every two years. You will never get a good berry crop.

I bet you have a Burford Chinese holly, which makes a huge, round shrub. The "dwarf" version can hit 10 feet, though it is supposed to stay shorter. But it grows famously fast and nothing can top its berries, not even the current queen of hollydom, Nellie R. Stevens. The non-dwarf Burford can grow 20 feet tall at maturity, but it's not seen too much anymore.

Hollies bloom in spring on wood that grew the previous year. If you cut that off now, you will get no blooms and thus no berries later in the year.

You could do some strategic thinning now, selecting a third or so of the stems to bring down to size. The new growth that's left will produce flowers and berries. The newly pruned stems will produce wood to bloom and bear fruit next year.

This will still not solve the space problem. A plant that requires pruning every other year to keep it in the allotted space was an error at planting time. Consider planting a holly for berry production in another place, where it can grow and bloom with a minimum of pruning.

When is the best time to prune and fertilize crape myrtles? We have three that had lots of buds last summer but they never actually bloomed much. The seed pods are still there; should I remove them?

Powdery mildew fungus is a common reason for buds of crape myrtle not to open. Gardeners often think of it as a leaf disease, but it also will affect the buds, causing them not to open.

Stay on the lookout for it after the leaves come out this spring. Then spray the tree with a fungicide. Bayleton (read and follow the directions and schedule exactly) is one of the top choices to fight powdery mildew.

Fertilize your crape myrtles in March. Trim off those bad buds now. Thinning out your tree's canopy a bit may help improve air circulation through the canopy and let in sunlight to dry off the leaves faster and reduce the opportunity for this fungus to take hold.

Should mondo grass be trimmed back in late winter like monkey grass?

Yes. Mondo grass tends to look less tattered by the weather than does monkey grass, so it may not require trimming every year. Mondo is a better-looking ground cover; its leaves are slimmer and more graceful than monkey grass.

If your mondo grass has been growing quite a few years and is well established, give it a mow before it starts growing. If it is young and the leaves don't look weather-beaten, let it be for another year.

My brother-in-law gave me some bulbs for Christmas. Now that the ground is frozen, what should I do? Is the freezer too harsh?

The freezer is a bad idea. The bulbs need to be in a position to grow. Here's a tip from broadcaster Herb Clarke:

Buy two or three large bags of commercial topsoil or potting soil and acquire an equal amount of mulch (shredded bark, home compost, etc.). Put the bulbs directly on the ground where you want them to grow, in a relatively tight clump. Put the soil on top of the bulbs to cover by 4 inches. Put a 4-inch layer of mulch on top. Water thoroughly.

If it's a windy site, place a few cut evergreen branches around the raised bed to keep it from disintegrating. After the bulbs bloom, plant in a permanent location, keeping as much of the foliage as possible attached.

I had a tree taken down in my yard and asked the tree company to leave me a large pile of ground-up chippings to use as mulch on my garden beds. But I also heard that fresh mulch shouldn't be used because it can leach nitrogen or something like that. Do I need to treat the soil first? Or can I just go ahead and spread the tree chippings without worry?

Wood chips consist almost entirely of carbohydrates. The microorganisms that feed on them and cause them to rot cannot get the nitrogen they need from the wood, so they literally suck it out of the adjoining soil.

For that reason, you should never use wood chips on flower beds where they will get mixed up with the earth and deplete it.

Wood chips are fine for paths, and can be used too for certain berry plants  blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, for example, which do not need a lot of nitrogen.

Thin layers of chips also can be added to shrub beds and around trees. However, whenever you do this, first scatter a little balanced fertilizer around the plants.

It is best if you can allow chips to decay before spreading so that most of those greedy little bugs have come and gone before the pile is used as a mulch.

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