Less water, more squash

Garden Q&A

July 19, 2008|By Ellen Nibali and Jon Traunfeld | Ellen Nibali and Jon Traunfeld,Special to the Sun

Every time a baby squash starts to grow, it dies. I water the garden every day with a hose, but my squash still dry up. How can I stop this?

Most vegetable plants don't like wet foliage. Choanephora wet rot is a fungus encouraged by rainy years but also by watering overhead and too often. The fuzzy black or brown fungal growth occurs in squash (and pumpkin) blossoms, causing them to abort or, at the connection of the blossom to the young fruit, to wither.

Try watering at the base of the plants, only to supplement rainfall. Discard infected blossoms and fruit. Remove blossoms that stick to young fruit so the fungus can't get started on the fruit. At the end of the season, remove all plant residues.

Fertilizer is expensive, so I'm trying to figure out how to get nitrogen into my soil another way. Can you name ground covers or perennials that fix nitrogen but are not invasive?

Any plant in the pea family will fix nitrogen. A possible choice is sweet pea vines, which will sprawl and cover a slope or area. A nice native perennial is Baptisia australis, which comes in purple, white or yellow. Golden St. Johnswort (Hypericum frondosum) 'Sunburst' is a popular ground cover.

Robinia hispida is a shrub with pink panicles in the spring. It does sucker and will cover an area but is not low. Another nitrogen-fixer is Indigofera amblyantha or Pinkflower indigo, a small ornamental shrub.

Checklist

*Avoid drowning plants by supplementing rainfall as needed instead of watering on a rigid schedule.

*Sprinkle bread flour on vegetable plant leaves to discourage a number of pests.

Ellen Nibali, a horticulture consultant, works at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, and Jon Traunfeld is the director of the Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information. Call the center's help line at 800-342-2507 or e-mail plant and pest questions through the Send a Question feature at hgic.umd.edu.

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