The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - Sue Kit­tek

Q: This year I had no berries on my holly bush; I thought the rea­son was that the fe­male had been se­verely eaten by the deer (they did not touch my marigolds — thanks!). I men­tioned the lack of berries to friends who have no deer and they also re­ported no berries. Have you had other in­quiries about this?

— Sara Thomas

A: Holly gen­er­ally means English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) or a hy­brid such as Nel­lie R. Stevens. There is a na­tive holly, Amer­i­can Holly (I. opaca) but it is a de­cid­u­ous plant and doesn’t have the ev­er­green leaves and bright berries used in Christ­mas and win­ter dec­o­ra­tions.

Holly likes deep, well-drained soil with a neu­tral to slightly acid pH. It needs at least par­tial sun­light to pro­mote flower and berry for­ma­tion. Use an or­ganic mulch or ap­ply a slow-re­lease 5-10-10 fer­til­izer in late win­ter or early spring.

This plant is dioe­cious; there are male and fe­male plants. If you don’t have both, you don’t get flow­ers or berries. One male plant can fertilize sev­eral fe­male ones — ideally when lo­cated within 200 yards of the male. Plants usu­ally don’t bloom un­til they are be­tween 3 and 5 years old.

But Sara and her friends are hav­ing a prob­lem with plants that pre­vi­ously pro­duced berries, so what makes a plant stop pro­duc­ing berries?

The male plant pre­vi­ously pol­li­nat­ing the fe­male bushes has been re­moved, in­cor­rectly pruned or died.

Over-prun­ing or in­cor­rectly prun­ing plants can re­duce or elim­i­nate berries. Late prun­ing, in sum­mer or fall will re­move young buds. Prune in win­ter or early spring and leave some of last year’s growth on the plant each year.

Dry weather can af­fect holly. A sin­gle dry sea­son can cause the plant to shed flow­ers or berries to con­serve mois­ture. Con­versely, long-term drought also can elicit a flush of flow­ers and berries as the plant tries to pre­serve the species.

A late cold snap or frost can kill off the buds be­fore they bloom or the flow­ers be­fore they are pol­li­nated.

Cold or rainy weather dur­ing flow­er­ing can de­crease pol­li­na­tion since the in­sects are less likely to be out pol­li­nat­ing. Wind pol­li­na­tion also can be de­creased in bad weather.

An­i­mal brows­ing is al­ways a pos­si­bil­ity.

If ev­ery­thing is ideal. Good weather, sun­light, healthy plants and great fall weather can re­sult in early berry for­ma­tion. If you only check for berries in late fall or win­ter, you may have missed them — the birds may have al­ready eaten them.

Tomato blight

Q: Could you tell me how to elim­i­nate or at least con­trol tomato blight. I have had it for five years and it keeps get­ting worse.

— Glen Lar­gent, Quak­er­town

A: Glen doesn’t spec­ify which blight he is con­cerned about. Three ma­jor fun­gal prob­lems com­monly toma­toes in home gar­dens — Sep­to­ria Leaf Spot, Early Blight and Late Blight. All three are spore-borne, and most se­vere in wet weather. Sep­to­ria leaf spot af­fects the low­est leaves usu­ally af­ter the first fruit sets. Small dark spots ap­pear, en­large and the leaves yel­low and drop.

Early Blight also first af­fects the lower leaves, usu­ally af­ter the plant sets large amounts of fruit. It ap­pears as dark brown spots, of­ten with white or grey cen­ters. They turn black.

Con­cen­tric rings form bulls eyes and the sur­round­ing tis­sue turns yel­low, spread­ing to the en­tire leaf. Large sunken black spots can ap­pear on the fruit. Fruits of­ten drop be­fore ma­tur­ing.

Late Blight ap­pears as dark green to black, wet spots that spread from the leaf edge in­ward. In wet weather, downy, white-to-gray growth can ap­pear on the lower leaf sur­face near the edge of the spot. Spots will also ap­pear on the fruits, grey-green and wa­ter­soaked that en­large, turn brown and be­come firm with a rough sur­face. This blight spreads very quickly. So, although these dis­eases are dif­fer­ent, the meth­ods to avoid or de­crease prob­lems are very sim­i­lar. Ro­tate crops. Do not plant toma­toes where you pre­vi­ously planted toma­toes, po­ta­toes, egg­plants or pep­pers for at least three years. Re­move and de­stroy old tomato vines at the end of the sea­son. Use healthy trans­plants.

Re­move and dis­card badly dis­eased leaves and never work the plants when the leaves are wet.

Wa­ter at the base of the plant, never in the late af­ter­noon or evening. Keep the leaves dry.

Use fungi­cides be­fore the prob­lems ap­pear, ideally when first trans­planted or at first flow­er­ing.

Plant at in­ter­vals to avoid los­ing the en­tire crop in ad­di­tion to other sup­pres­sion meth­ods. Re­move vol­un­teer plants — they

may al­ready be in­fected.

Grow plants in full sun

with am­ple spac­ing and use stakes or cages to pre­vent con­tact with the ground and al­low the leaves ad­e­quate air cir­cu­la­tion to dry them out.

Use a mulch —com­posted leaves, star mulch or plas­tic to keep spores from splash­ing up from soil.

Cool wet weather and spores

blown in from other gar­dens may in­fect your plants despite your own pre­cau­tions.

Sue Kit­tek is a free­lance gar­den colum­nist, writer, and lec­turer. Send ques­tions to Gar­den Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Gar­den Keeper, The Morn­ing Call, P.O. Box 1260, Al­len­town, PA 18105.


The holly bush has male and fe­male plants. If you don’t have both, you don’t get flow­ers or berries.

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