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Garden Detective: Blossom end rot, staking an oak tree and stunted parsley

Blossom end rot is a disorder caused by

Blossom end rot is a disorder caused by a calcium deficiency. Credit: Jessica Damiano

DEAR JESSICA: This is a tomato my husband picked from the garden. Can you tell me what’s wrong and what we can do to help prevent this rot? — Doreen Mannanice, via email

DEAR DOREEN: That’s blossom end rot, a disorder caused by a calcium deficiency, which, in turn, is often caused by improper watering. The best defense is a good offense: Incorporate 2 cups of dolomitic lime per plant, 8 to 12 inches deep before planting. Then take care to water evenly and consistently throughout the season, providing 1 to 1 1/2 inches per week, adjusting for rainfall, if necessary.

Now that the disease has surfaced, however, all is not lost. Drench foliage with a liquid calcium spray such as Rot-Stop or Enz-Rot until it drips off. Calcium will be absorbed immediately, and future fruit should be rot-free.

DEAR JESSICA: My son has this beautiful flower growing outside his front porch in Connecticut. Neither he nor I know what it is. Perhaps you can tell me. — Nancy Pinto, Smithtown

DEAR NANCY: That’s the late-spring bloom of a mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). Depending on the variety — there are dozens — white or pink bell-shaped flowers bloom from late May through mid-June, just before summer begins. The broadleaf evergreen shrubs reach 4 to 10 feet tall and thrive in acidic soil.

Just don’t confuse them with culinary laurel — the bay leaf, which comes from the Laurus nobilis plant. All mountain laurel plant parts are poisonous.

DEAR JESSICA: I am an avid reader of your column and appreciate the tips. I now need some advice on how to save a young tree. My oak is about 5 years old and about 10 feet tall. It is growing very well. Unfortunately, it is growing top heavy and the top is bending over quite a bit. I am afraid it will snap or, worse, will not grow straight. I have heard you should not top off the center branch of a young tree. Any advice would be appreciated. — Bob Gordon, Mount Sinai

DEAR BOB: You are correct in that trees typically should not be topped, with the exception being in the case of two competing terminal leaders (main center trunks). In that case, the stronger one should be chosen and the other removed to stabilize the tree as it grows and prevent splitting in the future.

But in this case, your young tree has grown too tall, too fast, so its width cannot fully support its height. In other words, it's bending under its own weight.

I reached out to Nelson Sterner, director of Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River and a certified arborist, for an explanation and advice. “Sometimes nurseries grow them too close together, and they never develop a strong trunk because the top branches are forced to reach for light,” said Sterner, who is very familiar with the problem.

The tree needs to be staked. Sterner recommends using 1-inch electrical conduit, typically available in 10- and 20-foot lengths, as a stake. Buy a length tall enough to support the top of the tree and "pound [it] into the ground beside the tree," he said. Next, use tree wrap, a fabric- or paper-based material sold in spools, to straighten the top portion of the tree and secure it to the conduit.

"The tree should remain staked until it can support itself upright,” Sterner said, adding that this might take longer than a year.

I'm glad to see you removed grass from around the tree, but I recommend removing even more because oak roots grow underground far beyond their canopy. There should be at least 3 feet of cleared soil on all sides of the trunk. Fill the circle 3 inches deep with mulch, keeping it 3 inches away from the trunk.

Good luck!

DEAR READERS: Many of you have emailed and reached out to me on Facebook and Instagram with concerns about stunted parsley plants. My parsley, too, is struggling to thrive this year. I reached out to Meg McGrath, a Cornell University plant pathologist based in Riverhead who doesn’t believe there’s a disease afoot.

“The few common diseases of parsley (Septoria leaf spot and bacterial leaf spot) are not caused by pathogens that can move in air currents,” she said, adding that these diseases are caused by seed-borne pathogens. “So the only way [gardeners all over Long Island] would have the same disease is if they were gardening together or all got their plants from the same source." 

McGrath says her parsley has been yellowing, as well, and she has attributed that to a reaction to the heat. She surmises others could be experiencing the same response.

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