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28 Apr 2018

Growing “Standard” Trees Perfect Plants For Balcony, Deck, Patio and Front Entry


Container gardening is very popular today, but it’s not new. People have been growing container plants for centuries, and there are favorites found in every culture.

One very popular “style” of growing container plants is using a shrubby or bush plant to create a “standard” tree.

To do this, you train a plant that has a natural shrub-like growth habit to grow as a small tree.

This technique is less intensive than creating a bonsai, but it has some of the same effects.

It allows you to enjoy a variety of plants in smaller, more contained settings, and it adds an element of art to your indoor, balcony and patio gardening.

In this article, we will explore the history of standard plants and provide advice on choosing and nurturing your standard creations. Read on to learn more.

Who Started The “Standard Tree” Tradition?

Unsurprisingly, this method of controlling and training ornamental plants began in Japan and China.

Because it is not as complex as keeping Bonsai, once “discovered” by western horticulturists, the practice quickly spread to France and England.

The small, symmetrical container trees became very popular as decorations for patios, terraces, foyers, and greenhouses.

Strictly ornamental trees and small fruit-bearing trees, such as dwarf orange trees, were popular choices.

Initially, keeping a standard tree was considered something of a status symbol. Only wealthy people kept these “exotic plants.”

However, it didn’t take long for everyday gardeners to pick up the technique and create their own attractive standard plants to adorn their entryways and outdoor seating areas.

Read More On Standard Trees

Which Plants Do Best As Standards?

Many types of plants will do well when trained as small trees. Here are five of the most popular choices:


Fuchsia is easy to grow and very luxuriant. You can start it as a cutting. Remember to take your cutting from one of the upright varieties as you will be training it to stand up straight.

Once you have a small, established fuchsia plant, begin training it using a stake. Your goal is to establish in strong, straight, upright stem.

To do this, you must prune and pinch back shoots and upstarts diligently throughout the first year. Keep only the topknot of growth which you wish to encourage.

When your plant has reached its desired height (during the second year) trim back the topknot and keep it trimmed to encourage more bushy growth.

Fuchsia plants grown as standard trees

Chrysanthemum frutescens

Chrysanthemum frutescens (Marguerite) is a small shrub. Treat it as you would a fuchsia.

You should top the tree out toward the end of summer by trimming and pinching back the topknot to encourage bushy growth.

In the coming spring you will see a dense ball of green foliage, which will soon be adorned with white flowers.


All sorts of roses do well as standards, but you must start with wild stock and then graft on the type of rose you want to display at the top.

You can begin your wild rose bush (Rosa canina is a good choice) in the ground for the first year. Choose the most promising stem and stake it to train it to grow straight and strong. Trim back all the competition.

Allow the rose to grow for a year, keeping all extraneous shoots trimmed back. At the end of the first year, the chosen stem should be about a half inch thick.

When this is the case, you can graft your chosen rose onto your wild base at the end of the summer.

To do this, graft one bud of the rose you want to grow under the bark of the wild rose at the height of approximately three feet. Bind it in place using a rubber band.


If you are keeping your rose tree outdoors, you must protect the graft during the winter months in colder climates.

More Preparing Roses For Winter

To do this, before the weather becomes too cold, dig a hole and a trench on one side of the plant.

You should remove the roots on that side and lay the plant down in the trench.

Cover it with leaves, a layer of soil and some peat moss to protect it from the cold.

When springtime comes, and all danger of frost has passed, uncover your tree and stand it back up. Trim back all wild rose shoots and stake the plant securely to continue training it to grow straight.

The rose bud you grafted onto the stem should begin to grow as the spring weather warms up. This grafted rose will make up the top of your rose tree, so care for it by pinching it back to encourage bushy growth.

With good, consistent care, you should see blooms in the first year. When winter approaches, take steps to winterize your plant to protect the graft just as you did the first year.

Dwarf Korean Lilac

Dwarf Korean Lilac plant can also be grafted to a standard and grown in very much the same way as a rose standard.

In small tree form, this plant makes an excellent patio feature or garden accent.

Coffee Tree

To grow a standard coffee tree, you must start with an established plant from a nursery. Look for a small plant that is no more than eight inches high. Pay close attention to the shape and growth habits of the plant. Remember that you need a strong, central stem to attain your goal of a taller, upright tree.

Coffee plants like very bright, indirect light. They do not like the blazing sun. Begin by setting your plant in a comfortable setting with plenty of nourishing (not punishing) light. Pinch off lower leaves and shoots and groom the plant regularly and diligently to discourage unwanted side growth.

Be sure to catch the emerging shoots while they are still young and tender. If you have to cut back thicker stems, the injuries will leave scars on the trunk of your tree.

Continue pinching and trimming back unwanted growth for a couple of years. Staking is not necessary with coffee plants. The strong, central stem should grow straight and tall naturally. At the end of two years, your mini-coffee tree will have shiny, attractive leaves and pretty coffee berries.

Other Good Choices For Standard Growing

  • Red Hawthorn
  • Dwarf Orange
  • Oleander
  • Camellia
  • Wisteria
  • Hibiscus
  • Lantana
  • Butterfly bush
  • Azalea
  • Broom
  • Myrtle
  • Laurel
  • Ficus

You can try this technique a with any type of shrubby plant. In this video, the presenter trains a lantana plant, which he says will live happily for several years as an attractive little tree.

Training Plants into Standards


How Do You Over-winter Container Standards?

One nice thing about this technique is that it allows you to enjoy non-hardy plants as attractive trees in your outdoor seating areas through the spring and summer and then continue to enjoy them indoors through the winter months.

Be sure to prepare your indoor garden area in advance so that you can quickly and efficiently move your tender plants indoors and get them settled before the first frost. For most plants, the main objective is to prevent freezing.

Your hardier plants may do well on a sun porch or in a bright room that is not excessively heated through the winter. They need plenty of light, sparse watering and no fertilizing through the winter months. This type of care will allow them to rest before spring arrives.

Naturally, if your plants are more tropical in nature you may want to keep them as houseplants in a heated environment with more intensive care during the winter months.

It’s a good idea to give your plants a good pruning before bringing them indoors for the winter. This helps them fit in better and look better while indoors. It also facilitates healthy growth when spring approaches.

As the days lengthen and weather warms up, begin watering your plants a little more and give them a feeding of water-soluble fertilizer that is appropriate for each plant.

When the weather is reliably warm, begin transitioning your plants outdoors. If they are on a sun porch with windows that can open, just open up and let some fresh air in on warmer days.

Once all danger of frost has passed, move them out to a shaded, sheltered area at first and then transition them to brighter more exposed areas if desired.

What Growing Container Type Is Best?

Finding the right container is a very important element of your success. You want a container that will provide proper support and anchoring for your plant as well as good aesthetic value.

Consider the ultimate size and weight of your plant and select a container with a diameter that will coincide with the “drip-line” of the tree. This should ensure that it provides a good, stable base that will prevent toppling.

As far as looks go, your pot should not be prettier than your plant. Choose a style that will bring out the best in the plant with colors that coordinate rather than competing.

Standard Plants Bring Easy Elegance To Your Outdoor Setting

Mastering the technique of creating standards is a great way to establish an elegant and interesting garden, even if you have very limited space.

Container gardeners with only a small porch or balcony can enjoy interesting, beautiful plants of all sorts with this artistic technique.

This provides many of the aesthetic elements of growing bonsai without the arduous, decades-long effort.


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22 Apr 2018

Top 5 Plants For Dyeing


Throughout history, gardeners have harvested plants for many reasons other than their herbal or culinary uses. In times when mankind had to rely on only what Mother Nature provided for them, plant parts were used to make necessary fibers, stuffing materials, textiles, paper, rope, and natural dyes. One plant could be harvested and its different parts used for a variety of purposes. Today, many gardeners are turning back to this “waste not, want not” concept of gardening and experimenting with different plant crafts.

Making natural dyes from plants is one such plant craft that is gaining popularity. Natural dyes are made from various plant parts, such as fruits and berries, flower heads, foliage and roots. Different parts of one plant can sometimes yield very different colored dyes. For example, the roots of a plant may produce a very red to pink colored dye, while the same plant’s blooms may produce a bright yellow dye. In the dyeing process, mordants (like baking soda, salt, lemon juice, cream of tar tar, alum, and vinegar) are used to set and develop the dye color. Different mordants can result in different dye shades. Different fabrics can also alter the end results of the color. For instance, it may turn out brighter on cotton or silk than on wool fabrics.

To make natural dyes, plant materials are crushed, finely ground or chopped and then boiled. The amount of plant material used and the length of boiling can also affect the dye color. While the dye is being made, the fabric is soaked in the selected mordant for about an hour, then rinsed with cold water and wrung out. The fabric to be dyed is then placed to soak in the strained dye mixture. Below are listed the top 5 plants for making natural dyes:

1. Dandelion – The blooms of dandelion produce a bright yellow dye. The roots are used with mordants to create a magenta to reddish colored dye, while the entire plant can be used to make orange to red to brown dyes.

2. St. John’s Wort – The flowers of St. John’s wort will make a yellow to orange dye that can develop to a more orange to red color with certain mordants. The fresh stems and roots of this plant are used to make a reddish brown dye.

3. Hollyhock – The blooms of hollyhocks of almost all colors will produce a dye of that particular color. The exception is black hollyhock flowers, which will produce a purple colored dye. Hollyhock leaves and stems can be used to make green dye.

4. Elderberry – The berries of elderberry are used to create blue, purple and gray dyes. Mordants such as vinegar, alum and cream of tar tar affect this color. Interestingly, the elderberry was used in Ancient Rome to make a black hair dye.

5. SumacSumac berries will produce different shades of purple dye when used with different mordants. Their leaves and flowers produce a yellow-green dye, while their roots will produce a red to orange colored dye.

There are many types of plants, probably growing right in your backyard, that can be used to make different colored dyes. Trying new natural dye recipes can be a fun and rewarding craft.


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16 Apr 2018

African Milk Tree Exotic and Sometimes Dangerous


African Milk Tree (Euphorbia trigona) is a tall, rugged, easy-care plant with thorns. It should come as no surprise that many people think of it as a cactus.

The fact is, this thorny succulent hails from West Africa where it grows wild in dense, thorny thickets. In its natural habitat, African Milk Tree (aka: Abyssinian Euphorbia) has a variety of landscaping and gardening uses.

Euphorbia trigona – African Milk Tree – potted in rustic containers – image via The Borrowed Nursery

In the United States and other areas, it is grown as an indoor plant and used as an attractive addition to cactus and succulent gardens in warmer areas. In this article, we will discuss the characteristics, care, and uses of this interesting plant. Read on to learn more.

Why Isn’t Euphorbia trigona A Cactus?

African Milk Tree is considered a succulent even though it’s called the “candelabra cactus” because it has leaves. Cacti (with the exception of Christmas and Easter Cactus) do not grow leaves.

The leaves of the African Milk plant are small and short-lived. They grow along the ridges that make up the corners of the plant’s rectangular stems. Thorns also emerge from these ridges.

The thorns grow in sets of two, and single leaves emerge from between them. When grown outdoors, the plant may produce small white or yellow flowers. Indoors, it is unlikely to bloom.

Why Is The Euphorbia trigona Called A “Milk Tree”?

The African Milk Tree is a member of the Euphorbaceae family. All of these plants exude a poisonous white sap when cut or broken.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep them out of the reach of kids and pets and to keep your skin and eyes well-protected when pruning, repotting or otherwise handling the plant.

The sap can cause serious skin and eye irritation on contact, as well as severe gastric distress if ingested. [source]

Is Euphorbia trigona Really A Tree?

These big succulents outdoors are tree-like. They can grow as high as nine feet, and grow in a characteristic “candelabra” shape giving them the appearance of a tree. It may also explain some of the plant‘s common names – Candelabra Euphorbia or Cathedral Cactus.

You can control the plant’s growth somewhat by cutting or breaking off stems, which you can plant in their own pots, using a light, sandy soil to grow more “trees” to share with friends.

Propagating Abyssinian Euphorbia

Propagation of this hardy succulent couldn’t be easier. Visually survey your plant before you begin and decide which new stems or sections you want to reduce.

Be sure to put on rubber gloves and protect your eyes with goggles, then just break or cut sections of the parent plant. Sections used for rooting should be about three or four inches in length.

Don’t Try This At Home!

In this video, an intrepid gardener shows a very daring way to take cuttings!

Although he experiences no mishaps, you can see that he puts himself in great danger of having sap drip from a very tall and vigorous plant onto his bare skin and into his eyes!

Making Candelabra Euphorbia Cuttings

Luckily, this operation turned out alright, but it’s easy to see that these plants produce copious amounts of potentially dangerous sap.

When you take cuttings, be sure to have a damp cloth on hand to wipe up weeping sap. Wear gloves, goggles and long sleeves, and be careful not to let the sap come in contact with your skin or eyes.

Once you’ve taken cuttings, lay them on paper towels, newspaper or some other disposable, absorbent material.

Allow the sections to dry out and harden off for a week in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight. After your cuttings have hardened off, plant them in an airy, sandy, well-draining soil mixture that is not too fertile.

You needn’t worry much about pH level as Euphorbia trigona grow in acidic, neutral or alkaline soil.

Water when you plant the cuttings, keep the soil lightly moist until signs of rooting and growth appear. At this point, you can reduce watering and begin treating the cutting as an adult plant.

How To Care For An Established African Milk Tree

Once established Euphorbia trigona is an easy-care plant. It’s best to provide lots of sunlight and/or artificial light. If you’ve grown Euphorbia milli (Crown of Thorns) you’ll do fine.

These plants can do very well (like Euphorbia milli Crown of Thorns) as houseplants year-round in medium light settings and normal household temperatures.

By gradually transitioning the plant to more sun you can enjoy the African milk tree in the great outdoors during the spring and summer.

Transition the plant gradually, so it acclimates to more sun, air movement and temperature fluctuations. Choose a sheltered area that gets filtered sunlight or part sunlight for potted and container plants.

If you live in a semi-tropical or desert area where temperatures will unlikely to drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and never freeze, plant Euphorbia trigona directly in the ground.

In this case, choose a fairly sheltered location that receives full sun or part shade.

If you need to move your Euphorbia trigona outdoors or repot as a container plant, it’s best to do so in the springtime. You can groom the parent plant and take cuttings while making the transfer. Remember to wear protective gear to prevent accidental stabbings and sap contact.

Grooming is easy with these plants. Just break or cut off stems that don’t seem to fit in. Remove any branch that protrudes and might break off accidentally as people walk past.

If accidental contact with sap does occur, be sure to wash well immediately to avoid irritation. If sap gets in eyes, it should be flushed out with running water, and a visit to the emergency room would not be overly dramatic. [source]

Water: Because these plants are succulents (not cacti) they do not tolerate complete drought. Keep the soil very lightly moist during the growing season (spring and summer).

If the top couple of inches of soil feel dry, a deep watering is in order. Just be sure the plant does not stand in water as this can lead to root rot.

Fertilizer: Provide a light feeding of balanced water-soluble fertilizer monthly during the spring and summer. Reduce watering and do not fertilize at all during the cooler months (fall and winter).

How To Deal With Common Pests and Disease

African Milk Tree is relatively hardy and resistant to disease and pest, as long as it is well-cared-for. Avoid waterlogging the soil and providing the plant with good sunlight and air circulation. This will go a long way toward preventing problems. Weakened plants may be susceptible to:


If you see cotton-like threads forming on the plant, wipe them off with a paper towel soaked in rubbing alcohol. If you have a massive infestation, wipe the mealybugs off and spray the plant with a natural insecticide, such as a Neem oil spray solution.

Plant Scale

Scale insects: These tiny insects are covered by a nearly impenetrable brown shield. This makes it difficult to remove them.

Like the mealybug wipe them off firmly with a paper towel soaked in rubbing alcohol. If this doesn’t work, scrape them off gently with a knife blade. A Neem oil solution can be used to assure they are gone and prevent their return.

Fungal Infection Cork Disease

Cork disease is a fungal infection. If you see patches of cork-like material on the stem, it is an indication of overwatering and/or soil that is too rich.

If you’ve kept cuttings and have replacement plants, you are best to dispose off of the diseased plant.

If you are dead-set on saving it, prune the plant with a very sharp, sterilized knife or shears to completely remove the damaged areas and dispose of them in the trash (not the compost heap).

Paint the cut areas with a plant fungicide. Repot the plant into a cactus soil and keep it in a consistently warm and airy location.

Reduce watering. You may not be able to save the plant, but keeping it dry, warm and well-ventilated will give it the best chance of survival.

Rot or Fusarium Wilt

Fusarium wilt and rot is another fungal infection that comes from the soil. If your plant displays soft, reddish patches around the base of the stem, suspect fusarium rot.

Most of the time, it is fatal and disposing of the plant, pot and all is the best solution. If you keep the container, be sure to sterilize it before using it again.

If you must save the plant, follow the steps outlined for cork disease. [source]

Hardy Euphorbia trigona is Virtually Problem-Free

All-in-all, caring for African Milk Plant is amazingly easy. Begin by choosing a healthy plant (or cutting) with no soft spots or signs of pests.

If you acquire a potted plant, check to be sure the root system holds the plant into the pot firmly. Make sure the plant has not been sitting in water.

If you begin with a well-cared-for plant and continue to provide it with well-draining soil that’s not too rich, lots of sunlight and an airy setting, it should grow well and provide you with lots of healthy cuttings for many years.


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10 Apr 2018

Smokey’s Garden Gift Certificate Giveaway


Daylilies are one of the most popular perennials in any flower garden, and it’s easy to see why.   They are beautiful, low maintenance and high reward.  This week (April 9 – April 11, 2018), enter to win a Smokey’s Gardens gift certificate and fill your flower garden with daylilies!  Two winners will score a $100 gift certificate and five winners will be awarded a $25 gift certificate!   Smokey’s Gardens is one of the largest daylily growers in the country and they ship nationwide! They grow over 3,000 varieties and five million plants on 70 acres in Coldwater, Michigan. A family-run company, they are dedicated to high quality, excellent customer service and great prices.

To enter, please do the following anytime from Monday April 9 through midnight Wednesday April 11:

  1. Go to the Gardening Know How Facebook page. Find the Smokey’s Gardens giveaway post pinned at the top of the page. Make a comment underneath this post with your answer to the following question: “Visit the Smokey’s Gardens website. Which Smokey’s Garden Daylily is your favorite?
  2. Share the Smokey’s Gardens giveaway Facebook post on your timeline.

The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified through Facebook. (See rules for more information.)

Receive 15% off your order at checkout with coupon code “Gardening”.  Promotion expires on 4/30/18.


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04 Apr 2018

How To Care, Grow And Use Tomatillos


The Tomatillo plant, an odd-looking distant tomato cousin and one of the essential ingredients in Mexican cuisine, especially recipes of green tomatillo salsa.

These wild growing central American natives and member of the nightshade family are commonly found in local markets. Fresh tomatillos boast a sweet citrusy flavor.

Growing tomatillos and tomatoes sound close in name and both have similar growing needs, but that is all.

Ripe tomatoes come with bright fleshy colors, the tomatillo (pronounced to-ma-TEE-yo) looks much different with a dry, papery husk surrounding the fruit. Hence the name – husk tomato.

Tomatillo Plant Quick Growing Guide:

Scientific Name: Physalis ixocarpa and Physalis philadelphica
Family: Solanaceae (Nightshade)
Origin: Mexico

Common Names: Large-flowered tomatillo, Mexican groundcherry, Mexican husk tomato, Mexican green tomato, Strawberry tomato, Tomato verde, Jamberberries, Miltomate

Uses: Slightly tart green or yellow fruits are staples in Central American and Mexican cooking. Used in green sauces, salsas, stews, and moles (mo-lehs). Very popular for use in preserves and jams. Very high pectin content that makes them perfect for this use.

Height: 2-4 feet
USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-11

Flowers: Tomatillos bloom in a number of colors including Pale green, Yellow, Purple, White. Some flowers have purple splotches in the center. Anthers may range in color from pale blue to deep purple. The plants are not self-pollinating, so two plants for good blossom and fruit production.

Fruit: Each fruit is encased in a papery husk which is not edible. The maturing fruit gradually fills the husk and may split it open just before harvest time. When the fruit is ready, the husk becomes brown. Ripe fruit may be green, yellow or purple depending upon the cultivar.

Foliage: The thick, dark green leaves have irregular indentations along the margins. Some leaves are smooth, and some are slightly furred.

Tomatillo Plant Care Requirements: Tomatillo plants do well with average, well-drained soil. These hardy, tropical natives like full sun. Before planting, amend the soil with a balanced, organic fertilizer. Space plants 2-3 feet all around to provide ample room for growth and spread. Sow seeds indoors late in the spring. Set seedlings out after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. Planting two seedlings per hole ensure good pollination.

Miscellaneous: Harvest tomatillos when the husks turn tan, and the ripe fruits begin to fall. Fresh fruits can be refrigerated for a couple of weeks. To keep them longer, remove the husks and freeze them whole. Wash them well before using as the husks tend to leave a sticky residue on the fruit.

Tomatillos may not produce much fruit until late in the season. If your fruits are not yet ripe before predicted cold weather, go ahead and harvest them anyway. Green fruits have a very tart, citrus flavor which many people prefer.

Tomatillos do well when planted alongside corn and sunflower plants.

In warm climates, they maybe self-seeding. [source]

Growing Mexican Green Tomatoes

These unusual plants can grow in a separate bed, a mixed garden or as container plants. As noted, it’s important to keep at least two of them close together since they are not self-pollinating and will not produce much (if any) fruit as individual specimen plants.

In the garden or a container, you need to give Mexican husk tomato plants plenty of room. Healthy plants can have a height and spread of three or four feet. This makes a pretty display with their interesting, fruits. A husk tomato border around your garden or a patio or deck can provide privacy, interest and good eating!

In warm areas (like Mexico) these plants grow year-round with an indeterminate growth habit. In colder climates, grow tomatillos as annuals and care for in the same way you would take care of tomatoes.

In very warm climates, they are self-seeding and/or you can sow the seed directly in the ground. In cooler climates, it’s best to start seeds indoors six or eight weeks before you plan to plant them outdoors. Be sure to harden seedlings off carefully to prevent shock and plant loss.

Begin by putting the young plants in a protected, shady area. Gradually move them into areas with more sun for longer time periods. Be careful to provide them protection or bring them back indoors if frost is predicted.

Fertilizing Tomatillos

These are not really hungry plants, especially when compared with their cousins, traditional tomato plants. Till a good, balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer into the soil before planting. This should be applied evenly at a depth of four-to-six inches and a rate of one or two pounds per hundred square feet of soil.

Water Deeply Occasionally

For the best crop, it is important to provide the right amount of water and to keep weeds under control. Deep water once a week during dry weather. The plants should receive 1-1 ½ inches of water weekly applied slowly at the soil level.

Don’t allow weeds to compete with your tomatillos for sun and water. Hoe around the plants regularly and/or provide a good, thick layer of straw, leaves or dry clippings to retain moisture, control weeds and conserve the soil.

Tomatillo Plant! Grow a staple of Mexican cooking in YOUR garden!

Tomatillo Varieties And Cultivars

These plants are available in several cultivars, so it is possible to create a very interesting and tasty collection!

  • Pineapple Tomatillo produces copious amounts of round fruits that are almost an inch in diameter. The plants tend to be short and to spread. True to its name, the fruit has a distinctive pineapple flavor.
  • Zuni hails from the northern part of New Mexico. Developed by the Zuni tribe of Native Americans it produces very tasty, cherry-tomato-like fruits.
  • Purple De Milpa produces large fruit with a very strong and pleasing flavor. The purple striped husks provide visual interest in the garden.
  • Verde Puebla continuously produces sweet/tart, green fruits weighing between one and two ounces each.
  • Toma Verde produces lots of large, sweet/tart, green fruit on vines. This plant is very easy to grow.
  • Purple Tomatillo is an enthusiastic producer of small, sweet/tart, purple fruit.

Tomatillo Pests and Problems

Mexican ground cherry is subject to foliar diseases and blights if the weather is very rainy and humid. This is why it is important to give plants plenty of space for good air circulation. If plants tend to topple or lean, stake them up. Prune crowded branches to promote air movement.

Always water at ground level and avoid spraying or foliar watering. Don’t allow water to splash up from the ground onto the leaves as this can promote fungal infections and disease.

Examine your plants regularly. If you notice any signs of fungal infection developing, use a good fungicide right away to prevent spread.

These plants are not typically susceptible to insects, but they are subject to infestation by slugs and snails. Be sure to stake the plants up as needed and don’t allow the fruits to touch the ground as this will attract these pests.

Cutworms may also be problematic. These are moth caterpillars that come up onto the plants from the soil. You can prevent them by setting up physical barriers around plant stems made of sections of paper-towel rolls.

Picking these large caterpillars off by hand is also effective. If you have a heavy infestation, use Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which is a natural pesticide that only affects caterpillars.

Follow packaging instructions carefully, and don’t overdo it as you want to target the pest caterpillars and avoid killing butterfly caterpillars.

Harvesting and Storing Tomatillos

Growing tomatillo seeds is like growing tomato seeds. It takes between seventy-five and one hundred days from the time you plant your seedlings until your fruit is ready to pick. Watch for the husks to change colors from green to tan.

When this change happens, it is time to harvest. Of course, there is some variation in coloration depending upon the cultivar.

The best fruits are firm with tightly-fitting husks. If you prefer a tangier flavor, you may wish to pick your fruits a bit early while they are still green. If you like a sweeter, milder flavor, wait until the fruit has turned yellow or purple.

If you leave your tomatillos in the husk, you can store them in the refrigerator for as long as two weeks. If you remove the husks, they will keep in the fridge for up to three months. You can also freeze them whole or slice them and freeze them. [source]

How To Use Tomatillos

When preparing your tomatillos, be sure to remove the husk and wash the fruit completely to remove any dirt and the sticky residue left on the skin by the husk. Once the fruits are clean, prepare them for use by cutting off the stems with a sharp knife and slicing or chopping them as desired.

There are lots of wonderful Mexican recipes using tomatillos, and you can also simply add them to your usual, everyday cooking. You can eat tomatillos raw if you like. They taste tart and zesty, so they make a nice addition to a sweet fruit salad. When cooked, the flavor mellows to an herby, lemony taste.

For a simple dish, you can cut them into quarters and sauté them with onion, garlic and sea salt. They also add zip and interest to veggie dishes, soups and stews, or you can simply boil them and then puree them for use in sauces.


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