Q: Is basil easy to grow? I see numerous types of basil at garden centers. Is one kind better than another?
A: Basil is an easy herb to grow. Give it fertile, well-drained soil and a spot that receives at least five hours of sunlight per day. For maximum leaf production, keep the flowers pinched off. There are indeed numerous kinds of basil including varieties with large leaves such as lettuce-leaf basil and small leaves such as ‘Spicy Globe’ basil. There are varieties with purple leaves. Thai basil is has licorice-anise undertones and is especially sought after for Thai and Vietnamese dishes. Cinnamon basil has a cinnamon undertone. Lemon basil combines lemon and basil flavors. When you visit your garden center, gently touch the leaves and smell them. Select the basils you find most interesting or think will be most useful. All kinds are equally easy to grow.
Q: What is the difference between determinate tomato plants and indeterminate tomato plants? I see these words on labels at nurseries.
A: Determinate varieties of tomatoes are more compact than indeterminate varieties. They “top out” (stop growing taller) when fruit sets on the terminal or top bud. They ripen all their tomatoes at or near the same time, usually over a few weeks. Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes are also called "vining" tomatoes. They will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost and can reach heights of up to 10 feet although six feet is more common. They will bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit throughout the growing season.
Q: I saw a late-blooming (April 25) narcissus in an old cemetery. The cup was yellow and very small. The back petals were cream to white. It had a wonderful fragrance. The cup was pure yellow; it did not have the red rim like the pheasant’s eye narcissus.
A: It sounds like you are describing the twin sisters narcissus (Narcissus x medioluteus), so named because there are usually two flowers per stem. It has a very small cup of clear yellow and a creamy perianth. It is thought to be a natural hybrid between the pheasant’s eye narcissus (Narcissus poeticus) and the paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus tazetta). It is a very durable and desirable narcissus that sometimes gets overlooked because so many people focus on the early-blooming ones.
Q: I heard that sunflowers always face east. Is this true?
A: During the early stages of the plant’s growth, buds will face the direction of the sun throughout the day; starting at the east and ending in the west. At night, the buds typically maintain an eastern or sometime neutral position. When a sunflower head reaches full bloom, it generally fixes itself in an eastern direction.
Question: When are Georgia strawberries in season?
Answer: Strawberry season in Georgia can begin in late March and last until June. Look for Georgia strawberries now at farmers markets, grocery stores and at produce stands. You can also pick your own on some farms. For a list of pick-your-own strawberry farms, visit the Georgia Department of Agriculture website, click on “Market Bulletin” and then on “Articles of Interest.”
Q: I saw a vine growing in the treetops that has yellow and brick-red tubular flowers. The leaves are in pairs. Do you know what it is? Is it suitable for growing in a garden or is it one of those wildflowers that will not perform well in cultivation?
A: It sounds like crossvine (Bignonia capreolata, sometimes listed as Anisostichus capreolata). Crossvine is a Georgia native that blooms in the spring. It does quite well in cultivation. It is a beautiful, durable, tolerant vine that deserves to be planted more often. Many garden centers and nurseries are carrying it now. There are even a few different varieties including a red one and an orange one. Crossvine can be used for covering a chain-link fence or on an arbor or trellis.
Q: What is a hectare?
A: A hectare is unit of surface measured in the metric system, equal to 10,000 square meters. One hectare = 2.471 acres.
Q: How do strawberries get their name?
A: No one is 100 percent sure how strawberries got their name. The name certainly does not come from the practice of mulching the plants with straw. They were being called strawberries long before anyone was cultivating them. A widely accepted theory is that the name derives from “strew” because the berries appear to be strewn on the ground, a contrast to other fruits that grow on shrubs, vines or trees.
The strawberry may have been named for its lowly position scattered on the ground, but in the kitchen it is among highest-rated of all fruits. Strawberries are valued for their fragrance, color, versatility, flavor and sweetness. And because they are the first fruit of the season, they are beloved as embodying the full essence of spring.
Q: Are Vidalia® onions a little late this year?
A: “The harvest this season is delayed by 10 to 12 days due to the heavy rains during December planting followed by an extreme cold snap,” says Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin. The official “shipping date” for the 2010 Vidalia® Onion Marketing Season is April 27. The shipping date is based on the recommendation of the Vidalia® Onion Advisory Panel under the authority of the law, rules and regulations applicable to Vidalia® onions. Vidalia® onions may be shipped prior to April 27 only if each and every load being shipped has a Federal-State Inspection Certificate stating the onions have met the established grade requirements and are under “Positive Lot Identification” as approved by the Federal-State Inspection Service. “The Federal-State Inspection assures the quality of the onions and that they have matured to meet the marketing standards,” Irvin says. “Onions that are harvested and shipped too early and do not meet the grade requirements can damage the reputation of this important crop.”
Q: What type of license do I need from the Georgia Department of Agriculture to be a dog trainer or groomer?
A: You would be required to have a kennel license. The Georgia Animal Protection Act defines a kennel as “any establishment, other than an animal shelter, where dogs or cats are maintained for boarding, holding, training or similar purposes for a fee or compensation.”
Q: Is it true that radish seedpods are edible?
A: Yes. Pods must be harvested when young and tender. They are eaten as snacks or used in salads. They may also be steamed or stir-fried. As pods mature, they will become hard and too hot for eating. In fact, the ‘Rat-tail’ radish variety does not produce an edible root, but is grown specifically for its long, slender seedpods. Another variety, ‘München Bier’ (Munich Beer), gets its name because the plump seedpods are served raw as an accompaniment to beer. It also produces an edible white root. The seedpods of any variety may be eaten, however.
Q: Please help settle an argument. My co-workers say daffodils are always propagated by bulbs. I know daffodils multiply by forming “baby” bulbs around the “mother” bulb, and that is one way they reproduce. However, I say daffodils have seeds as well and can be grown from seed. Who is correct?
A: You are. Daffodils may be grown from seeds. Daffodils multiply from bulb division (as you described) and from seeds. When a daffodil bulb produces an offset or “baby” bulb, the baby bulb is genetically the same as its parent. A seedling can be quite different from its parents. This is how daffodil hybridizers produce new varieties. It takes about five years from the time a daffodil seedling germinates until it blooms. We can be thankful to hybridizers for the work they do to breed new varieties, evaluate them and produce them in quantities large enough to be offered for sale. When you see a “new” variety listed in a bulb catalog, there are many years of effort behind it.
Q: Is water from a rain barrel safe to use on vegetable gardens?
A: Yes. You can use it for watering your vegetable garden as well as your trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and lawn. Just keep an eye on the water to be sure it does not become a breeding place for mosquitoes. A rain barrel is an old-fashioned tool that helps modern gardeners by cutting their water bills. It also reduces storm water runoff that may overload sewer systems in some cities.
Q: Will planting lemongrass or special scented geraniums keep away mosquitoes?
A: Numerous claims are made about the mosquito-repellent properties of certain plants, especially “citronella” scented geraniums. Usually these claims are made by people selling the plants. While these plants may exhibit some insect-repellent properties when crushed and rubbed on the skin, simply planting a few or even a garden full of them is unlikely to make any difference in the number of mosquitoes you encounter.
Q: This has been a wonderful year for daffodils. I have seen more kinds than I have before. What is the name of the daffodil that looks like it is in a wind tunnel? The flower is fairly large and petals flare backwards.
A: Without actually seeing it, it is impossible to give a definitive answer, but it is possible that what you are describing is one of the cyclamineus types of daffodils, so-named because the flared-back petals are reminiscent of cyclamen flowers. A popular cyclamineus variety is ‘February Gold’ which has petals that flare back a little. Other varieties with more of the wind-blown effect include ‘Jetfire,’ ‘Itzim,’ ‘Rapture’ and ‘Toby the First.’ Look through a bulb catalog or book on daffodils and see if any of these or another matches what you have seen.
Q: When I was a child my grandmother had an embankment of thrift. It grew like a mat and was a gorgeous mass of pink flowers. I thought I remembered the foliage being somewhat prickly to my little hands. Is this the same plant that is sometimes called creeping phlox? I am in my sixties now and would like information on this plant. I have several places in my own yard that I would like to grow this wonderful groundcover.
A: Thrift may sometimes be called creeping phlox, although another species of phlox is more commonly called by that name. Thrift is also called moss pink. The botanical name of thrift is Phlox subulata. Using the botanical name is a good way to make sure garden center or nursery personnel understand exactly what plant you are talking about. Most good garden centers or nurseries in Georgia carry thrift or should be able to get it for you. There are numerous varieties of thrift available now including lavender, white, magenta, purple and some bi-colored varieties. Thrift prefers full sun will tolerate almost any soil as long as it is not soggy.
Q: Is there such a thing as a pink daffodil?
A: Although no daffodil is entirely pink, there are numerous varieties that have pink trumpets. Their color is closer to peach, salmon or coral than to a pure, bright pink. Many are tinged with yellow when they open, but turn pinker as they mature. Pink daffodils add a nice contrast to other daffodils in the garden or in a bouquet. Daffodil expert and author Brent Heath of Brent & Becky’s Bulbs (www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com) gave us the following recommendations of pink daffodil varieties: Accent, Audubon, By George, Fragrant Rose, Katie Heath, Mary Gay Lirette (a split corona type), My Story (double), Pink Charm, Pink Silk and Salome. If you love daffodils you may want to give some of the pink ones a try.
Q: My radishes are blooming. I have been told the flowers are edible. Is that true?
A: Yes. Radish flowers are edible. You can also eat the leaves and young seedpods.
Q: I was unable to purchase tomato plants from a catalog company. They said they could not ship to Georgia. Why?
Any company that grows its tomato and other vegetable transplants under certain conditions to prevent infestation with pests and diseases can ship its transplants into Georgia. Companies that do not choose to meet the requirements and treat their vegetable transplants with an appropriate insecticide to control white flies and other sap-feeding insects that transmit virus diseases cannot ship their transplants into Georgia.
Vegetable transplants that don’t meet the requirements put other vegetable crops at risk whether they are in a home garden or a farmer’s field. Georgia farmers grow numerous kinds of vegetables. Introducing virus diseases and the sap-feeding insects that carry them would result in fields being treated with a much higher level of chemicals than used as a preventive measure on shipped seedlings.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture adopted regulations regarding shipping vegetable transplants into the state when new virus diseases were discovered in 2007 on vegetables in some western states that shipped to Georgia. The intent of these regulations was to protect all of our vegetable growers yet not cause undue hardship on transplant producers in other states.
Many people enjoy the taste of homegrown tomatoes, and we at the Georgia Department of Agriculture encourage gardening. We also want to ensure that our gardeners and commercial farmers face as few insect and disease problems as possible when growing their crops. If you cannot find an online source of tomato plants, visit a nearby garden center or nursery. You’ll be surprised at the variety of heirloom varieties as well as the latest hybrids that are now available locally.
Arty Schronce writes this weekly question-and-answer column to address questions about agriculture and questions about the services and products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. If you have a question, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 404-656-3656.