Mysterious initials tell you the plant comes with resiliency - Albuquerque Journal

Mysterious initials tell you the plant comes with resiliency

Tracey FitzgibbonQ. I bought two six-packs of tomatoes, planted them and they seem to be thriving. I was reading the tags that came in the containers and have noticed two initials “VF.” What do they mean? That the tomatoes are very fruitful? – HG, Albuquerque

A. I did nothing but giggle when I read your letter. I enjoy how hopeful you are about growing a “very fruitful” harvest.

Alas, no, those initials have nothing to do with crop size. They designate that your plants are resilient to maladies that tend to effect tomatoes.

There are several viruses and fungus prevalent to tomatoes. Through hybridization, growers have created plants that wear a certain amount of resistance to those maladies.

The “V” stands for verticillium wilt and the “F” stands for fusarium wilt. Sometimes you can even find plants tagged with a “T” and an “M.” The “T” refers to tobacco mosaic virus and the “M” for mosaic viruses.

By having chosen plants that wear that tag, in theory, they are less likely to have or be attacked by those diseases. That’s not saying they won’t be pestered by disease, but your plants have been bred to be far more resilient. That’s a good thing.

So keep your plants well-maintained. They should grow into strong healthy “very fruitful” plants.

Here’s what I recommend:

First and foremost is good air circulation. Plants clustered close to each other will have a more difficult time than plants that have space.

Next, consider some sort of tent to offer the plants a bit of shade during the heat of the day. I used an old clothesline draped with some shade cloth with completely open sides to offer a bit of shade and it worked great.

Do not sprinkle the plants with overhead water. Nothing will successfully spread disease easier. Keep the water on the ground.

Finally, deep drinks of water maintain a healthier environment period. By watering shallowly and frequently, the plants are not encouraged to grow deep root systems and the roots tend to stay more shallow and dry out far faster.

If you truly feel the need to spray off the plants to give them a bath so to speak, don’t do it more than once every 10 days or so, and do it first thing in the morning. You want it done early so the water droplets are well dry before the sun can scorch the droplets left sitting on the leaf surface. Spraying in the evening isn’t the ticket either. With the cooling evening temperatures fungus and mildews will be more prone to growth.

Since you’ve planted tomatoes that already have a leg up by being less prone to the “V’s” and “F’s” of the world. Here’s to a very fruitful harvest.

Q. I have three rose of Sharon bushes and every year the leaves start to turn yellow, some with black edges. They are watered with a drip system and fed with rose food. Any idea why the leaves turn yellow and fall off? – CS, Rio Rancho

A. It sounds like to me that the bushes are pulling up to o much of something from where they are planted. Perhaps a salt accumulation in the soil.

You say that you water with a drip system, but don’t say how long it runs or what size drippers are employed. My next thought is the system is offering enough to keep the plants alive but not to thrive.

I’d suggest that perhaps weekly, maybe twice a month, you get out the hose and offer a slow deeper drink to each rose of Sharon. That’ll help dissolve any concentrated or accumulated salt layers and better distribute the rose food you offer the plants.

When you offer a timed watering it seeps down to usually the same layer each time, barely percolating any deeper. That draws the fertilizer, minerals and salts to the same layer each time. If the rose of Sharon’s roots are right in that layer they have no choice but to pull up what might be too much in accumulated salt.

Next, have you read the rose food label and verified it says it’s ok to use for flowering shrubs? And you’re not over applying, right?

Another “trick” you could do is get a hold of a pitchfork and close to the shrubs, impale the tines as deep as you can, all the way around each shrub. That could help the soil drain and get some useful oxygen into the soil keeping everything healthier.

I feel like it’s a watering issue and hope by offering a few deeper drinks periodically and making sure the “food” is appropriate, the plants should rebound for you.

Happy Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to


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