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Mon, Oct. 14

The best approach to over seeding; tomato farmers, be patient

Wow, are people hungry for answers when it comes to their gardens! I host a gardening class every Saturday here at the garden center, and over 100 people came to learn – from Steve Morgan and Nichole Trushell – about garden design using techniques and plants that take less water and care.

I'm a member of the Frontier Rotary Club and have lunch over at the Country Kitchen every Tuesday. As I hit the door this week, three other members started asking me garden-related questions about their yards.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love gardening and could talk for hours about the different facets of gardening in the Prescott area. I use these as a barometer to judge people's interest about gardening in the community. People want to know more about their gardens and how best to care of the yard.

This week the most asked questions were on tomatoes and lawns. There is plenty of time left to garden this season. If you haven't started picking tomatoes yet, neither have I. We have a full two months left before the first frost, but you should see fruit setting on the vine by now.

A common problem with tomato plants is a big healthy plant that keeps growing, but won't set fruit. This is usually caused by an over-abundance of nitrogen available to the vines. Nitrogen is the first number showing in your fertilizer formula. If you haven't seen fruit on the vine this season, starve the vine of nitrogen. No more Miracle-Gro or any other type of high-nitrogen fertilizer.

I would add some Trible Super Phosphate to the root zone of the plants. This is the middle number of the fertilizer formula. Phosphate causes roots and fruits to grow, but it doesn't move through the soil very well and down to the roots. It comes in a powder form and needs to be raked or dug into the root zone of the vines and watered well.

For immediate results I like a product called Blooming & Rooting Plant Food, 9-59-8, by Fertilome. It is a water-soluble plant food that I usually mix in my 2-gallon watering can and sprinkle on, and around, the plants. It saves all that digging and raking needed by Treble Super Phosphate.

Let these phosphates work on your plants for a couple of weeks and watch the fruit start to form. I have found over the years that tomato plants are one of those 'feast or famine' kind of plants. I either don't have any fruit, or I have so much fruit I can't make salsa fast enough. Or worse yet, I run out of basil and cilantro to add into the salsa.

Now for lawns. The rains seem to trigger a reseeding frenzy in the community. Customers come into the garden center and look at the wall of grass seed available and wonder what type to get, and how best to get the seed to come up. This is a very simple decision.

There are only two choices in lawn seed at this altitude, Prescott Blend and Water Saver Fescues. The Prescott Blend grass seed is a mixture of blue grass and rye grass seed. This is frequently the one you see on the cover of gardening magazines. Its soft, dark green color is a pleasure to walk barefoot on.

This has been my number one selling grass seed for decades, but has fallen out of favor in the last couple of years because of the amount of water this type of lawn takes.

Then came along Water Saver Fescues. This is my personal favorite. It uses 25 percent less water than a traditional Prescott Blend seed mix, and takes more abuse from foot traffic and pets. With four children at home and a plethora of dogs, I need a seed mix that is tough.

My lawns are established, and watering needs are set to every four days. A Prescott Blend lawn is probably watered every one to two days right now.

Did you know there are many different kinds of blue grass, fescues and rye grass? You should be concerned about seed quality when choosing the correct lawn seed mix. A quality seed mix should have at least three or four varieties of seed in the mixture. This is to ensure a proper germination from the seed. If one variety has a problem and dies out, you should have three other varieties to count on.

You'll pay a little extra money for a quality lawn mix, but this extra dollar makes a huge difference in the performance of the seedlings.

The question frequently comes up, "Can I mix the two types of lawns together?" The average person can't tell the difference between Prescott Blend or fescues. Heck, I can barely tell the difference between the two. So go ahead and mix the two types together in the same lawn.

When seeding there are two important steps that make a huge difference in the performance of the seed. If there are big dead spots, make sure to rake the dead thatch out of these areas. It is very important the seed makes good soil contact or it won't germinate.

Secondly, use two fertilizers that promote strong health seed germination and growth. The first is new lawn starter to promote stronger blade growth on each seedling. The second is "Soil Activator Humus" – an organic product that encourages stronger, longer root growth. These two products really made a difference with how quickly my lawns germinated and how good they look right now.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.

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