QUESTION: In early June, I saw a red or pink Kousa dogwood. It was beautiful, and it’s the first time I’ve ever noticed one. Are they common in this area, and do you know where I can get one?

ANSWER: The red Kousa is Cornus Kousa satomi. The regular Kousa is so striking with its white flowers highlighted by a background of rich green leaves, which is contrary to our native dogwood that blooms first, and then produces it leaves. I checked with several members of the Central Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association and found that some carry the red variety and others indicated they can get it. Francine Landa, co-owner of Boulevard Flower Gardens, told me they normally carry it in the fall, as they have had better success with fall-planted dogwoods.

QUESTION: I have about a 1,400-square-foot garden planted with help from my neighbors and family. We have spread black plastic between rows and would like to put newspaper around plants with mulch over it. Would that let enough water through to get to the veggie roots? We can water if it gets too dry.

ANSWER: Yes, two to three sheets of newspaper make a terrific mulch for vegetables. They allow water to soak in, yet stop weeds from popping through, and they won’t decompose for a couple of months. That should get you through most of the season. As you spread the newspapers, sprinkle them with water to help hold them in place. However, rather than covering the paper with mulch, I’d suggest covering it with clean straw. Straw makes a good bed for vegetables, and it should last well into the fall.

QUESTION: My tomatoes are looking great. We picked the first one June 30. However, the second one I picked looked good on top, but when I grabbed it, I discovered the bottom was rotten. What’s going on?

ANSWER: I’m afraid you may be seeing blossom end rot. This is a physiological disorder that is basically a calcium deficiency in the plant. The plant uses up its calcium making leaves and stems and doesn’t have enough left to support the fruit. As a result, the bottom, or blossom end, rots. This is frequently caused by over-fertilization early in the season. The excess nitrogen produces big healthy plants with lush leaves, but the tomatoes suffer. It also can be caused by irregular moisture: extremely wet conditions followed by dry conditions.

First, check all of the existing tomatoes, regardless of how small. Any that have a black spot on the bottom as big as a dime should be removed. This black spot will only get larger and decay. Also, by removing them you allow the plant to produce more to replace them. Normally, the second batch of tomatoes will not have this problem because we are no longer experiencing those lush growing conditions of May and early June. You also can apply a quick source of calcium chloride to the plants. Several companies make products specifically for that purpose.

To help prevent this issue next year, fertilize plants when you plant them, but don’t feed them again until the first small fruits are visible. Also, mulch the plants to help regulate the soil moisture. Your early-season plants may not be as big and lush, but you’ll have a greater chance of harvesting all of the tomatoes without rotten bottoms.

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Richard Nunnally is a freelance writer and adjunct horticulture instructor at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. Email questions to tdgarden@verizon.net.

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