Q. My tomato plants looked healthy this year, but I had fewer tomatoes than in past years and they were unusually small. Do you think we have a soil problem?
A. That is possible, but it is more likely that your plants were suffering from heat and drought stress. I have talked to several gardeners who have very healthy garden soil but had the same problem with their tomatoes.
When tomatoes are under stress, they will drop their blossoms. This keeps the plants from producing fruits during unfavorable growing conditions. In most years they produce more flowers later, when conditions are more favorable, and we still get a nice tomato crop. However, the extended heat and drought this year probably caused many plants to drop even these late flowers. If conditions are more favorable next year, I would bet that you will have better tomatoes.
Q. We would like to plant a beech tree on our property, but do not know whether to plant an American beech or a European beech. Are there great differences between them, and would you recommend one over the other?
A. I think we should use native plants in our landscapes whenever possible. For that reason, I would recommend planting the American beech (Fagus grandiflora). Even though some exotic plants outgrow their native counterparts, the native plants belong here. They are part of our ecosystem, which includes many other living creatures. Our native plants fit with those other creatures and complement them. The exotic plants rarely make that fit.
If you are not concerned about this, the European beech (Fagus sylvatica) is still an excellent plant for Maryland landscapes. A number of different cultivars include plants with upright and weeping growth habits, as well as plants with varying colors of foliage.
1. Recent rain and cool temperatures may have brought new growth to lawn areas that you considered dead. Many of these areas will fill in naturally and will not need reseeding this fall.
2. This is a great time to begin planting pansies. If planted now, they will have an opportunity to get established before winter.
3. Leggy herbs can be pinched back to encourage fullness and new growth before winter.
Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Mary-land Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site, www.hgic.umd.edu.