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Ask Garden Gal: Planting Time in Pittsburgh

March 24th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

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Agave attenuata Demands Attenuention

Agave attenuata Demands Attenuention

Dear Garden Gal,

I live in Pittsburgh, a very cold climate. I planted collard and kale greens, and cabbage for my fall/winter harvest. I got really sick and had surgery in November and was not able to pull up and prepare my garden for spring. The plants are still in the ground. How do I prepare my garden for spring planting? Will this hurt my growth for this year?

Preparing in Pennsylvania

Dear Preparing,

Sorry to say, it sounds like you and your winter crops were sidelined this year. There is no harm in leaving plants in ground during the winter. Brassicaeae plants in the mustard and cabbage family, including kale, broccoli and collard greens dislike heat above 85 degrees and freezing cold. Plants can survive when the thermometer heads into the 20s but not for long. Early varieties, set out as small plants instead of seeds, ready in 60 days or so, are perfect for October planting and December harvest.
Since you want to refresh the soil before planting anyway, you’re no worse off having left plants in the ground. After the last spring frost, chop up your old plants and dig them into a hole in the soil, letting them decompose. Don’t plant on top of them now, but allow this good organic matter to break down to fortify next fall’s garden.
Meanwhile, for spring planting, when the evening temperatures stay at 55 degrees or higher, call around to local stables to see if they can deliver some horse manure. This is great organic matter plus fertilizer all rolled into one. Ask a neighbor or someone from church to come over and double-dig your soil. That is, dig a trench two feet deep. Dig another trench next to the first one, filling in number one with the top soil from number two. Fill trench two will soil from number three and so on, till you’ve scraped the top 18” off your plot and shoveled it over. Add manure and mix in to fill up the remaining six inches of soil. Now you have a nice aerated patch with organic matter worked in. Good to go!

Dear Garden Gal,

My Foxtail Agave has these weird yellowish, brownish patches on the tops of the leaves. What is it and will it go away? Can I cut it off the leaves?

Concerned in Covina

Dear Concerned,

This blistering on your Agave attenuata occurs on other agaves as well. It’s a form of oedema, an abnormal accumulation of water in the tissue caused by unusual changes in the weather, usually in the fall. When the soil stays warm during hot days and nights but air temperatures quickly cool, this messes up the plant’s operation. If the air is warm and dry, and the soil is warm, the plant works properly. Taking up water through the roots, releasing water through the leaves to keep the plant cool during hot temperatures. When the soil stays warm but the air is cool and there’s lots of moisture outside of the plant, the roots continue to suck up water but the plant doesn’t need to cool itself off. So the roots and cells swell, causing blistering. The brown spots are the dead tissue evidence after the blisters burst.
The good news is the leaves still work, so the plant will continue to grow. Please don’t cut or trim the brown spots. Agaves cannot regenerate damaged leaves. Your agave will be hindered with fewer leaves, so just try not to look at the damage, knowing in time, the plant will be bigger and better than ever.

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