Margaret Lauterbach

Margaret Lauterbach: Cold snap last November did lasting damage to trees, shrubs

The communal shock of finding damaged and killed trees and shrubs is still rebounding in this city. Boise Community Forester Brian Jorgenson said a lot of cherry trees were killed or damaged by that Nov. 15 cold.

He said some community-owned cherry trees looked pretty bad. In my yard, I’ve definitely lost the quince tree, and both the white mulberry and Italian plum are putting out smaller leaves than normal. All of my woody plant damage is on the north side of my house. I have an Italian plum on the south side that is in very good condition. White peach trees on north and south sides were not harmed.

That frigid temperature did no damage to in-ground perennials, since it followed two days of heavy snow, a blanket for the soil. Only woody plants, above the blanket, were damaged.

What could we do for our damaged trees? Jorgenson advises us to wait and see what limbs were definitely killed, then remove those dead limbs. Fertilizing the trees when they’re struggling may put added stress on them, so we shouldn’t do that.

In any case, if you usually fertilize your trees, you should do that before June 15 so the tree has a chance to begin shutting down to dormant state when the time comes. In this as in any urban situation, though, most homeowner trees are lawn-planted, so some of the fall lawn fertilizer may be perking our trees up just in time to take a hit from icy blasts. This situation has been ongoing for years, of course, but just in the last two or three have we had such sudden onsets of cold weather.

We could stop fall fertilizing under trees’ drip lines. That might help, I think.

TOMATILLO PLANTS

If you think you have your veggie garden planted, complete with a tomatillo plant, it is not yet complete. You need two tomatillo plants to get fruit, because these plants are basically self-sterile. Two plants will pollinate one another.

One plant produces flowers, but that usually does not result in fruit. Some folks claim to get fruit, but since most folks who grow only the one plant do not, I think it’s safer to regard them as self-sterile. I don’t know why standard references don’t report this.

A purple tomatillo will pollinate a green, and vice versa. Some references say it won’t, but I tried it last year and harvested many purple and green tomatillos. If you haven’t grown or eaten tomatillos that you know of, this is a delicious and useful vegetable. If you’ve ever eaten a Mexican green sauce, you have eaten tomatillos.

In the garden it’s a large sprawling plant, about the size of an indeterminate tomato. I haven’t found these plants are easily caged, so I just let them sprawl. Simply treat them as any garden plant. Regular water, fertilize if you feel you must.

These are not really close tomato relatives; they’re close relatives of Cape Gooseberry, ground cherries and Chinese lanterns. They’re all of the Physalis genus.

Fruit is encased in husks, and as long as the husk is intact, the tomatillo fruit is fresh enough to be usable. Last fall I discovered a box of tomatillos picked over a month earlier. It had been stored in the heat of the greenhouse. Three had rotted, but the rest of the box was good and solid for pressure canning into a green sofrito. Green tomatillos are much used in dipping salsas and in all other green sauces (salsa verde), including enchilada sauce.

Some say harvest when the husk turns brown, but I harvest when the fruits are large enough to bother with. That is, larger than a marble. If you wait until they drop off the plant, the green tomatillos may have turned yellow, and are too sweet for Mexican sauces. Moreover, they often crack on the bottom, inviting invasive pests.

The fruits feel slightly sticky when the husk is removed, but just rinse them off. The core is too small to worry about. Fruit is quite seedy (all edible), tiny lens-shaped bits.

Cisineros tomatillos are larger than most greens, up to 2 inches in diameter. Purple tomatillos are said to be better-tasting than green, used fresh in salads.

I find green tomatillos more widely useful and worth preserving than the purple, so I grow two greens with one purple.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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