As I am writing this late in the day on Sunday (Mother’s Day), I am certain some of you are wondering if your plants are OK.

We have had some very rare cold mornings for this time of year. Typically, there is little chance of frost or a freeze after the middle of April, but this year has been exceptional in so many ways.

I have seen temperatures in the mid-30s at my house, and I believe some places in the Dan River Region have had frosts. There are more cold nights on tap for this week, but I do not believe any of them will be lower than the mid-30s.

If you are wondering if your plants are OK after the cold mornings, just take a look at them. Annual flowers and vegetables are sensitive to cold air. If they have wilted, they should be replaced.

The nice thing about a frost in early May is that there are usually a lot more plants available at the store to use as replacements. I planted several different varieties of tomato and squash in the second week of April. It was too early and I did lose a few to cold temperatures. I was able to replant, but was not able to find the varieties I had lost.

That’s OK though. This gives me a chance to try a couple new varieties. The ones that lived then were just starting to produce blooms last week. Those blooms may not pollinate correctly or at all, so I may need to wait a little longer before I get fruit. Blooms that do not pollinate completely or correctly will often produce deformed fruit. This fruit is referred to as being “catfaced,” and is not attractive enough to eat.

I have been noting a few other problems with my garden. These problems have occurred for the past few years but seem to be worse this year. I guess the mild winter had something to do with it. My cucumbers are being infected with downy mildew. I had to replace the first ones I planted because the disease got them pretty quickly. I suspect the downy mildew came in on the cuke seedlings. I am treating regularly with a fungicide that has chlorothalonil as the active ingredient. I’m sorry, but I don’t know of any organic controls for this disease.

Other pests are doing damage as well. I lost half of my squash plants to vine borers before I knew they were there. The plants stayed green and healthy looking, but close inspection showed that half of the stems had been removed. The plants may live, but they will not be vigorous enough to produce fruit. The adult borer lays an egg on the stems when they first start to run. When the egg hatches, the larvae tunnels into the stem and eats it from the inside, eventually removing about half of it.

Vine boring insects also will attack cucumbers, so you will need to treat them as well. Again, I don’t know of any organic countermeasures that I have any confidence with, so I am recommending an insecticide. The stems should be treated with an insecticide that contains carbaryl (Sevin — liquid or power) when they first start to run. A second treatment a week later will help. Be sure you do not spray on or near any plants that have blooms or flowers or you will risk killing the pollinators that are necessary to your garden to produce any fruit.

Another pest I am dealing with is slugs. These slimy beasts crawl out onto the plants at night and consume leaves and stems. Some gardeners mistake slug damage for deer damage because they defoliate the plants so well. The only way to check for slugs is to take a flashlight to the garden late at night, because slugs do not like sunlight. You can pick them off and destroy them; you can trap them under a wide board laying in the garden (they crawl up under it to hide in the daytime); you can use physical barriers around the plants like crushed shells or diatomaceous earth; or you can use slug baits. Metaldehyde baits are most effective against slugs but can be a hazard to your pets. Baits with ferrous (iron) ingredients are effective and much safer for our animal friends.

I have one more pest. It is a chipmunk that my wife thinks is cute. I caught it on my motion-activated camera eating the watermelon seeds I had just planted. Not sure how I will deal with him just yet.

Enjoy your garden.

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For questions or to suggest a topic for this column, email

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