Set your autumn table with fresh vegetables
During the first week of August, plant short-season snap beans, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, carrots, mustard greens, spinach and radishes for fall harvesting.
Continue to harvest herbs by either snipping foliage, drying entire sprigs or plants, or freezing individual portions in ice-cube trays. Pinch off developing flowers to retain essential oils and flavor in the plants' foliage.
If the plants growing in your containers or baskets are looking stunted or have leaves that are yellowing, they may need supplemental fertilizer. The frequent watering required for containers and baskets can leach nutrients out of the growing medium. Use a liquid fertilizer as needed to perk them up.
It is best to fertilize the containers and baskets when the plants are moist and not dry. Fertilizing plants that are very dry can result in damage to the plants' roots.
• Southern blight has been found locally, though is said to be rare in Illinois. It is a fungal disease that affects herbaceous plants (some woody plants) and results in plant collapse and death.
Southern blight is exacerbated by very hot (in the upper 80s to the 90s Fahrenheit) and humid, wet weather. The pathogen can remain viable in soil for three to five years. It affects many host plants and seems to favor hosta here. Look for wilting plants with yellowing leaves that collapse and die.
The key identifying characteristics are the presence of white, fuzzy mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a network of fine white filaments) at the center of the plant's crown near the soil line along with sclerotia. Sclerotia are small, round, seed-like growths that are white, reddish tan or brown. If you see the sclerotia at the base of your plants, they most likely have southern blight.
Promptly remove any infected plants along with the soil around them. Plants in the vicinity and downslope from these plants might be infected without yet showing symptoms, so monitor them carefully. Moving water will spread this disease, as will contaminated tools, plants, soil, gloves and shoes.
Try to remove the soil to a depth of 8 inches and 6 inches away from the plant. Place the plants and soil into a heavy-duty trash bag and put it in the garbage. This debris should not be placed in your compost pile. Do not do this work during wet conditions and be careful to contain the soil and plant debris that can spread the disease.
It is important to sanitize any garden equipment used to do this work. Bring in fresh soil to fill any resulting low spots. Other good practices to help contain this disease include: avoiding or minimizing walking through the area that may have southern blight, avoiding mulching (as the mulch helps create favorable conditions for the disease), avoiding watering or minimizing watering to avoid runoff, and not transplanting plants from the area that may be infected with southern blight to other parts of your garden. There are also fungicides that can be applied to help protect your plants.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.