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Blackened tomato bottom due to blossom-end rot

 Q: Last year my tomatoes would ripen and mature but the entire bottom was black. This did not happen the previous two years.

A: Blossom-end rot is an environmental disease that affects tomatoes, peppers, squash and watermelon. It is caused by lack of calcium in the fruit because the roots of the plant are having problems taking calcium from the soil. A small area at the bottom of the fruit can be affected or most of the fruit can rot. Mold can sometimes be seen growing on the damaged area.

Roots are damaged in five ways. Extreme fluctuations in soil moisture from very wet to very dry is first. Water more often and evenly when the weather is dry and add more mulch to keep the soil damp between waterings.

Too much nitrogen fertilizer or fresh manure will cause the plant to grow too fast, which tends to slow down later in the season. Often this results in blossom-end rot early in the season and then it goes away on its own.

Excessive water in the soil from rain or irrigation drowns root hairs that the plant needs to take in the calcium. Plant these crops in well-drained soils, or cut back on the irrigation.

Too much salt in the soil kills the roots. Plant in better soil or flush out the salts by applying more water, but not in poorly-drained soils, or you will have the previous problem.

Lastly, roots can be damaged through weeding or cultivating the soil too close to the plant. Donít go deeper than an inch within a foot or two of the stem.

Q: My question is due to the drought and water restrictions. Can I safely use water caught in a bucket while I shower to water my outside plants? While I know about using a dish soap mix for insect control, is bath soap OK too?

A: Letís take your questions in reverse order. Typical baths soaps and shampoos will be diluted enough to not harm the plants and microorganisms in your landscape.

Donít use anti-microbial soaps because they could reduce the number of beneficial bacteria in the soil.

As you mention, dish soap is sometimes recommended as an insect control chemical. There are insect controlling soap products that have been evaluated and approved for that use by the EPA. Dish soaps have not been approved for this use. They have other chemicals, such as skin softeners and fragrances that are not appropriate.

You can follow label directions of the insecticidal soap and know it will not hurt your garden. Since there are no evaluated and approved instructions for using dish soap, you canít tell if it will harm your plants. The amount of soap in your bath water will not reduce the insect population. While I donít believe it will hurt your plants, I canít recommend applying soaps as an insecticide.

Jeff Rugg is an Illinois Certifiedursery Professional and a full member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. E-mail questions to Rugg at

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