Q: You say that bugle is a good ground cover. Will it grow in full sun, in a dry spot?
A: Bugle, which also is called bugleweed, sometimes has a label with only the botanical name, Ajuga. It will grow — and grow well, not just struggle along — in sun, part sun, or shade. It does not seem to be fussy about light levels, although it spreads more slowly in a shady spot. It also is capable of a good show of flowers in either sun or shade. The vertical spikes of blue-purple, at six inches in height, are the tallest part of the plant.
I have allowed bugle to colonize several areas of my lawn. It grows successfully in all of them. I mow around the patches of bugle until the flowers fade in early June. Then I mow the plants with the grass. Bugle leaves are close enough to the ground that mower blades do not touch them. Once in a while I toy with the idea of growing only bugle instead of grass. It would need mowing only once a year, to cut off the fading flowers.
I also have bugle growing as a ground cover in some perennial beds. It would dominate the beds if I did not make some effort to keep it controlled. Once a year, as soon as it finishes blooming, I rip out all the bugle that pulls easily. I make sure to break off all the flowering stems. (Bugle spreads by seed.) I pull the new runners. (Bugle spreads that way, too.) If roots pull loose, fine; if they do not, that also is all right. By the time I finish the annual shrinking of the bugle, there are some bare spots in the bed where other perennials can fill in.
That description of bugle control may make it sound like a vicious weed which requires continual maintenance. That is not true. I find bugle to be a low maintenance perennial. For the first years after it is planted, bugle can be left to spread and to make seeds at its preferred rate. When it has established its presence, it needs attention only once a year, sometime in June. For all the rest of the growing season it requires only a gardener's admiration. Even pulling out the extra bugle plants is an easy job. Young roots are shallow and easily detached.
Bugle leaves come in three colors: green, a mix of green and maroon, or green with white variegations. The cultivars with white leaf areas do not behave like the other colors. They are less hardy and less vigorous. Bugle with white variegation may require work to keep it healthy. Its plants, although reflecting light beautifully, are not strong. They may need to be replaced every few years.
I like both the green and burgundy leaved cultivars as ground covers in a flower bed. I prefer the green in the lawn, where the leaf color blends well with the grass.
As far as watering goes, bugle is neither a water hog nor a plant for xeriscaping. It needs the same amount of water as most ordinary garden plants. It would not survive a summer without irrigation.
Q: What types of tomatoes are best in our short growing season, other than cherry tomatoes and Early Girl?
A: I do not think that any type is better than others, since each type covers such a wide range. I grow cherry tomatoes for eating fresh in summer salads, but I also grow large tomatoes. They have many uses and are better for cooking than cherry tomatoes. The little ones have a higher ratio of skin to pulp; therefore they are best when raw. Incidentally, I do not grow paste tomatoes. Although they have low moisture content and thus require less cooking time, they have far fewer flavor chemicals. Roma type tomatoes always taste bland.
Rather than look at the type of tomato, I start by looking at the days to maturity. That number is on the seed packet, the catalog page, and the online description. Sometimes it is on the stake of greenhouse plants. If you cannot find the days to maturity, skip that tomato. Probably it is one for farther south and east in this country and not appropriate for a mountain garden.
I grow only tomatoes with a listing of 75 days or less. Not only do they ripen faster, but also they are adapted to cool climates like ours. They can develop their full flavor even when night temperatures are low.
Once I have selected for early maturity, I look closely at the advertising. Because many early tomato varieties are sour or have tough skins, I try only tomatoes which are praised for their flavor. I pay no attention to ones advertised as disease resistant, since common tomato diseases do not occur in this area. Our cool and dry summer weather does not attract diseases.
My list of tomatoes changes slowly from year to year as varieties disappear and new ones arrive. This year I am trying three new kinds. At the end of summer I will know whether to recommend them. The tried-and-true tomatoes I am growing this year are legacy, ultra sweet, whopper, pink Berkeley tie dye, and sungold. Only the last one is a cherry tomato.
Since seeds are alive, they are constantly changing. Most tomato varieties run their course over a number of years. They change so much that they no longer resemble themselves in past years. Because this has happened to early girl, I do not grow it anymore and will not again. For the same reason, it would not surprise me if within a few years I had to replace Sungold with some new cherry tomato variety.
Q: Can you give me any helpful hints on growing tomatoes?
A: Here are a few: Cut off any flowers or green tomatoes existing when you set the plants in the garden. Ouch! Yes, but it will lead to a bigger, earlier crop.
Plant tomatoes in full sun. That will give them as much warmth as is possible here.
Be sure that each plant has a piece of ground two feet square. Tomato roots spread widely underground.
Mulch the area around the roots to hold water and keep down weeds.
Never let more than the top inch of soil dry out. That will help to avoid blossom end rot later in the summer. Meanwhile, ample water promotes maximum growth of the whole plant.
Protect the plants from wind. Wind makes leaf pores close to protect themselves, and closed pores mean slow growth.
Regularly cut weeds at ground level, so that they are not competing with the tomatoes. Do not dig weeds near tomato plants; that is likely to damage the shallow tomato roots.
Once a month, feed the plants a little nitrogen from whatever source you like.
Talk kindly and with encouragement to the tomatoes. Scientists now are sure that plants have an excellent sense of hearing.