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Q. I am wondering what causes a layer of stiff, hard white tissue under the skin of some of my tomatoes. It only affects a few. The inside of the tomato is fine after this is peeled off. Is there something in the soil? We have a lot of clay soil here in Clay County, Ind. I use Fast Start when setting them but no fertilizer after that.

A. Sounds like you’re describing a common disorder of tomatoes known as “internal white tissue,” thought to be caused by high temperatures during ripening. And we certainly had plenty of hot weather during tomato-ripening season this year! Tomatoes with this disorder usually show no outward symptoms; it is only noticed when the ripe fruit are cut open. Some varieties may be more susceptible than others, but this is not particularly well documented. And, of course, there’s nothing we can do about outdoor temperatures.

Q. Are you sure about the blue and pink hydrangeas? My mom, back in New York, had a pink hydrangea bush that she always watered with the dishwater from the sink, which I’m sure was alkaline. Over the years, it changed to blue flowers. I attributed the change to the change in soil pH due to the watering. Litmus paper is blue in alkaline solutions and red in acidic, but possibly there is no relation.

A. The chemistry involved is different for hydrangeas versus litmus paper. There are several types of litmus paper that indicate alkalinity or acidity with various colors. The most commonly used litmus papers are blue and red; the blue paper turns red when exposed to acidic solution, and red paper turns blue when exposed to alkaline solution. The color change in litmus paper is caused by the acid, or base, reacting with dyes, which traditionally come from an assortment of lichen extracts.

The color of Hydrangea macrophylla blossoms is affected by the availability of aluminum in the plant, forming blue flowers when aluminum is present, pink flowers in its absence. Aluminum tends to be more available for plant uptake in acid soils, less so in alkaline soils. Aluminum sulfate is commonly used to fertilize these plants when a blue flower is desired, as it lowers pH and provides aluminum.

Diluted soapy dishwater is only slightly alkaline and is not likely to have much impact on soil pH compared to the parent material of the soil, rainwater and fertilizers, etc. Laundry and automatic dishwasher detergent are considerably more alkaline than the soap typically used for hand-washing dishes.

Q. We will be doing a remodeling project this fall, and I will need to move a bed of daylilies. When is the best time to do this? What would be the best way to store the bulbs? Can the bulbs be replanted in the spring?

A. First, daylilies are not true lilies and also do not reproduce from true bulbs. They overwinter as short, compressed stems called crowns, accompanied by slender tuberous roots. They can be lifted and stored for a few days or so, but longer storage calls for replanting. Daylilies can be divided in fall or spring. But, if you can’t replant them permanently this fall, make a temporary bed to “heel” them in. Dig a trench a bit wider than the plants’ root systems and cover with loose, well-drained soil or potting media. If your soil tends toward compaction, you can line the trench with straw or peat moss to make it easier to dig the plants for transplanting to their permanent home. Be sure to mark the temporary bed so you can easily locate the plants in spring.

Q. I have a problem with my apricot tree. The first year, in 2005, it bore loads of apricots. The last two years, 2006 and 2007, there were none. Can you tell me why? I have peaches, which bore heavily this year.

A. Congratulations on having a great peach crop this year — no doubt you’re the envy of many fellow gardeners! Many fruit trees tend toward “alternate bearing,” which means they bear light crops the year following a heavy crop. So it is possible that 2006 was a light crop due to the previous year’s heavy load. Also, apricots tend to be a bit more sensitive than peaches to freeze injury, partially due to breaking dormancy too early in our area. It’s a good bet that the lack of crop in 2007 is because the apricot flowers were just a bit further along in development and thus more susceptible when we experienced the big freeze in mid-April.

Fruit trees initiate their flower buds for next year’s crop in late summer and early fall. Although two years of no crop should foster a good crop for 2008, this summer’s excessive heat and dry conditions did not help. And, of course, there is still plenty more weather to get through before we see a crop next year!

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