Don’t prune excessive foliage on your tomato plants. It provides coverage and protects the fruit from sunscald.

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In the Garden

Thanks to the hot, sunny summer, many of us are enjoying a record harvest of tomatoes, and they’re ripening way earlier than normal. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, however, and in a hot summer like this one, direct sun on some tomato varieties can cause a problem known as sunscald.

Sunscald usually shows up as a whitish spot on the sun-facing side of ripening fruit. Soon the spot develops into a white or yellow blister. Later on, the damaged area becomes flattened and papery, eventually turning gray or black.

Not surprisingly, sunscald is an unusual problem in our climate. Most years it occurs only when home gardeners prune off excessive foliage late in the season in a misguided effort to allow more sun into the plant to ripen green fruit. However, this practice actually exposes once-protected, thin-skinned tomatoes to more sun than they are used to.

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks:

‘Save Seeds from Your Garden’ class at Bellevue Botanical Garden, presented with Seattle Tilth:

6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 20. Learn about the science of pollination and the full process of seed saving, including how to choose the best parent plants and the best way to store seeds. Cost: $35, $25 for BBG members, preregistration required. Address: 12001 Main St., Bellevue.

‘Gathering Stone: From the Quarry to the Yard,’ at Marenakos Rock Center:

10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday, Aug. 21. Learn all about how Marenakos Rock Center obtains the numerous varieties of stone and masonry products on display in their product yard. Free, register online. Address: 30250 S.E. High Point Way, Issaquah.

Magnuson Children’s Garden Family Days:

6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 21. Concert and free garden activities for families, such as nature art sculptures, exploration and watering. Caspar Babypants will perform in the Amphitheater. Free, no registration. Address: Community Garden, behind the Magnuson Brig building, 6344 N.E. 74th St. Seattle.

When tomatoes are staked, the surrounding foliage usually provides enough shade to shield most of the fruit from sunscald, but in an exceptionally sunny, hot summer, tomatoes out in the open — especially on the south side of the plant — are susceptible.

If a lot of the tomatoes on a plant are showing symptoms, make a temporary screen out of burlap or shade cloth (available at most garden centers) to protect the fruit from the sun’s rays until temperatures cool.

Once a tomato is scalded, the effects cannot be reversed, but if you remove the spot, scalded tomatoes are usually still edible. In rare cases, however, a mold can occur that turns the inside of the tomato black and unpalatable. Save yourself a really bad surprise and cut it in half to check it out before you take a bite!

Divide bearded iris that didn’t bloom well this spring

If your bearded iris didn’t produce as many of the big, colorful, fragrant flowers as they did the year before, it’s likely the roots have become too crowded and your plants need dividing. The best time to do this is between mid-July and the end of August.

Begin by cutting the leaves to one-third their length. Then dig the clump and wash the soil off with a hose. Cut the rhizomes apart, keeping only those with a healthy fan of leaves and firm, white roots from the sides of the clump, tossing out the shriveled worn-out ones from the middle. Allow the rhizomes to cure for a day in a dry, shady location before replanting.

Before planting, work plenty of compost and about a half-cup of organic flower food into the planting area. Growth occurs in an outward direction from the leaf fan end, so when replanting, place three rhizomes one foot apart, two with the leafy ends pointing outward, and one with the leafy end aiming between the other two to grow into and fill in the middle.

Replant with the top surface of the rhizome slightly above the soil surface. If you bury the rhizome too deeply, your iris might not bloom.

The newly introduced reblooming iris that are supposed to bloom in spring and again in late summer or early fall are best divided at this time of year as well. Unless you’re a very avid gardener, don’t spend too much extra to buy one of these recurrent bloomers. The plant tags come with a disclaimer that unless you water and fertilize regularly, they won’t rebloom, and even if you do everything perfectly, the growers still can’t guarantee you’ll ever see a second round of flowers.