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Past Questions and Answers | April 2011

Question #1

Question:  I am new to gardening and my yard has a lot of shady areas and about 1/3 is in full sun. what would you recommend we plan (preferably not to re-plan every year) that would give our yard some color? thank you

  Laura, Walnut Creek, CA


ANSWER:   Shade is tough because plants get their food from the sun. However, you can try Nandina, Turk.s Cap, Carolina Jessamine, Possumhaw, Big Periwinkle, or Red Buckeye for the shade.

For the sun, Daffodils, Passion flowers, Purslane, Blue Plumbago, California Poppies, Dutch Hyacinth, or Dwarf Pampas grass are a few of the choices. They all have pretty colors and are perennials.

Question #2

Question:  I have a plant that was two starters, so the roots were attached to each other. I replanted them,so they are growing pretty well, but what do I do to plant them separately in their own pots?

  Angela Brumfield, Gainesville, Georgia


ANSWER:   Plants can loose some of their root mass without dying. You will have to remove them from the pot and remove the loose soil with your hands. Putting down a few sheets of newspaper or butcher paper first is a good idea unless you want dirt everywhere.

Once you have the bulk of the dirt removed, take sharp scissors or pruning shears and carefully cut the foot mass apart. Do this roughly in the center of the joint, so each plant gets half of the roots there.

Once the surgery is complete, cut one third of the top part of the start back and repot. By trimming a little off the top you reduce the load on the roots until they can regenerate. Baby the plants a little bit with some fertilizer in their water the first time you water them, and make sure they are in good light. The plants should recover and grow as if nothing ever happened.

Question #3

Question:  what is a ahhxygen houseplant and how do I care for it? thank you

  Candi Boehner, Dayton, OH


ANSWER:   Ahhxygen is a trademark owned by Homer TLC, Inc. It refers to a number of plants, but they are not specified on the application.

Question #4

Question:  When to plant Peony in zone 8 area?

When to cut back Crape Myrtles in zone 8

Just moved from Fl and at a loss.

  Sandy Balmer, Thomaston, GA


ANSWER:   It is not necessary, and is in fact harmful, to top crape myrtles in any zone. Pruning weak limbs or limbs that obstruct sidewalks and walkways, or cause some hazard, is done in January where you live. In a pinch, it can be done later, but for best results, the trees need to be dormant when pruned.

Peony is planted in the spring, after the danger of frost is past. If you are planting it in the fall, it needs at least a month in the ground before the frost.

Question #5

Question:  We bought our house last year and it has a lot of fruit trees, berry bushes, and other plants/flowers. How do I identify what they are as I'm not very experienced.

  James Louthan, Everett, Washington


ANSWER:   The easiest way on the fruit trees and berry bushes is to wait until they bear fruit. Most of the time you will recognize it, but if not, take a ripe specimen with a few leaves and a 6 inch or so length of branch to your county extension agent. They can help you identify it. For other plants, you want to clip a flower with stalk and leaves and take it in. There are not really any good books on identifying flowers or plants if you have no idea where to start.

Washington State is where the Master Gardener program started. Your county should have some and your county extension agent should have a list of programs and events they put on. Go to a few of their programs and see if you can find someone who will make a home visit and identify the plants in your yard. Some counties have someone who does that. Others no longer allow that because of liability concerns, so if that is the case you will have to take the specimens in.

Question #6

Question:  Is there a difference between chives and winter onions? If so where might I find winter onions?

  Fred Lewis, Olney, Texas


ANSWER:   Chives are an herb that has an onion-like taste. It has a small bulb and never gets very big before it divides.
If you grow onions from slips, they are transplants. In Texas, you plant onions from seeds in October, just as you plant garlic. They then grow through the winter on the warm days and go dormant during cold spells. You then have bigger, better rooted onions in January than the people who are just planting slips. From there, the onions develop the same, the ones from seed just have a head start.
You have to purchase your onion seed in the spring with your other vegetable seeds, and you usually have to purchase it by mail or over the internet. Dixon Farms usually has some in addition to their onion sets, but they sell out quickly. Seed Saver.s Exchange has some, but also sells out quickly. Purchase short day seed.

Question #7

Question:  in the past I have had trouble starting veg plants indoors. they always seem to grow very fast, spindly and eventually tip over. I have 3 12X24 ft. gardens and would appreciate the savings of starting my own. Ideas please.

  Paul Ryan, Duluth, MN


ANSWER:   Your grow lights are too high. They are supposed to be suspended over the flats only an inch or two above the plants. As the plant grows, you raise the light. Most people use chains and hook the lights higher on the chains as the vegetables grow. In this way, the plants will be stockier and less likely to tip over. Also, do not over fertilize them. Keep the soil moist, but only fertilize once a week or so as directed by the package. Then the plants will not grow themselves to death.

Question #8

Question:  What food do geraniums thrive on?

  Chery Fox, Gainesville, GA


ANSWER:   Potted Geraniums like a balanced fertilizer such as a 13-13-13. It needs to be water soluble and given when the plant is watered periodically. For best results, follow the directions on the label of the fertilizer.

If your geraniums are in a flower bed, you should have a yearly soil sample done. That will tell you what nutrients you have in your soil so you know what to add. You will always need to add nitrogen, but some places have enough phosphorus or potassium in the soil so you do not need to add them.

Question #9

Question:  We just bought our first home. So we are new to lawn care. Our front yard was sodded, but didn't take in some places and now its getting some weeds with little white flower looking things on them. I need to know what to do to treat the yard for weeds and any other info that might help make our lawn look more full and lush.

  Donna Williams, Clarksville, TN


ANSWER:   The first thing to establish is what type of grass you have. If you have Bermuda grass, you can use a weed and fertilizer product on your lawn that will kill the weeds and help your grass grow into a lush lawn. Water one inch a week all at once, mow frequently enough that you cut no more than one third of the grass blade each time, and enjoy.

If, however, you have Saint Augustine in your yard, virtually anything you do to kill the weeds will kill your lawn. In that case, you set your mower on low. Make sure you have a sharp, new, mower blade because dull blades tear grass and weaken it. Fertilize with a product that says on the label it is safe for Saint Augustine lawns. Water an inch a week all at once. Mow once or twice a week and cut the grass short. Mow frequently enough that you do not cut more than one third of the grass blade each time you mow. The weeds cannot tolerate the frequent mowing, but the Saint Augustine will thrive. It will outcompete the weeds and grow into a nice lawn.

Question #10

Question:  I have planted pigmy palm trees at the side of our church how tall will they and will they interfere with the building either with the roots or the fronds as they grow. I have them about a foot away from the building.

  Josephine LaBelle, Florida


ANSWER:   A pygmy date palm will get to be 6-12 feet tall. However, it will spread 6 -10 feet wide. One foot from the building is probably going to cause a problem with both their roots and their fronds. Before planting a tree, it is important to consider not just the height but the spread. In this case, a six foot tree with a six foot spread would be just right to catch people in the face with the fronds.

Question #11

Question:  I have a semi-dwarf hybrid apple tree, 2 years old. There are four main branches coming off the trunk. (which is only 18" off the ground) the four main branches produces four different kinds of apples. Last year the branches got too heavy that it made the branches droop and I lost a lot of the apples. How do I fix this problem from happening this year and how do I prune it so it can start getting sturdier?

  Livie West, Woodbridge, Virginia


ANSWER:   Normally, you remove all fruit from a tree the first four years. This is done as soon as the fruit sets in the spring. The tree can then spend all of its. energy on growing strong branches. After the tree reaches about four years old, you thin the fruit to one every six inches. This will protect the branches from breaking under the weight of the fruit. You also get bigger fruit and less disease.

As far as pruning, you cut off the branches pointing down and encourage the branches going up. This is done in the winter when the tree is dormant.

Question #12

Question:  I am a first time homeowner and I am wondering how hard it is to use seed for planting grass than sod. I have a large area to cover and would rather use seed cause of the expense. What are the proper steps do you think would be most successful in this case?


  Benjamin, Odessa, TX


ANSWER:   Sod is popular because it requires no special equipment. Grass seed is not simply sowed on the ground, but has to be drilled. This requires a special machine that is drawn by a tractor or other large machine. Even hay producers have new fields drilled by a specialist. If you provide the seed, it may still be cheaper to have the lawn drilled than sod it.

Alternatively, you can have it hydromulched. This is the bright green stuff the highway department sprays on the side of the road after construction. It also requires a special machine and a lot of water. That is likely to cost more than either drilling or sod if it is a large area.

Question #13

Question:  I wanted to have scented flowers like hyacinth,feverfew,hibiscus,roses and start some vegetables in pots in the balcony.I need help in plating these as i'm new to plating.I would also like to know about the soil,pots and compost for the same.Thanks

  Rama, Dublin, Dublin


ANSWER:   The first thing to check is how much weight your balcony can hold. Pots full of soil and plants are very heavy when wet. Overloading the balcony could cause it to fall.

For vegetables, you need pots that are at least two feet deep for root vegetables and a foot deep for above ground vegetables. If you are in Dublin, Ireland, you will be dealing more with cold than heat, so you may want to put the pots on wheeled trays so you can roll them in during the winter and out again when it warms up.

As for soil, in the United States, almost any potting soil mixture will grow the plants you mention. If you put half potting soil, half compost in each pot it will grow things well. For a beginner, starting off with plants you get from the nursery and transplant into your pots will probably work best for all but the root vegetables. They should be planted from seed following the directions on the packet.

Question #14

Question:  My father used to burn off his garden to rid it of weeds. When should this be done? Spring or Fall?

  Arlene Price, Elwood, IN


ANSWER:   Burning off the garden is no longer recommended due to the pollution it causes. If you must do so anyway, you do it in the spring before planting. Then you turn the ash under and plant as normal. Ash add phosphorus, so adjust your fertilizer accordingly.

Question #15

Question:  Would using mulch in my vegetable garden help control weeds? And would my plant food get thru the much?

  Constance Falls, St. Louis, MO


ANSWER:   Mulch is very useful to keep down weeds in a garden and to help retain moisture in the soil. The way you use mulch is different around transplants and around seeds. When you plant transplants, you go ahead and put an inch of mulch around them. As they grow, you add mulch until it is three inches thick. This provides a barrier to weeds.

For seeds, you wait to mulch until the seeds come up, then gradually add mulch as the plants grow until the mulch is three inches thick. At the end of the season, you till it back under the soil to decompose and fertilize the soil for the next year.

Question #16

Question:  I am noticing lots of moss in my flower bed. Is the cause too much water or something else?

  Alice Swift, Waterloo, IN


ANSWER:   It is probably caused by too much water. You need to provide one inch of water a week. If it rains, deduct that amount from the inch per week so that you do not overwater. If the moss problem persists, consult your county extension agent.

Question #17

Question:  I have a spot in my front yard that I want to plant something. However, the soil is terrible and, in the summer, gets full afternoon sun. I want shrubbery but small manageable trees would work. I also have a HUGE Mimosa tree and Oak in my front yard. Any suggestions?

  Vicki McKnight, Virginia Beach, VA


ANSWER:   You can make a simple raised bed by using untreated 1 X 12 inch boards. Fill with soil and plant your shrubs there. The publication Problem Free Shrubs for the Virginia Landscape will help you pick some shrubs that will thrive there. There are many other publications put out by the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service at that same website that should be useful.

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