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Past Questions and Answers | April 2012

Question #1

Question:  My vegetable garden has looked amazing the past couple of years but I haven't really gotten that many vegetables from it. The plants didn't keep producing through the growing season. Do I need to add something to my soil?

  Fallon Gilbert, Mechanicsville, MD


ANSWER:   Most vegetables are heavy feeders, meaning they need fertilizer to produce the vegetable or fruit we eat. You cannot go wrong by adding Nitrogen, which all the vegetables use heavily. However, if you add too much, you get wonderful plants and no vegetables, because the plant puts all its energy into growing. The best bet would be to get a soil test and follow the recommendations you receive with the results. Your county extension agent has the soil test collection bags and information on how to collect the needed soil and send it off.

Question #2

Question:  I have a problem every year with my seedlings that I start in doors under florescent lights, and slowly introduce sunlight. After they have broken ground for about two weeks, many of the tomato seedlings, cucumber and melon seedlings start to droop and get brown at the tips of the leaves. I try to revive them , put them out doors more (in So California it is sunny in February!), and end up planting them in the outdoor beds early. Eventually they revive themselves out doors. Why is that happening? Over watering? Type of light? I am puzzled.

  Harry Gantz, Los Angeles, CA


ANSWER:   You have damp off. Usually, when the plants droop, they die quickly. This is a fungal infection caused by poor sanitation and excessive water. Before starting your seeds, soak the pots in a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water for ten minutes. Use only sterilized potting soil or put the soil in a shallow pan and bake at 200 degrees F for 30 minutes. This kills the fungal spores.

Further, when watering your seedlings, water by setting the pots in a shallow dish of water, rather than pouring water on top of them. This avoids splashing dirt on the plant, which may contain fungal spores. It also keeps the stems and leaves dry, which makes it hard for fungus to grow if it does make it up there.

Question #3

Question:  I love to grow Petunia's because of the instant color it brings to the garden, but within a short time they get leggy. What is the correct way to pinch these back?

  Leigh Hancock, Tulsa, OK


ANSWER:   When grandifloras or multifloras petunias grow about six inches tall, pinch them back to encourage rapid formation of flowering side shoots. Do not pinch millifloras or "spreading" petunias.

Question #4

Question:  My camellia, which has grown in the ground for over 25 years, is losing leaves rapidly. Buds are appearing on stems, but the leaf loss is ongoing and startling. No changes of culture over the years.

  Leelane Hines, Los Altos, CA


ANSWER:   Your camellia is at the end of its lifespan. It is trying to seed before it finally dies.

Question #5

Question:  We have pine needles in our plant beds, but have decided to change to mulch. Do we need to remove all of the pine needles before mulching?

  Jennifer Munn, Charlotte, NC


ANSWER:   Pine needles are a kind of mulch. When changing to another kind of mulch, you can leave the pine needles in place and cover them with the new mulch. The pine needles will slowly decompose. If you add an inch of new mulch a year, by year three most of the pine needles will have decomposed and you will have all new mulch.

Question #6

Question:  Doesn.t using molasses in the garden attract insects and or animals making it more trouble than it could be worth?

  Mary Brock, Medina, OH


ANSWER:   Molasses is used by some organic gardeners as an additive to fertilizer to make it more effective. However, the amount added is small and it soaks into the soil quickly. This does not appear to attract insects or animals to it.

Question #7

Question:  Hello, I have a Bay Tree in a pot on my patio, but it has black sooty marks on the leafs. what is this and how do I deal with it. Thank you.

  Linda Amfield, Clacton on Sea, Essex


ANSWER:   Your bay tree has sooty mold. Cool, damp weather and an early spring increase the chances of getting sooty mold. It is generally associated with insects such as aphids that produce sticky fluids that feed the mold. Eliminating the insects will deprive the mold of food and it will gradually disappear. Identifying which insects are causing the problem is a crucial step as not all pesticides will kill all pests. Make certain that any pesticide you use is labeled for use on bay trees.

Question #8

Question:  I live in small condo development in Montreal and we have a shed at the back of our garden space where we planted strawberries on the sloped roof last year. The squirrels were most appreciative ! Any ideas on what we could plant there that would offer less maintenance for us and less appeal to our furry friends... ground covers maybe ? Thank you for any information/ideas you may have.

  Signy Stephenson, Montreal, Quebec,


ANSWER:   Asian Jasmine is a very hardy ground cover that squirrels do not usually bother. It is somewhat invasive, however, so needs to be contained. A roof would be a good place for it as it cannot escape and cause a problem.

Question #9

Question:  Hello! I am trying to start a vegetable/herb garden in Northern Ireland. Like many of the people in the Q&A section, I have a clay based soil which is waterlogged most of the year. What vegetables (if any!) will grow in these conditions? Thanks

  Heather Chestnut, Northern Ireland


ANSWER:   Actually, you can grow most vegetables in your soil if you prepare it properly. Till it to a depth of six inches. Spread three inches of compost on the tilled soil. Till that in until it is completely mixed with the soil. The compost helps absorb water, provide space for oxygen, and enriches the soil with nutrients. Do this every year before planting and you should be able to grow a wonderful garden.

Question #10

Question:  Below our house is a creekbed that overflows into a floodplain edged with cobble during the rainey season in northern CA. The soil stays damp from spring to fall after the creek flow slows down. Can you suggest plantings that could withstand the flooding in winter and hopefully provide greenery and color in the spring and summer?

  Sonny Brandt, Oroville, CA


ANSWER:   Not much tolerates being flooded part of the year and dry the rest of the year. Your best bet is to plant seasonal annuals there to provide color and greenery and let it lay fallow during the flood season.

Question #11

Question:  My broccoli and cauliflower seedlings stop growing at about one inch high. They germinate ok, begin growing and then just stop with only two leaves and a spindly little stem. Why don't they grow fat and lush with more leaves and a stout stem? I keep them moist but not over watered, on a heat mat and under lights. Please advise, thank you

  Rose Blacklidge, Oregon City, Oregon


ANSWER:   If your plants stop growing and abruptly fall over, you have problems with damping off. If they just don.t grow, but don.t die, it sounds like a nutrient deficiency. Try fertilizing them with a liquid fertilizer when you water them after they germinate.

Question #12

Question:  What can I put on my strawberry plants to get rid of clover and weeds, but not kill the strawberry plant itself?

  Tammi Webb, Union Mills, In


ANSWER:   Nothing. Anything that kills clover and weeds will kill your strawberry plants. You will have to weed them by hand.

Question #13

Question:  We have a slightly wooded area that is approximately a quarter of an acre with out of control weeds. We are wanting to plant grass for lower maintenance but don't know where to start to kill the weeds. Round up is expensive and hard on the soil, so what else could we do in a shaded area to kill the weeds?

  Dani Edson, South Bend, Indiana


ANSWER:   Anything you use for a quarter of an acre is going to be expensive. What you use depends on the type of weeds and the type of grass you want to plant. Roundup is the best way to kill weeds but using it around trees may kill them if you get too much of it on the trees. 2,4,D kills many broadleaf weeds and is available mixed with Bermuda grass seed in turf and weed products for easy application. However, 2,4,D will kill St. Augustine grass, which is the most shade tolerant of the grasses. Your best bet would be to use 2,4,D to kill the weeds then plant St. Augustine grass.

Question #14

Question:  Hello . I was looking for help growing tomatoes in Florida, and I came across your web site. I am in zone 9 (Orlando, Fl) Maybe you can help me. I have a small green house in my back yard, and I have success with everything but tomatoes plants. I have 4 tomato plants, with only ONE tomato fruit. I have tried several types, several fertilizers, without success.

what type of tomato you recommend for Central Florida??

I enclosed a couple of pictures, so you can see with is going on with my tomato plants. They form like a flower, without a flower, and nothing grows out of those little things ...

Can you help?


  Silvia, Orlando, Florida


ANSWER:   It looks like your tomatoes are too hot. Tomatoes will not set fruit if the night temperature is over 90 degrees for an extended time. How hot do you keep your greenhouse? Most commercially available tomatoes will grow in Central Florida. Some of the old standbys are Celebrity for beefsteak type tomatoes, sweet 100s for cherry tomatoes, and Roma tomatoes for paste and canning.

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Fertilize Container Plants

Because container gardens are usually grown to show off a lot color, the plants in them require more frequent fertilizing.

It's good to feed them every two weeks with a water-soluble complete fertilizer like a 20-20-20 or a hyrdolized fish fertilizer.

Regular feeding will help them fill in faster, and produce more flowers.

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