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Past Questions and Answers | August 2007

This month's questions concern:

Planting Tuberose
Bitter Cucumbers
Get Rid Of Poison Ivy Organically
Fertilizer Residuals
Water Logged Soil
When To Harvest Corn
Growing Orchids

Please scroll down to read the answers.

Question #1:  Planting Tuberose

Question:  My question is regarding where to plant tuberoses in my flower garden? I have two plants from last year and I need to put them in the ground very soon. Would they like an east side location so they have shade in the hot part of the day, or full sun with some shade in later afternoon? Also, what type of fertilizer would they require? Thank you!

 Mary Beckwell, Bakersfield, CA, USA


ANSWER:   Hi Mary! Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa) are great! I just love the smell of them.

To grow them in your area, zones 9, I would let them have morning sun and afternoon shade or partial shade all day long. The afternoon sun there would fry them. They are zoned more for temperate coastal areas, and actually are a native to Mexico, so they will need a little extra care to get them through your winters and summers. Here are a couple more care tips to help you out:

Tuberose like to grow in zones 9-11 you might want to consider planting in pots so that in the winter they can be moved indoors, because they don't like a lot of frost or cold. Bakersfield is listed as Zone 9 so you are just on the border line and could do it either in the ground or pots.

Tuberose like it when the soil is warm, and to be planted about 2 inches (5 cm) deep and 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) apart to give room for their basal leaves, and give plenty of water during their growing season.

Tuberoses like acid conditions, so if your soil or water tends to be alkaline, feed monthly with an acid-based fertilizer like Mir-Acid. Cut the flower stems when the spikes are half open. They will bloom year after year, and in the fall allow the growth to die back before removing it.

The tubers like to be kept warm over the winter, so you can dig them up and store them somewhere dark, dry and warm. Divide the clumps every 4 years or so to keep them healthy, or if you want to grow them in pots, plant about 3 tubers in a 6 inch (15 cm) pot, put them in a very warm, dark place until the plants root. After they are rooted put them in morning sun and afternoon partial shade, water, and feed well during active growing.

Good luck!

Question #2:  Bitter Cucumbers

Question:  Why are my cucumbers bitter? I try to water on a schedule.

 Rolanda Newell, Emmett, ID, USA


ANSWER:   Hi Rolanda! Believe it or not, but you're probably watering just fine. Cucumbers get bitter when there is a sudden spike in the heat. Unfortunately there is nothing you can do about this. The good news is that when the weather cools down a bit, and evens out, the next batch of cucumbers will taste just fine.

So you're doing great.

Question #3:  Get Rid Of Poison Ivy Organically

Question:  We have both Poison Ivy and Stinging Nettle on our parkway adjacent to our lawn (city property that we maintain). I am so allergic to these and cannot touch them or get too close. What can I do to kill them. They are in full bloom at the moment. Thank you

 Elle McNear, FL, USA


ANSWER:   Hi Elle! For the readers, I need to explain that Elle and I talked back and forth via email about this, and here is our conversation:

My first suggestion was:

1. You can use a product called Brush-B-Gon Poison Ivy Killer Concentrate. It is made by Ortho. It is very toxic and it will kill your plants. You can find it at:

My concern is: if you're that allergic to it, then you will still be susceptible to the plant even when the plant is dead because the oils on the leaves and stems will still be there. Therefore, in your situation I would do option number 2.

2. Hire someone to remove it. I'm not trying to be unhelpful here, it's just that, if you are that allergic, as I said above, even after the plant is dead, the oils will still be there. In fact after you have the plant removed, you'll have to really clean up the area they were growing in because of the residue oils left behind. Poison Ivy is a long lasting plant, unfortunately.

If it were me, and I was that allergic, I would call a landscaper, or weed removal expert, and let them deal with it.

Elle wrote me back to explain that:

"I'm one of those super freaks who is also allergic to chemicals.Thanks for all the good info as far as residual oils. I have a landscaper--he's useless, but my husband is trying to give the guy a break. Anyway--I spoke to an organic farmer and she uses very strong vinegar for pest and weed control. She said to go out and pour vinegar on it during the hottest time of day. I'm going to try that. The safe, clean, organic products work just as well, so why are we still heating up our planet with all the wretched chemicals and fertilizers. Thank you for your time and excellent information. Best of all to you---Elle "

My final reply to her was:

Wow, you are allergic to lots of stuff. Bummer.

As for the vinegar, that will burn back the foliage, but it won't kill the roots because it is not a systemic herbicide, only a contact one, and the plant will grow back in time. Unfortunately that is how all organic weed killers work. They are not systemic, so they will only kill the top part of the foliage, not the fleshy roots and well established poison ivy is super hard to kill.

The key to using the vinegar will be to exhaust the reserves of the roots of the plants. Make sure you never allow much regrowth of green leaves or stems, and keep at it over and over, until you'll starve the roots. Persistence WILL work, just maybe not in one summer. You have to exhaust the reserves of the plant, and with poison ivy, that may take quite a while.

Good luck!

Question #4:  Fertilizer Residuals

Question:  How long after fertilizing vegetables with miracle grow is it safe to harvest and eat?

 David Terison, Victoria BC, CA


ANSWER:   Hi David! Most soluble fertilizers like Miracle Gro or Grow More are absorbed into the plant and soil very readily. This means that the nutrients are immediately available for the plants to use and process through their tissues quickly.

100% soluble nutritional foliage spray can be applied to fruit and other crops nearing maturity, leaving little or no visible residue at harvest. So I would go ahead and fertilize, wait about a week to 10 days and then eat whatever I wanted to.

Next year, if it were me, try using some organic fertilizers for your garden. Dr. Earth and Neptune's Harvest put out terrific products that really put MiracleGro to shame. My garden has never looked so good, my vegetables never tasted better, and they are both chemical-free fertilizers.

If you're feeling bold - give them a try!

Question #5:  Water Logged Soil

Question:  I have a back garden that is water logged, it often has an inch of water standing on it. Apparently it used to be a big pond. Parts of it hardly get any sun, any ideas what would help or what I could plant.

 Kathy Doughty, St Ives, Cambridgeshire, UK


ANSWER:   Hi Kathy! I had a friend with a severe problem with drainage. An area in his yard was like a swamp. Moss would grow everywhere and the excess water would stand for days. I recommended using a product called Penmax to eliminate the standing water fast. It is very easy to use, it is a gypsite base. You can almost watch the water drain away. Penmax will open up the pores of the soil up to 8 feet (2.4 m) deep in about 1 hour.

You can find it at:

Once the water is gone, allow the area to dry out a bit, and then do a quick soil test. You can get a kit at your nursery. Add whatever amendments the soil results tell you, till them in, and you'll have a perfect shade area to plant any shade loving trees, shrubs, or flowers you want!

Question #6:  Harvesting Corn

Question:  How do i know when corn is ready to pick?

 Joseph A. Barry, Fleetwood, PA, USA


ANSWER:   Hi Joseph! Sweet corn is usually ready to eat 3 weeks after the silks first appear; when the ears are plump, feel full, and the silks are brown and withered.

To check, pull back the husks and pop a kernel with your fingernail. If the juice that comes out is milky, it's perfect to eat.

If it has watery juice, the corn is stilll immature, while doughy consistency juice means it's overripe.

The sugars in corn turn to starch very quickly, so it is ideal to harvest and eat immediately to enjoy the sweetest flavor. Enjoy!

Question #7:  Growing Orchids

Question:  I would like to know how to take care of an orchid?

 Joni Smith, Rincon, GA, USA


ANSWER:   Hi Joni! Orchids kind of get a bad rap. They are much easier to grow than most people think, they just need a little more attention. But once you get it down, they are great! Now because there are so many varieties of orchids, and I'm not sure which ones you are interested in growing, here are some basic orchid growing tips that will serve for most of them.

Basic Orchid Information:
  • Soil: osmunda fiber, hapu'u (tree fern stem) or ground bark. There are also ready-made orchid bark mixes that are very good that have the proper texture and acid requirements. I would go for one of these.

  • Light: Bright indirect. If they are in full sun then shade them with a piece of shade cloth or light curtain so they don't burn.

  • Water: Orchids should be watered only when the potting mix starts to dry out. So about once a week or so, or when the pot gets light when you pick it up. They like a little more water during their growing season which is spring - summer and you can cut back a bit during the winter months so you don't rot them when they aren't growing as actively.

  • Humidity: Orchids like to be either misted daily or put on a pebble tray full of water to keep the humidity fairly high around them. A pebble tray is made by taking a dish and filling it almost to the top with pebbles or gravel, and filling it with water. Set the pot on top of it so that the tray isn't sitting IN the water, but just on top, so that as the water in the tray evaporates, the plant gets the humidity.

  • Fertilizer: Apply a water soluble orchid fertilizer every two weeks during the growing season.

  • Temperature: There are three different kinds of orchids, cool, intermediate, and warm.

  • Cool: like 50-55° F (10-13° C) night temps and 60-75° (16-24°C) day temps. Cool Orchids are: Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Epidendrum, Laelia, Paphiopedilum

  • Intermediate: 55-60° F (13-16° C) night and 65-80° F (18-27° C) day, with extra humidity. Intermediate: Cattleya, Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Epidendrum, Oncidium, Paphiopedilum

  • Warm: 60-65° (16-18° C) night and 70-85° F (21-29° C) day, uniform warm temps with high humidity. Warm: Phalaenopsis, and Vanda.
I hope you do buy an orchid for your home. They are terrific and the flower spikes last for weeks putting on quite a show.

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