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Past Questions and Answers | December 2007



This month's questions concern:

Vermicompost
Miniature Roses
Pruning a Butterfly Bush
What To Do With Gladiolus Cormels
Getting Rid Of Mushrooms
Rotting Pears
Planting Spring Bulbs In Summer

Please scroll down to read the answers.


Question #1:  Vermicompost

Question:  How do I make my own vermicompost. Can I use kitchen waste to make it?

 Hina Dossa, Bombay, Maharashtra, India

 

ANSWER:   Hi Hina! Good question. Vermicompost for those who don't know is also called worm compost, or worm castings, and is the breakdown of organic matter by some species of earthworms, usually Red Wigglers (Eisenia foetida) or Red Earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus).

The answer to your question is most definately yes! Vermicompost is gaining popularity, and for some people, it's an easier way to get good garden compost with out the mess of a compost pile.

Here are some basics for you.

First of all you, can purchase a worm farm unit, or you can build one yourself. It's up to you. The purchased ones are usually made out of black plastic and have 4 or 5 trays. The idea is that as the worms eat their way up through the food in the trays, they leave behind rich, vermicast and liquid fertilizer on the lower levels.

You can make your own, by building a series of interlocking wooden trays that rest one upon the other, just make sure the wood is untreated.

The bin should be kept in a cool, but not cold, shady place away from direct sunlight. Worms like dark, moist environments with a temperature between 55-77° F (13-24° C). Worm bins can be placed outside during the summer, but they need to be brought in when the weather cools off. Good indoor places include: the basement, or in a heated garage.

The Worms

You can buy packages of 1000 composting worms from local nurseries, or even on the internet.

Why Is Vermicompost So Great?
  • As worms digest the composting materials, they produce an end product which, by some, is considered the richest of natural fertilizers

  • 1 tablespoon provides enough organic plant nutrients to feed an 8-inch (20 cm) potted plant for over two months

  • Castings are absorbed easily and immediately by plants; castings never burn plants

  • Vermicompost is rich in water-soluble plant nutrients including highly concentrated nitrates, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and minerals such as manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt, borax, iron, carbon, and nitrogen

  • It allows households that donít have a yard, such as apartments, condominiums, and houses on small lots to reap the benefits of composting

  • It reduces the food waste going to landfills. In some areas, 17 percent of the trash that goes to landfills is food waste

Feeding The Worms:

Worms will eat: shredded newspaper or office paper, shredded cardboard, leaves, peat moss, soil and sand, pulverized egg shells, vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, bread, plant trimmings, flowers, and other organic scraps.

The bins should be mostly filled with dry, bulky materials such as paper. The whole mixture should be kept slightly moist, about as damp as a wrung-out sponge.

Do Not Feed Them:

Meat or fish scraps, dairy products such as milk or cheese, no plants treated with pesticides, cat litter or oily foods like peanut butter or mayonnaise. These items will cause your worm bin to smell, attract pests such as flies, or kill your worms.

I hope this helps, and I hope you try this out. Good luck!



Question #2:  Miniature Roses

Question:  I have a potted mini rose plant that loves to be outside, but when I bring it in for the winter its leaves turn yellow and start dropping off. Is this too much water? What can I do?

 Khadija Benaissa, Philadelphia, PA, USA

 

ANSWER:   Hi Khadija! I don't think water is your problem.

I think what throws people off about miniature roses is that they see them in the stores and nurseries looking green and full because they are greenhouse grown.

Miniature roses, like regular roses will go dormant if not given the correct environment.

This is not to say that you can't keep them evergreen, because you can, but they need tons of bright light, like they would outdoors, good ventilation to keep insects and diseases to a minimum, and a good amount of humidity.

It sounds to me like you plant isn't getting enough light and humidity.

There are couple of things you can do:

1. You can leave your roses outdoors and treat them like a regular rose, providing them cold weather protection

2. You can bring them in during the cold weather, provided you can give them the indoor environment they require

3. You can leave them in year-round, provided you can give them the indoor environment they require

If you don't have an area where the plant can get a lot of bright sunlight, you'll have to invest in some grow lights.

The main thing is to give the plants maximum light and adequate humidity. A south-facing window that gets screened from midday sun in the summer is ideal. During the winter months, when the sun isn't as hot at midday as the summer months, you don't need to screen the plants.

Water well, but allow the soil to dry out between waterings.

To make sure they get enough humidity, put your plants on a pebble tray filled with water so the pot stays out of the water, but the evaporation of the water provides humidity.

I personally never mist any kind of rose, because I don't want to mess with powdery mildew, so I opt for the pebble tray instead.

They may be fussy, but miniature roses are beautiful, and when you can make them happy, they will reward you with great color and fragrance like no other plant.




Question #3:  Pruning a Butterfly Bush

Question:  When do you trim a butterfly bush and how much do you cut off?

 Kathleen Dutton, Waverly, NY, USA

 

ANSWER:   Hi Kathleen! Butterfly bushes (Buddleja davidii) really can put on the growth, can't they?

They are semievergreen to deciduous bushes that can grow as much as 10 feet (3 m) tall and wide in one summer.

If you want them to get over 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) in height in the summer, then it's best to cut them back to 1 or 2 .6feet (.3 to m) in the fall.

Don't cut butterfly bushes back too early; November is the earliest you want to do this. If they do die off in the winter, then just cut them off at the ground about the first of May, and they'll come back.

Even when a butterfly bush doesn't develop leaf buds on the previous year's branches, it will usually sprout new growth from the root system. Be patient though. It might be late May before your butterfly bush shows signs of new growth.

In early June, cut out any branches which may have died over the winter. This is also a good time to trim the butterfly bush to the shape you'd like it to be.

During its blooming period, usually mid July through September, you might deadhead (remove spend flowers) every two weeks or so. This makes sure that the bush will put its energy into producing more flowers rather than seed.

Any other pruning, done to shape the plant, should be done after flowering.

Butterfly bushes are one of those shrubs you can be pretty heavy handed with, and they are very forgiving; that's always nice to know!



Question #4:  What To Do With Gladiolus Cormels

Question:  My gladiolus bulbs had hundreds of tiny bulblets around the base when I lifted them to overwinter. What must I do with these, please?

  Trish Herring, Doncaster, Yorkshire, England

 

ANSWER:   Hi Trish! Sounds like your gladiolus are very happy with you, and they are rewarding you with more plants.

Not to sound like a know-it-all, but gladiolus actually are corms, and the bulblets you are talking about are called Cormels.

I really don't care what we call them for the sake of this answer, but because I do get read pretty literally at times, it behooves me to be accurate!

OK - so to your question!

Carefully remove all the cormels, and then overwinter them in the same way as you do your other gladiolus. Although all cormels can be saved, those that are about 1/2 inch (about .05 cm) or larger give the best results.

In the spring, plant the new cormels about 2 inches (5 cm) deep. A few may reach flowering size the first year, but most will need a second, or even a third year of growth before they'll produce flowers.

Typically, the shallower a corm is planted, the more cormels will form.

With all these new plants you'll have, your yard in a few years is going to be stunning. Enjoy!



Question #5:  Getting Rid Of Mushrooms

Question:  I have unwanted mushrooms in my yard. How can I make them go away? They have made 1 of my dogs sick. Thank You !

  Brad Pingle, Brentwood,CA, USA

 

ANSWER:   Hi Brad! I'm sorry to hear about your dog, I hope he or she is OK.

I wish I could give you some good news, but mushrooms are super hard to get rid of.

You can't really spray them because fungicides sprayed onto the mushroom itself do little good because the mushroom is simply the fruiting structure of the organism. Most of the fungus is below ground and inaccessible to the chemical.

What I do in my yard, is I pick them as soon as I start to see them appear because it helps prevent their spores from spreading to new sites.

That said, however, because most spores are wind-blown long distances, they can easily come into your lawn and yard again from neighboring areas.

Mushrooms tend to go away as the soil dries out. So water your yard less, or if you have a lawn area, you may want to think about having it dethatched and aerated to allow better air movement.

In order to keep you dogs healthy, keep an eye out, and as soon as you see mushrooms popping up, cut them off and throw them away.



Question #6:  Rotting Pears

Question:  My pear tree bore a tremendous amount of fruit this year. However, this is now all rotting from the middle out. Someone has suggested that the tree may have canker and must be cut down. I dread to do this - is there any treatment.

  Andrew Keegan, Dublin, Killiney, Ireland

 

ANSWER:   Hi Andrew! No don't cut your tree down, there is nothing wrong with it!

You simply are allowing your fruit to ripen on the tree instead of picking it while it is still green. Let me explain.

First of all I am assuming you have a European pear variety and not an Asian variety, and European pears divide into two basic categories: fall pears, that do not need a storage period before they are ready to use, and winter pears, that will not mature properly unless they are given a resting period in cold storage immediately after picking.

The fall pears are earlier ripening varieties such as Bartlett, Clapp Favorite, and Orcas, while those that ripen later, such as Bosc, Comice, and Highland, are winter pears.

In either case, both fall and winter pears still look "green" at the time they are ready to pick. If you wait to pick your pears until they look ripe, with yellow skin color, they will be soft and soon rot in storage.

In addition, since most pears ripen from the inside out, if left on the tree to ripen, many varieties will brown at the core--in other words, they are overripe in the middle.

This is variety dependent but is particularly common in most fall pears. The Orcas pear is one fall variety that has not been plagued with this condition and ripens fairly well on the tree. However, if you want to store pears for a month or more, letting them ripen on the tree won't work. The earlier harvested fruit on a pear also stores the best for a given variety, and like apples the later season varieties (winter pears) have the longest storage potential.

The best guide is this: when most pears are ripe, the stems will easily separate from the spur when the fruit is lifted up, not pulled down. If you have to tug and pull to get the pear off, it usually is not ready.

After picking, fall pears can be kept on a shelf at room temperature until ready to eat - when yellow color develops and the fruit begins to soften. Fall pears can be stored but usually do not keep for more than 4-6 weeks.

Many people use their fall pears for canning and drying.

Winter pears should be put into some kind of cold storage (33 to 40° F or .56 to 4.4° C) for at least 3 weeks. After that period, you can start to bring out fruit as needed to soften up at room temperature. At first it may take 5 to 9 days before the pears are ready to eat; later on a couple of days at room temperature may be long enough.

I was probably a little too long in my answer here, but pears are one of my favorite fruits, and they should not be wasted, so I wanted to give you enough information so you can enjoy your pears as much as possible.



Question #7:  Planting Spring Bulbs In Summer

Question:  I know spring flowering bulbs are planted in fall. If for some reason one plants these bulbs in summer what damage can occur to the bulbs?

  Mirza Baig, Kansas City, KS, USA

 

ANSWER:   Hi Mirza! You're not going to do any damage to the bulb, you just won't have any flowers for another year.

We plant in the fall because during the dormant stage the root systems are growing and getting ready to push new growth and flowers when the weather warms up. In some climates you can plant all the way until late December.

Late-planted bulbs will develop roots late and may bloom later than normal, or maybe not at all. It depends. All that will happen is that you will have no performance from them, until they get back on schedule the following year. Water the bulbs after planting and care for them as usual.




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Gardening-tip:



Bramble Fruit

Bramble fruits will tolerate some shade, but the more sun they have the more fruit they'll produce, especially in cooler climates.


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