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All Past Questions and Answers Library   |   February 2010

This month's questions concern:

Pruning Compound For Roses
Potting Mix Problems
Should Asparagus Be Pruned In The Winter
What Kind Of Filtered Water For Houseplants
How To Get Bigger Lemons
Pruning A Dogwood
Snowdrops Not Growing
Forcing Dormant Forsythia Branches Indoors

Please scroll down to read the answers.

Question #1:  Pruning Compound For Roses

Question:  What kind of sealing compound do I use to seal rose stems after pruning?

 Anita Navarra, Greensburg, IN, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Anita! This is a good question. A lot of gardeners will tell you that you only have to protect pruned rose canes that are larger than one inch (2.5 cm) in diameter or if boring insects are a problem in your area. But I don't follow this advice at all!

I have pruned thousands of roses over they years, and I have found that taking those extra few minutes to go back and seal the pruned rose cane ends is super beneficial. Rot, insects, dieback, are just some of the problems open wounds can lead to, no matter how large the diameter of the cane.

That said, there are several compounds and protectants, but the one I always use is straight pruning compound. It can be found at any garden center or home improvement center.

Pruning compound is specially prepared as a wound protectant for use in pruning of fruit trees, shade trees, roses and shrubs. It also protects against dieback from any damage such as canker or stem rot.

There are also grafting compounds and grafting waxes that can be used that are very good. Grafting compounds and waxes tend to be very elastic and highly waterproof when dried.

If you use any of these types of products on your pruned rose canes your roses will be well protected. Happy pruning!

Question #2:  Potting Mix Problems

Question:  Regarding potting mix. Here we don't get perlite or vermiculite. What we get here is wormicompost/compost, clay soil, coconut pith, cowdung manuare, and sand. With all these what will be the ideal soil or soiless mix?

 Manohar Kalidas, Manjeri, Kerala State, India


ANSWER:  Hi Manohar! Well, it depends upon what you want to use the soil for. You didn't mention if you were looking for a seed starting mix or something to use in containers.

I'll give you a recipe for both, but they may need to be adjusted by you. Most soiless mixes tend to have to be adjusted by the user to get the exact right percentages depending upon what your goal is.

The vermiculite and perlite are added to give drainage and air to the soil so the plants or seedlings don't rot. The key to using your ingredients will be if your soil mix drains well, but holds some moisture for the plants to take up without rotting.

You didn't mention if you had access to ground bark, and that would be a good replacement for the vermiculite and perlite.

Try these out:

Container Mix:
1 part ground bark chunks or chunky compost
1 part coconut peat (pith) ground up
1 part washed 20-grit sand
1/4 part 0-10-10 fertilizer
1/4 part dolomite (limestone)

Seeding Mix:
2 parts sterilized compost
1 part coconut pith (ground up)
1 part sand
1/4 part superphosphate of lime
1/4 part limestone

The above mixes have the water retaining ability with the coconut peat and compost, and the drainage with the sand. Don't forget to add in your nutrients with fertilizer and lime to help balance everything out.

Hope this helps, good luck!

Question #3:  Should Asparagus Be Pruned In The Winter

Question:  Should I prune the asparaqus in the winter? It looks like it got hit by the frost.

 Karen Snelling, Stockton, CA, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Karen! Actually no, you should not prune asparagus in the winter.

I know they look awful right now, but that top growth is still working. The asparagus looks dead, but in fact, the ferns are still making food and transporting it to replenish the crown underground.

Even though it's temping to clean the area up, leave them alone for now. Wait until spring to cut and remove the dried top growth. At that point, you'll be sure that the ferns have finished their work and the crowns will have all the nutrients they need to start growing again.

Good question.

Question #4:  What Kind Of Filtered Water For Houseplants

Question:  Your houseplant email course is outstanding! You made one comment that left me wondering whether you water with filtered water such as the faucet filters or pitcher filters (such as Brita?), or whether the filtered water you refer to for watering houseplants is osmotically filtered. Thanks!

 Kathleen Moran, Longbeach, CA, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Kathleen! Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed the series. To your question, actually every type of filtered water you mentioned would be just fine.

The goal for using filtered water is to get away from the minerals in salts that abound in unfiltered water, or if you have a water softener that is adding salt into the water. Those salts can really fry houseplant foliage and that is why you see so many houseplants with burned tips and brown edges.

As long as the filter, whether it's reverse osmosis, a pitcher filter, or a faucet filter is helping reduce the salts, you and your houseplants will be safe.

Thanks for asking so we could clarify this point for others who probably had the same question!

Question #5:  How To Get Bigger Lemons

Question:  How am I to increase the size of a lemon?

 Hassan, Karachi, Sindh Pakistan


ANSWER:  Hi Hassan! Well, there are a couple of things you can do.

1. Make sure the tree is getting proper water and fertilizer throughout the growing season. Make sure to start feeding as soon as the weather warms up, and the growing season starts.

I prefer granular fertilizer to a liquid food for trees because their slow-release formulas provide long term, regular food.

You can find citrus labeled fertilizers in your local garden centers, but if you don�t see any, pick a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and has equal parts phosphorous and potassium. A 6-4-6 fertilizer is a good option, or a 7-3-3. Make sure it�s a good quality fertilizer complete with micronutrients.

Follow the information on the fertilizer label for how often to apply it, but a good rule of thumb is to feed your citrus trees once a month until the weather cools and the growth begins to slow down. Then stop feeding, but give water when needed

2. The second thing you can do is to remove some of the fruit. If your tree is simply loaded with lemons, the tree can't produce enough food to each one. If however, you remove some fruit, there will be more food for those left and they will get larger and have more juice than if the tree had to support 100 lemons rather than 50.

Enjoy your lemons, they are simply wonderful trees and one of my favorites!

Question #6:  Pruning A Dogwood

Question:  Hi I have not pruned my dogwood for a number of years, by pruning them back hard now, will I risk killing them as the bottom stems are quick thick, the red coloured stems are starting to fade. Any advice you can provide would be much appreciated.

 Alastair Higgins, Belfast, Northern Ireland


ANSWER:  Hi Alastair! In reading your question, you didn't mention if you have a shrub dogwood or a tree dogwood. It sounds like you have a shrub dogwood, but let's go over both to be sure I get you the information you need.

Shrub dogwoods are grown primarily for the colorful bark on the young branches and should be cut back to the ground periodically to remove less attractive older stems and promote the growth of new, colorful stems. The fact that your stems are quite thick and are losing colour, that tells me you are doing the right thing in pruning your shrub back hard.

To encourage bright new growth, cut back the oldest stems (above a set of buds) in late winter or early spring before the leaves appear. Don't worry, you won't kill your shrubs.

On the contrary, by pruning you will be invigorating the shrubs to put on healthy new growth. By not pruning, that can actually allow a plant to eventually die because it is not motivated to put any new growth on. So rest assured, you are doing the correct thing.

Tree dogwoods actually require very little pruning. As with any tree, dead and diseased branches should be removed as soon as they are noticed. You can the thin the branch structure of your dogwood by selectively removing crowded branches at the point where they originate from a larger branch or the trunk.

You can also remove low-hanging branches. This kind of pruning, which is done to shape and thin a dogwood, is best done in late winter or early spring before new growth begins.

So my advice is to go for it and get pruning! You'll be so glad you did when you see the wonderful results to your beautiful dogwood.

Question #7:  Snowdrops Not Growing

Question:  We have many daffodils and narcissi and none have yet shown their leaves? More importantly none of our snowdrops have appeared yet - is the cold weather holding them back?

 Richard Norman, Stowmarket, Suffolk, UK


ANSWER:  Hi Richard! This is an interesting question because snowdrops, as their name implies, are not held back by cold weather.

In fact, they are one of the earliest flowering bulbs and have been known to grow right through the snow and start flowering. So I don't think that's the problem.

It sounds to me like you have had your snowdrops and daffodils for a long time and they may have become overcrowded. Congested clumps of snowdrops will eventually fail to grow and flower.

Same thing with daffodils, they need lots of food to grow and flower. If they don't get enough food because of crowding of the bulbs or because neighboring plants are smothering them with their roots, they just can't grow.

So take a look and:

1. Make sure your bulbs have room to grow. If they have grown into clumps, you will need to divide them up.

2. Make sure that neighboring plants are not smothering the snowdrops and daffodils with their roots are their leaves.

3. Move the snowdrops and daffodils to a new location if necessary.

Think of it as crowded bulbs are hungry bulbs, and hungry bulbs won't flower. So if that is the case, divide the clumps in late summer and replant them. By doing this, you will have drifts of beautiful flowers once again.

Hope this helps, good luck!

Question #8:  Forcing Dormant Forsythia Branches Indoors

Question:  I remember when I was much younger, the school science class would force forsythia branches to open and flower. I need to see some spring soon! I thought if I could do this it would help lift my spirits. Can you please tell me how? I cut 4 branches today. I trimed them and cut the stems at an angle. I then put them in water with plant food. I thought if they just came inside where it was warm that might work. Am I right?

 Charlotte Driscoll, Holbrook, MA, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Charlotte! You are totally right and by the time I write this reply you will probably already be enjoying colorful yellow flowers and hopefully feeling better!

You can also put them in water that is mixed with Seven-up or floral food or just some granular sugar. Any of those will provide the sugars necessary to help the branches flower. I've even seen them flower with just regular water with nothing added because the warmth does the trick.

You can force just about any kind of flowering trees such as plum, cherry, peach, pear, quince, pussy willow, lilac, dogwood, apple, spiria, etc. They will all flower indoors.

Enjoy the color and hang in there, only a few more months until spring!

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Low Light House Plants

Many plants thrive on very little light, making them ideal for those parts of your house that are not well lit.

A couple good choices for areas without lots of light are:

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For more information about this, watch our video on low light houseplants in the video tips section!

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