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Past Questions and Answers | February 2012

Question #1

Question:  If I let my chlorinated tap water set for 24 hours, can I water my indoor plants with it?

  James Rodman, Center Hill, FL


ANSWER:   Chlorine will evaporate if the water is left out for 24 hours. Some municipalities use other chemicals to treat water that do not evaporate and could be harmful to your plants. It is best to use rain water or distilled water to avoid problems. Distilled water has been stripped of harmful chemicals, but also of any trace minerals and nutrients, so you will have to use a water soluble fertilizer to give your plants those things.

Question #2

Question:  Can I spray Safers Insecticidal soap directly on to orchid blooms?

  Louise Hacking, Toronto, Ontario


ANSWER:   Orchids are not specifically mentioned on the label. There is a caution that some delicate plants will suffer from phytotoxicity, or plant injury, when sprayed with this product, so you should test it on a small part of the orchid and see if it causes a problem before using it all over the plant. Should the tested area start to wilt, wash well with clean water and refrain from using the product on your orchids.

Question #3

Question:  I have spider plant that is already VERY large and is out growing it pot. I thought perhaps I might divide up the roots and repot it in different pots, is this possible and how is it accomplished? I never attempted anything like this before. Can someone advise me please? Thanks!

  Lisa Anne Harkins, Palmyra, New Jersey


ANSWER:   Spider plants have little plantlets that grow on stalks and will root when touching the soil. Generally, new plants are grown from these plantlets. It is possible to divide the central root stock by uprooting it, shaking off as much dirt as possible, and pulling the plant into several smaller clumps. These are then potted as if they were new plants.

Question #4

Question:  I have started a half dozen Jacaranda trees from seed and they mostly look great. They do now (Several months old and about 10 inches tall) appear to have some sort of scale insect. What i see is pale green and then they turn a light chocolate brown. Newer leaves don.t show it right away. Any thoughts?

  Jesse Major, Littleton, Colorado


ANSWER:   Scale insects can be controlled with dormant oil, but it must be applied before the plants leaf out for the spring. The oil suffocates them. Other insecticides do not have much effect on scale insects because the scale protects them from the chemicals, but even scale insects have to breathe.

Question #5

Question:  I manage to grow avocado plants by putting the pits in water. However, once I try to transplant it to soil (loose soil) the plant leaves turn brown, wither and die. what I do? Thank you for your help.

  Elaine Huey, Pacifica, CA


ANSWER:   Avocado plants are generally grafted, so the seed does not grow true to the plant it came from. Most seeds are from avocados that are very salt intolerant, and almost any soil has too much salt in it for them to survive. That is why they die when you plant them. If you want to successfully grow avocadoes, you will have to buy the grafted plants at a nursery.

Question #6

Question:  I live in a rural area and I have a rabbit problem eating just about anything I plant. I wonder if you could suggest a way to trap them or somehow scare them away. Thanks

  Sergio C. Alvear, Quintero, Chile


ANSWER:   The best way to prevent rabbits from eating your plants is to surround them with a three foot fence of one inch welded wire. The rabbits cannot squeeze through that to eat the plants. Trapping rabbits will not have a meaningful impact on their population, since they reproduce so rapidly.

Question #7

Question:  My crepe myrtle is blooming & my Daffodils are coming up. Normally this is not any problem, but it's only jan.20 !! Will this have a lasting problem with them blooming when they are supposed to, or will this kill them?

  Susan Tileston, Stanford, KY


ANSWER:   It will not kill them. They may freeze back when a hard freeze occurs, and you may lose the blooms that are out when that happens. However, both the trees and the daffodils will survive.

Question #8

Question:  I had a garden last year where the person who lived here previously had one. It didn't do very well though I think there was not enough sunlight since the huge tree shades that entire area.

I wanted to move it to the middle of our yard where there is tons of sunlight, but I am not sure how to start that. The entire yard is grass at the moment. Do I dig it up? Cover and kill off the grass? Add soil on top? I'm definitely a beginner and have no idea how to get started. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

  Pattie Smith, Kinsgston, Ontario


ANSWER:   Vegetables need at least six hours of sunlight to grow properly, so the shady location is a problem. You can kill the grass one of three ways: dig it out with a spade, cover it with clear plastic for a month, or use a herbicide. Digging is a lot of labor but does not introduce chemicals into the area. The clear plastic will sterilize the ground in the heat of the summer, but it must be fairly warm for it to be effective. It is also slow -- a month or so of heat is required. Most herbicides will not work until the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but you can then spray the grass with Roundup, wait two weeks, then spray it again and wait two more weeks. At that point, you till up the dead grass and work it into the soil. If you just till up the grass without killing it first, you will encourage it.

There is a book called Preparing a Vegetable Garden From the Ground Up by Stephanie Suesan Smith that you might find helpful. It walks you through site selection, preparation, and planting. It is available from or other book retailers.

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