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All Past Questions and Answers Library | January 2009

This month's questions concern:

Jacaranda Tree Won't Flower
How Long To Harvest Potatoes
Pruning Citrus Trees
Peach Tree Is Dropping Fruit
Pruning A Cherry Tree
What to Plant in a Desert Garden
Getting The Kids Involved In Gardening
Overwintering a Potted Rose
Parsnips With A Hard Core

Please scroll down to read the answers.

Question #1:  Jacaranda Tree Won't Flower

Question:  My jacaranda has been in for 6 years. taller than house now, but no blossom. Any tips?

 Carol Atkinson, South Perth, West Australia


ANSWER:  Hi Carol! Jacarandas can be kind of touchy, and it's frustrating when other trees in your area are flowering and yours isn't.

There are a couple of reasons your tree may not be flowering. First of all, jacaranda trees don't like salty, ocean wind, and they need a lot of heat to flower. Also, if they are not in full, bright sun, they will fail to flower from too little light.

Also, you're in a zone 9 so you do have the possibility of frost. If you get a late frost, that can also damage the flowers.

So first of all, check to make sure your tree is not in too much shade, and pay attention to the micro-climate in your particular yard. Is it where the tree is in a direct ocean wind?

I, like you, live near the ocean and we get a lot wind, and it has always been that, and the lack of heat that has caused my jacaranda not to flower, or to flower very sporadically. Some years I get flowers, others I don't.

If after taking a look around, you can find a better place in your yard, you may want to consider moving the tree when it goes dormant.

I hope this helps, good luck!

Question #2:  How Long To Harvest Potatoes

Question:  How long does a potato take from seed to harvest and at what are the signs for harvesting?

 Chester Rieder, Uitenhage, South Africa


ANSWER:  Hi Chester! On average it takes 90 to 120 days from planting to harvest. You can harvest "new" potatoes as soon as the vines start to flower.

This is called "robbing" because you can remove small new pototes that are so tasty to eat, and leave the others to grow to full size.

Harvest mature potatoes when the vine tops die back.

For more specifics, see our complete Vegetable & Fruit Harvest Guide

Question #3:  Pruning Citrus Trees

Question:  Thanks for your monthly newsletter which is very interesting and full of information. I live in Malta,which is in Europe in the Mediterranian Sea. I need to ask you a question: How to prune citrus trees? I have some idea, like to prune dead, diseased, branches. can you give me what else to prune and how can I Know which branches to eliminate that don't make fruit. I am only an amateur and I only have 2 trees (1 lemon & 1 Orange tree). Many thanks for your advice.

 John Falzon, Valletta, Malta


ANSWER:  Hi John! You are definitely on the right track. It's always a good idea to start by removing any dead and diseased branches.

You can also remove any twiggy or weak growth. Basically with citrus that's all you need to prune back, other than to prune to shape and to keep the size within a certain area.

The best time to prune to shape is during the summer, when fruit has already set, that way you won't lose any fruit.

Sounds like you're doing everything right, keep up the good work!

Question #4:  Peach Tree Is Dropping Fruit

Question:  My peach tree is dropping its fruit. How do I stop it? I water it most nights when it needs it. It's had fertilizer and sheep pellets.

  Edward John Goddard, Mt Wellington, Auckland, New Zealand


ANSWER:  Hi Edward! What your tree is doing is very natural. Peaches and nectarines usually form too much fruit anyway and need to be thinned to reduce the stress on the tree and to create larger fruit. The tree will also take some measures on its own to reduce the crop load which is what you are experiencing.

When the tree starts to drop fruit in the spring of the year it is often called "spring drop." The dropped fruit usually were not pollinated, and therefore do not have a viable embryo.

Pollinated peaches will normally be much larger then the fruit that was not pollinated.

Another way to tell is to cut the fruit open and look at the embryo. The picture next to your question shows a pollinated fruit on the left and a peach without an embryo on the right.

Some people will wait until after spring drop to see how many fruit are left to thin off. Remember, the earlier you thin, the greater fruit growth response you will get, so don't wait too long.

Thanks for the question!

Question #5:  Pruning A Cherry Tree

Question:  Hello. How do I prune a large, overgrown, cherry tree down to half or less of its current size? It appears that the tree has never been pruned. I am hoping to save the tree although it has out gown its surroundings. The tree is healthy and produces huge amounts of wormy fruit (it is too large to properly spray) every year. Please see the attached pictures.

  Francois Lamoureux, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


ANSWER:  Hi Francois! Thank you for sending the pictures. It is always so helpful!

From the image, your tree doesn't look overgrown at all and has a really nice shape. Most sweet cherry trees grow to be 30-35 feet (9-11 m) tall and as wide, and sour cherry trees tend to grow to 20 feet (6 m) tall and as wide.

Cherries produce fruit on "spurs" which are long-lived so you don't need to prune the tree in order to get fruit, as you have found out, and only need to be pruned to maintain structure and shape.

In your case, the best time to prune your tree back would be when the tree is dormant, so now in the winter. You can prune it back down to the size and shape you want, but you will not get as much fruit because you will have removed the older spurs.

The tree will put on a lot of new growth this summer because you have an established root system that will be putting enormous energy into re-growing the missing canopy. So you will always have a pruning battle on your hands because you will be trying to keep a naturally large tree small.

It can definitely be done, but just keep in mind you may have to prune regularly to keep the size and shape to your liking.

If that is not what you want, you may want to replace the tree with a dwarf variety that won't get as big.

Now, to your wormy fruit. During the winter, spray some horticultural oil to control many kinds of insects and pests.

For more, read our story this month in our Diseases and Pests Section: What Is Horticultural Oil and Dormant Oil

The good news is that you won't hurt the cherry any by pruning it, just be careful when you do start to prune, to give it a nice shape and prune out any crossing or rubbing branches so the tree keeps its nice open shape like it has now.

Good luck!

Question #6:  What to Plant in a Desert Garden

Question:  I want to plant a desert garden but not sure when to plant and what plants besides cactus can I plant that will last year round?

 Paula McIntyre, Phoenix, AZ, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Paula! This is a great question because there are so many different and interesting things that you can plant, and you have a wonderful resource right in your back yard!

If you haven't visited the Desert Botanical Garden right there in Phoenix, do so! Their website:

Right from their website: "There is always something in bloom at the Desert Botanical Garden. Flowers might be obvious and flamboyant, or less conspicuous and diminutive; open at night or during the day; common or very rare. Visit us frequently to experience them all."

I have been there and it's a terrific place to visit and they have a garden shop where you can purchase plants.

Do take the time to go there, you'll love it!

Question #7:  Getting The Kids Involved In Gardening

Question:  Hi, both my brother and I have just acquired an alotment and after the last three weeks weeding and aranging the set out of it for the comming season, we were wondering how or what we could place in the alotment to encourage our children and grand children to enjoy the benefits and keep them both entertained but interested in the garden. Many thanx.

 Colin Heron, Workington, Cumbria, England


ANSWER:  Hi Colin! How fun! I know you have worked hard to get your alotment ready, but now you can really dig in and have a good time.

Getting kids interested in gardening is very easy because there are so many things they can do, and they are natural gardeners because they're curious and they love to play in the dirt.

Here are few crops to try out.
They are good because they give kids fast results!

A must for a child's garden because they germinate and grow so fast. They will sprout in about 1 week, become a small seedling in 2 weeks, and should be around 2-3 feet (1 m) tall in a month.

Another fast crop that gives kids fast results, and it's also a good way to interest kids in salads.

Germinate in 3-10 days, and have a very short growing season of 20-30 days.

Snow peas
They take about 10 days to germinate and mature in about 60 days. They are also fun for kids to eat right off the vine.

Cherry tomatoes
These may be the most fun crop for kids, aside from strawberries.

These flowers are easy to grow and they bloom about 50 days after the seeds are planted, with orange, yellow and red flowers. The flowers are also edible, and can be used to add color to a fresh garden salad.

Bush beans
Fast, easy, high yield and, because they do not grow tall, they are easy for kids to harvest. Bush beans germinate in 4-8 days, and mature in 40-65 days.

If you have the room! Seeds will sprout in about 1 week; after a few days, vine leaves begin to form and creep along the ground. Pumpkins take 80 - 120 days to harvest

A Few Tips for gardening with children

Give them their own garden beds or area to work in.

Give them serious children-sized tools. Cheap plastic child's gardening tools are worse than no tools at all; they break easily and frustrate the user.

Engage them through the entire process, from seed to table. Children learn better when they understand the context of their activity. They will learn that gardening can be fun, but far more than idle play; they are contributing to the family well-being.

Start from seeds. While it's a convenient shortcut to buy starters, children will learn more by seeing the growing process as it begins with seeds. The care given to sprouting seeds and nurturing the young seedling are a valuable part of the gardening experience.

When all else fails, make a scarecrow. The best time to engage children in gardening is when they're in the mood for this activity. If their attention wanes, or the garden tasks become boring, let them build a scarecrow. This activity is still a contribution to the gardening effort and adds another layer of interest to the garden scene. It also reminds the child of the importance of the crop.

Show off their work. When giving 'garden tours' to friends, be sure to point out the children's beds. Take a photo of their harvest and send it to the grandparents. The attention given to their work is the best motivator for children to stay involved with a project.

I hope this helps, and you really enjoy your alotment this year - have fun!

Question #8:  Overwintering a Potted Rose

Question:  Coming to the Northern Hemisphere from Australia I need help please. I brought with me climbing rose cuttings at the end of winter in Australia, potted them in China in Autumn. They rooted and grew their initial primary leaves. Can I leave the pots with the rooted cutting outside in the winter. Temperatures here are in a range of � freezing. I understand you cannot reply to every question. Thank you.

 Cherrie Lee Turner, Beijing, China


ANSWER:  Hi Cherrie! Wow, what a move for you!

As long as the pots doesn't freeze, your plants will be just fine.

What you want to avoid are the roots freezing. Because the plants are in pots, the roots are much more susceptible to freezing than they would be in the ground where they have more insulation.

If you think the pots and root balls may freeze, then get them into an area that stays cold so that the plants stay dormant but doesn't freeze, such as a garage, or cold frame.

If that's not available then bury the pot in the ground, or place bags of leaves around the base of the pot for added insulation. You whole goal is to just keep the roots from freezing.

If you do that, you'll be just fine and they'll come back in the spring looking great.

Question #9:  Parsnips With A Hard Core

Question:  What causes Parsnips to have a hard core?

 Roy R. Boggs, Ironton, OH, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Roy! Tradition has it that parsnips are best after the first frost because they will taste sweeter, because of the extra time, and a frost helps turn the starch into sugar.

That said however, larger parsnips tend to be rather fibrous, they have a stronger flavor, a more fibrous texture, and a woody center.

Because of that, many people like the very young tender parsnips because they are less fibrous and more tender.

Most people expect the hard core because if you read most recipes that deal with parsnips, they almost always start out, "Using a sharp knife, remove the hard core...."

So you're not doing anything wrong, just harvest them a little bit earlier if you want a tender, less fibrous parsnip. Thanks for the question!

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Keep Seedlings Moist

When you have just planted seeds, keep the soil moist until germination.

If the soil dries out, the seeds will die.

After germination, allow the soil to dry out a bit between waterings, but keep a close eye on the seedlings until they are well established.

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