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Past Questions and Answers | June 2013

Question #1

Question:  We have really hard clay/rocky soil. What is the best way to loosen the top of the soil?

  Steve Almendinger, Cedar Rapids, Iowa


ANSWER:   This is what we recommend for hard clay and rocky soil. First, till the dirt to a depth of six inches. Then add three inches of expanded shale to the top of the bed. Expanded shale is a product that expands with water when the bed is moist and forces the clay to break up somewhat. It is a little expensive, but you only have to add it once. Till the expanded shale in to the six inches of dirt you have loosened. The add three inches of compost on top of that. Till that into the six inches you have loosened. Now you have a bed that is loosened and full of organic matter. Each year, till in more compost before you plant, or topdress with compost if you have already established plants.

Question #2

Question:  In your recommendation to repel slugs with copper strip, you say the strip should be "6 to 8 inches wide, or the largest most destructive slugs will hump right over it without touching the copper." Our slugs are only an inch or so long, and it's difficult for me to visualize a snail humping over 6 inches. Aren't the slugs repelled before they get their entire bodies on the strip, since, for an electric current to pass through the slug, part of the slug must touch the copper and another part must be grounded; i.e. off the strip. Thus, shouldn't a strip about an inch wide suffice? What is the minimum width strip you have tried?

  Sam Barro, Princeton, NJ


ANSWER:   At one inch, the larger slugs can avoid the copper strip by simply jumping over it. You need a strip wide enough that the slug must touch it in order to go over the obstruction, instead of jumping over it to avoid the copper at all. That is why we recommend a six to eight inch wide strip.

Question #3

Question:  How can I kill dandelions herbally/ w/o killing my grass too??

  Shirley Lee, Gilbert, AZ


ANSWER:   There is no herbal remedy for dandelions that will not damage your grass. The best way to eliminate dandelions is to simply dig them out. If you want an non-herbal solution, you can carefully paint the leaves with RoundUp, being sure not to get it on the grass.

Question #4

Question:  For an onion patch, I would like to know how much sun is required to grow red onions in my back yard?

  Paul, Lewiston, Maine


ANSWER:   Onions require full sun, or at least seven hours a day.

Question #5

Question:  I have seen beautiful dwarf japanese maples where the growth is sideways rather than up. (like an umbrella). is there a way to take a plantling and train it to grow that way?? without having to purchase something pricey from alandscaper/garden center??

  Tara Schaller, Holliston, MA


ANSWER:   Those trees are carefully pruned that way. You can buy a Japanese maple and train it to grow that way with pruning.

Question #6

Question:  Will the roots of the Pussy (Goat)willow tree damage drain pipes that are completely intact. I have been told by other experts that the roots will not damage pipes unless they are already broken. Others have said that they will damage any pipes. Which is the truth.

  Dorothy Allen, Woking, Wurrey, United Kingdom


ANSWER:   It depends. If you have clay pipes, the pussy willow roots will penetrate them. If you have metal or pvc pipes, the roots will not penetrate them.

Question #7

Question:  I have an almond tree that bears heavily but the nuts are bitter. Is there anything that can remedy this?

  Shannon Clenney, Coarsegold, California


ANSWER:   Unfortunately, no. Wild almonds are all bitter and while domestic almonds are sweet, individual trees may be more bitter or more sweet. You happened to get a more bitter tree.

Question #8

Question:  Can caladiums be grown in Maryland's climate, even though it is a perennial.

  Joe Comisky, Bowie, MD


ANSWER:   Caladiums may be grown as an annual in Maryland.s climate, but are not hardy enough to survive the winters there.

Question #9

Question:  Please help. I have been composting for a long time. I used to have my piles on the ground but that was attracting rodents. I never put anything in it that is contraindicated. I now have two barrel composters, one large and one small. They always seem too wet even though I never need to add moisture. I save shredded leaves to use for this but it doesn't seem to be working. I have even added newspaper to no avail. What else can I do?

  Betty Bujas, Norwood, New Jersey


ANSWER:   Do you have drain holes in the bottom of the barrels? If not, that should help considerably.

Question #10

Question:  Many times I have planted Cheyote squash, which initially grows very well but always dies from the ground up after a couple of months. This has happened more than 20 times.

  Jay McCormick, Edgewater, FL


ANSWER:   Are you planting it in the same place? There is obviously a disease that is attacking your squash and you should rotate where you plant it. Are you growing your Chayote on a raised mound? Chayote squash are prone to root rot and growing it on a raised mound helps insure good drainage.

Question #11

Question:  My apple tree is not as healthy as my suckers are. I didn't have the chance to prune them last year and it's a young tree . Should I keep the suckers or the tree?

  Yvonne Anderson, Markleysburg, Pa


ANSWER:   Keep the tree. The suckers are below the grafting knot and will not produce good apples. Removing the suckers now will not hurt the tree and will help it considerably. Even though you do not usually prune in the summer, removing the suckers now will give the tree more nutrients and water, which the suckers are stealing from the tree. This should improve the health of the tree.

Question #12

Question:  I have 2 year old Magnolia and it has bits of green (I assume)mold at each branch. Is this normal or is there something I need to do?

  J. Oldforrd, St. Annes, QC


ANSWER:   This is a normal lichen that will not hurt the tree. You can leave it there without worrying about it.

Question #13

Question:  We have an abundance of black walnut trees in our yard. Because of the trees, I can't seem to get anything to grow in our yard. Is there something I can add to the soil to get things to grow?

  Kimberly Tribolet, Peculiar, MO


ANSWER:   You will have to use raised beds with imported soil to grow anything. There is no soil additive that will make things grow around black walnut trees.

Question #14

Question:  Have Hydrangeas in pots but the flower heads keep dieing and the leaves wilting. any ideas?

  Ishbel, Shresbury, Shropshire


ANSWER:   How often are you watering them? Hydrangeas need at least one inch of water a week. They may need as much as 2 inches of water a week when it is hot and dry. Are you fertilizing them? You should use a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer and follow the directions on the package for mixing and dosing instructions.

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