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All Past Questions and Answers Library | March 2009

This month's questions concern:

Where Do Lemon Trees Thrive
Scorched Azaleas In Heat Wave
Stretched Seedlings
How To Fertilize With Mulch
Fast Growing Plants For Trellis
Tall Roses With No Flowers
Water Wide Rows & Corn Gluten Meal
Why Do Nurseries Use Frosted Glass

Please scroll down to read the answers.

Question #1:  Where Do Lemon Trees Thrive

Question:  Will a lemon tree thrive near the ocean and are they evergreen?

 Ian Johnson, Cape Town, Western Province, South Africa


ANSWER:  Hi Ian! Lemons, and actually most citrus, will thrive in any mild climate. In your area, you are quite warm, about a Zone 10 to 11 and so any citrus will do just fine.

Lemons are evergreen, unless you get a cold snap and then they can get damaged, but they generally come right back as soon as it warms up again.

If you want to grow lemons in your area, you will do just fine!

Question #2:  Scorched Azaleas In Heat Wave

Question:  Our azaleas have been burnt in a heat wave. Do we cut them back - how do we treat them? Thanks.

 Bert Downes, Heathmont, Victoria, Australia


ANSWER:  Hi Bert! We really have had the weird weather this year haven't we?

I'm sorry your azaleas got scorched, but they should be OK if they didn't get hit too hard.

First thing you want to do is a scratch test with your fingernail and see if there is life under the bark. Save any growth that shows green, or at least, healthy live tissue and not dark brown, dead tissue.

Then take your pruners and remove anything that is clearly dead or damaged so those leaves and stems don't offer a foothold for secondary disease or insects.

Give the plants regular, but reduced water. Remember they don't have the leave surface to use up the water that the roots now have, so they won't need as much water as when they were healthy.

If you feel another heat wave is going to hit, cover them with some shade cloth. Just put some stakes in the ground around your plants and cover with the cloth so the plants are sitting under a mini shade structure.

Lastly, just be patient. Azaleas are tough and should come back just fine. Keep you eyes open for any signs of new growth which should appear in a few weeks.

Hang in there and good luck!

Question #3:  Stretched Seedlings

Question:  The flower seeds I have sown in greenhouse in trays are now an 1 inch (2.5 cm) long and they have all flopped over what is the problem?

 Harry Lynch, Durham, NC, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Harry! Actually I just blogged about this very topic! Your plants are not getting enough light which is a very common thing when starting seeds indoors.

Seedlings need enough light to keep them short and sturdy. The most common problem most of us have however is that we don�t have enough window space or natural light sources to give our seedlings the growing conditions they need in order to do well.

As a result they can become spindly, stretched, and eventually fall over and die.

The good news is that starting seeds indoors is quite simple, because supplemental lighting is quick to set up and easy to use.

What Grow Lights You Need

For seed starting, cool white light is often enough, but a better way is to use a mix of half cool and half warm light tubes set about 6 to 10 inches (16 to 25 cm) over the flats.

If you are starting the plants indoors with the objective to transplant outdoors in summer, then cool white lights are all you need.

Keep in mind, cool white light is fine for starting seedlings (or growing anything when you just want leaves, not flowers), but if you plan to grow your plants up until the blooming stage, you will want to add some warm white light.

Using fluorescent tubes, like Sylvania wide spectrum fluorescent tubes, are good for this because they have a mixture of both red (warm light) and blue (cool light), which the plants love, and they are inexpensive running around $15 to $16 dollars (�11 to �12 pounds).

If you give them some extra light and some bottom heat, with a seed heat pad, your next batch of seedling will be thriving!

Question #4:  How To Fertilize With Mulch

Question:  I have mulched all my shrubs with bark and sawdust, how should I apply feeding, will normal fertilizer (bone meal, hen manure, growmore etc.) penitrate bark or will I have to use a liquid fertilizer?

 Neil Valentine, Banchory, Scotland


ANSWER:  Hi Neil! This is a good question because it is a very common problem that lots of people have. The great news is that it is easily solved.

There are a couple ways you can approach this:

1. Use a granular form of organic fertilizer, there are many out there. Apply it and then gently stir your bark to allow the granules to work their way down to the soil and then water in.

2. You can use a liquid fertilizer as you mentioned and just water it in. I would pull back some of the bark just around the plants before I do this so the bark doesn't soak it all up. Some of the food would leach out and eventually get to the plants, but not much.

The main problem with liquid is that it doesn't last as long in the soil so you have to do it more often.

So you may want to do a combination of granular and the water in with liquid. The liquid will give the plants a fast boost and then as the granules break down it will give them more long-lasting food.

3. You can pull back the mulch and put down a long-lasting, time-released food. Once you have applied the fertilizer you can rake the mulch back into place and then water in.

You would only have to do this once a year if you use a good fertilizer. A good time to do it is when you need to replenish your mulch. Put the food down first, then re-mulch.

I'm glad you mulched, that's really great, and if you do one of the above, your plants will get plenty of food.

Thanks for the question.

Question #5:  Fast Growing Plants For Trellis

Question:  My garden overlooks the main road and I am puting up some trellis fencing. I would like to know if there is any plant or flowers I can buy to put on the trellis to obsure the view from the main road something that will cover instntly and I do not have to wait years for it to grow?

 Gillian Hackshaw, Surrey, London, England


ANSWER:  Hi Gillian! Actually there are tons of things you can plant. Here are 4, all of which will do well in your climate zone.

1. Thuja Green Giant Evergreen Trees
The Thuja Green Giant is one of the fastest growing evergreen trees. It grows up to 3-5 feet (1 to 1.5 m) per year once established. It has thick compact growth without taking up a lot of yard space and makes a great privacy screen. It's also easy to grow, very adaptable, drought tolerant, and disease and insect resistant.
Sunlight: Full or Partial
Soil Conditions: Adaptable
Hardiness: Zones 5-9

2. Campsis - Trumpet Vine, Trumpet Creeper
Trumpet Vines will quickly climb to 30 feet (9 m) or more when given adequate support. They have brilliant trumpet-shaped flowers of orange or red that bloom in the summer. Training is easy but regular pinching and pruning is necessary to become established. This plant can be difficult to get rid of and will climb up to nearby trees and houses if not pruned regularly.
Soil Preference: Well drained, not fussy
Water: Needs regular water
Light Requirements: Full sun to light shade
Attributes: Attracts birds, attracts butterflies
Pests: None serious
Hardiness: Zones 4-10

3. Lonicera 'Dropmore Scarlet' Honeysuckle
Bred in Canada, this vining honeysuckle is very winter hardy and easy to grow. It has loads of scarlet-orange, tubular flowers from June to September, and hummingbirds love it. Easy to grow in fertile, well-drained soil. Does best in at least a half day of full sun in consistently moist, organic soil. Be sure to give it a support to climb on right away or soon after it's planted.
Fragrance: Light Fragrance
Size: 10-20 feet (3 to 6 m) tall/wide
Hardiness: Zones 4-8

4. Bignonia capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty' - CrossVine
Bignonia capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty' is a woody vine or shrub is commonly grown on trelliswork or walls and grows to an average height of 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 m), but can reach up to 30 feet (9 m). This vine clings to objects with tendrils that usually will not damage the object like other vines, and has narrow bell-shaped flowers.
Exposure: Sun
Water Requirements: Regular
Hardiness: Zones 6-9

In addition to the above, there are also several kinds of bamboo that would do well in your area. They grow very tall, very fast. Just make sure you get the "clumping" kind and not the "spreading" kind of bamboo or you will have it coming up everywhere!

Good luck!

Question #6:  Tall Roses With No Flowers

Question:  Being a novice I need help with my roses of which I have many. For some reason they grow 8-10 feet (2.4 to 3 m) tall out of control but develop very few flowers. I fertilize, water, prune in July but they have no shape and just keeping growing uncontrollably toward heaven. What have I done wrong? Please help me, I love rose 'bushes' which mine are no longer.

 Maree Neal, Wollongong, NSW


ANSWER:  Hi Maree! Well, it sounds like you aren't doing anything wrong. You just don't have a rose that is a "bush" variety, but a variety known as a "climber", which is a rose that doesn't grow in bush form.

Climbers grow very fast, and do better along a fence or as a ground cover, and they will never take a "bush" shape.

If you really want a bush rose, you can replace it with a hybrid tea or a floribunda.

As for the few flowers you get every year, it sounds as if you may not be pruning it correctly. Climbers flower on second year wood, so if you're pruning it back every year, you are removing the wood that would flower.

Climbing roses are different in that they produce canes one year and they do not flower until the second year.

So this year, if you decide to keep your rose, don't prune it as heavily and next year you should see vast improvement in your rose's flowers!

Question #7:  Water Wide Rows & Corn Gluten Meal

Question:  Maybe a silly question but in wide row gardening how do you water when you say no overhead watering? Do you flood the walk ways? It seems it would take a lot of water to seep across 3 feet (1 m) or wider. Also, how long until you can plant seeds after using corn gluten meal?

 Richard Paige, Lakewood, CA, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Richard! Well to your first question, which isn't silly at all, just use a watering wand.

Shown in the picture next to your question, a watering-wand is a long aluminum watering extensions that has a nozzle on the end. It gives you about a 3 foot (1 m) reach.

Just turn your water on fairly low, keep the nozzle close to the ground so you keep as much of the foliage dry as you can, reach in and water. It's very fast and easy.

As for your second question, you can't ever plant seeds after you use corn gluten. Think about it for a minute. Corn gluten inhibits seed germination. That could be weed seeds, flower seeds, grass seeds, etc.

If you think you will want to plant seeds in an area some time in the future, don't ever use a seed inhibitor like corn gluten. You will have to weed that area by hand or use a contact herbicide like a Safer product.

I hope I haven't given you bad news and you can still plant what you want! Good luck!

Question #8:  Why Do Nurseries Use Frosted Glass

Question:  Everything I have ever read about plants states that sunlight (or bright artificial light) is necessary for healthy plants, however, every nusery I have ever been to has either frosted glass or dull plastic covering windows and the lighting is usually 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.6 m) above the plants. What is the reasoning for this?

 Mike Monson, Moore, OK, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Mike! This is an interesting question and I'm glad you brought it up.

What you say is correct, plants need lots of sunlight, but nurseries are handicapped in that they have to display all kinds of plants and flowers together that don't all have the same light requirements.

So what they do is compromise and give the plants lots of bright, diffused light that will keep them healthy, but not necessarily promote lots of growth, which nurseries don't want.

Nurseries don't want to plant material looking overgrown and too big for their containers. They don't intend to keep the plants there very long. When I worked in a nursery we expected to move the plant material in a week or two. If they don't sell the material, it goes into the compost heap out back.

So they give the bright diffused light to keep everything healthy, looking good, and keep their fingers crossed that most of it sells.

I hope this answered your question.

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Growing Caladium

Caladiums grow from tubers sold in the spring.

You can buy the tubers and plant your own, but buying a full-grown plant is the easiest way to know what color the leaves will be.

Give your Caladiums high humidity or the leaf margins may turn brown.

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