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Past Questions and Answers | March 2011

Question #1

Question:  Hello!

I have a large area of lawn (crab and bermuda grass) that I would like to turn into a vegetable garden. I live in Kentucky, so it's still pretty cold. I would like to start seeding and setting out some seedlings in a month. How can I best create garden space at this point in the season that will allow me to start planting in a month? Would laying black plastic work in a month's time? Or should I just till it all up? I'm also looking for an inexpensive and ecosystem-honoring method. Thank you so much for your help! :)

  Holly Sureya, Louisville, KY


ANSWER:   If you till the ground with Bermuda grass in it, the Bermuda will come back stronger than ever and take over. If you lay transparent plastic over the area, and weigh the edges down good so it creates a tight seal, the grass should die in a month. Research has shown that transparent plastic works better than dark plastic. The temperature climbs even in the cold and creates a mini sauna that cooks the grass. This effect is much stronger in the summer, and that is when you should do it. However, this is your best bet right now, too, as it is too cold for most herbicides to work and you stated you want to avoid them. Good luck!

Question #2

Question:  I have several Fiscus Bushes in my yard. They where infested with whitefly. The bushes have come back after spraying professional and gardening remedies. Could you tell me a fertlizer or food that would help bring the bushes back, or any other remedy that you may have.

  Patricia Kokolus, Port St. Lucie, Florida


ANSWER:   You can apply a normal ration of a fertilizer containing primarily nitrogen to your plants. In addition, you should avoid fertilizers with a lot of boron, since ficus are sensitive to that. When picking out a fertilizer, make sure it says it is safe for trees and shrubs. Follow the label directions. Make sure you water your ficus from the bottom with a soaker hose or drip irrigation to avoid creating a haven for fungal diseases while the bushes are recovering.

Question #3

Question:  Hi, Could you kindly tell me what to feed our apple tree. It is young. It has been with us two years now and last year it gave 15-20 apples. many thanks

  Arezoo Aryaee, Germantown, Maryland


ANSWER:   Since the tree is young, you should spread two cups of ammonium sulfate in a circle around the tree but three feet from the trunk. Do not get the fertilizer on the trunk. Do this in the early spring, then again in April, May, and June. Next year, you would use three cups at each of these times. Finally, the third and subsequent years, you would use four cups four times a year.

Question #4

Question:  Iis it safe to use shredded papers , as mulch, in my garden ?

  Clark Hanif, San Jose, California


ANSWER:   Yes, it is safe to use shredded paper as mulch. It is also safe to compost it if you add lots of manure and grass clippings to offset the carbon heaviness of the paper. You will need to add a little extra nitrogen to your garden as the microbes that digest the paper use up a lot of nitrogen doing so. Remember to use three inches of mulch and add an additional inch each year. The bottom inch or so decays each year and you have to add more to keep it three inches deep.

Question #5

Question:  Why are copper bans put around trees sometimes?

  Irma Reyes, Sun Valley, California


ANSWER:   Those copper bands are to protect the tree from slugs and snails. A better solution is to put out the new iron phosphate bait. It is less toxic to other creatures than copper and still kills the slugs and snails. The old copper bait is very toxic and has killed lots of pets and a few children who ate it.

Question #6

Question:  The leaves on my Torbay Palms have all died. What can I plant that will grow up the trunks of 10 feet - preferably without scaffolding. Can I set a planter at the top for cascading flowers? The palms are in full sun on a windy site. Thank you.

  Eric Munro, Harrogate, North Yorkshire


ANSWER:   Sorry to hear your palm trees died. You can certainly place a planter on top of one. However, you will have to provide a way to water it, and that might be difficult if it is ten feet in the air. Morning glories will climb your palm trees and love full sun. Sweet potato vine will do so, also. In fact, almost any vining plant that likes full sun will take the opportunity to climb the trunk if you train it to do so. Simply take some string and tie up the tendrils to the tree at first. As the vine grows, it will continue to use the trunk as a support.

Question #7

Question:  When is the best time to transfer your indoor plants outside?

  Sai Sriraman, Cordova, Tennessee


ANSWER:   The best time to move your plants outside is after all danger of frost has past. The exact date of the last frost can be obtained from your county extension agent. Be sure to harden your plants so they survive going outside. You put them in the sun for an hour or two, then bring them in. Over a week, you lengthen the time they stay outside until they are out all the time. This keeps them from dying of shock when they go outside.

Question #8

Question:  I have a large garden that has had very prolific pig weed for at least 10 years growing wild. Past attempts to eradicate have failed. I have been reading your site and am thinking I will use the soil solariztion, putting the plastic on as soon as the snow is gone, hopefully by April. By June I would like to lay down cardboard and cover with compost. Am I rushing things, should I delay planting until next year, or is there a chance to do it all in 1 season? These weed plants take off and grow to 3 feet high.

  Lisa Wondrasek, Russell, MB


ANSWER:   Passive solarization is a good strategy for this weed because it is showing signs of being resistant to herbicides. If you lay clear plastic down in April and let the solarization kill the pig weed, it should be dead by June. Especially if you are laying down cardboard and then compost, you should be able to plant this year

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Fertilize Container Plants

Because container gardens are usually grown to show off a lot color, the plants in them require more frequent fertilizing.

It's good to feed them every two weeks with a water-soluble complete fertilizer like a 20-20-20 or a hyrdolized fish fertilizer.

Regular feeding will help them fill in faster, and produce more flowers.

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