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Past Questions and Answers | May 2007

This month's questions concern:

African Violets Stretched Stems
Trellis Squash & Zucchini Vines
Spacing For Cherry Blossom Trees
Coastal Plantings
Lantana From Cuttings
Move A Lilac Bush
Out of Control Bamboo
Aphids on Houseplants
Get Rid Of Morning Glory
Pumpkins Won't Set Fruit
Dog Urine Killing Grass

Please scroll down to read the answers.

Question #1:  Stretched African Violets

Question:  I have a question about my African violets, which I have had in my kitchen window for several years. They have bloomed non-stop and beautifully, but the main stems have grown very long and curved. So now I have three beautiful plants but the stems are off center in the container. I have included a picture of one of them. What should I do? Do I need to repot and trim the stems or will that kill the plants? Thanks for any information you can give me.

 Helen W Burgess


ANSWER:   Hi Helen! First of all, thank you for sending the picture. It is always so much easier to answer when I can actually see the problem! It looks to me like your plants have two things going on.

1. Nutrient imbalance

When the neck of an African Violet (Saintpaulia) becomes elongated, it usually means that the plant has been subjected to a disease or nutrient imbalance which predominantly affects the oldest leaves. SInce your plants look pretty healthy, I would think it might be the nutrients. The older leaves are the bottom-most leaves of an African Violet. As these leaves die off, the neck (sometimes called the stalk or main stem) of an African Violet becomes more and more exposed until it appears abnormally elongated, i.e., more than 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) long. Since all new growth originates from the center of the crown, the only way to correct this is to re-pot it.

The procedure for repotting is sometimes called "potting down a neck" and it is simple and easy to do. First, remove the Violet and its rootball from the pot. Starting from the bottom, you must cut away a section of the rootball equal to the length of the neck. Next, return the Violet to its pot. If it is seated properly, the bottom leaves of the African Violet will be resting on the rim. Now, add fresh potting soil up to the top of the neck, i.e., where the leaf stems issue from the main stem. Make sure that the new potting soil is pressed down firmly. Finally, give your African Violet water and let any excess drain.

Once you have finished repotting, you many want to bag it. Many growers recommend this, because the increased humidity helps African Violets recover from any transplant shock. To do this, place the African Violet into a clear, plastic bag which is large enough to accommodate the plant without damaging the leaves or stems. Seal the bag with a wire twist. Keep your Violet in the bag for one week. After you have removed the Violet from the bag, it will be safe to resume your normal watering and fertilizer schedule.

I don't know what kind of fertilizer you use, but there are fertilizers formulated just for African Violets and I would use one of those.

2. Not enough light

When an African Violet doesn't get enough light, it can become rangy and develop elongated leaves and stems, just like yours is doing. African Violets perform best when they receive a lot of indirect sunlight. While African Violets will tolerate direct sunlight very early or very late in the day, they should, in all other cases, be shielded from direct sunlight. For best results, place your Violets in a window where they will receive light most of the day, that is bright and indirect. To test if the light is correct for your plants, simply hold your hand over the plants during the time when they are receiving the brightest light. If you can see a light shadow of your hand over the Violets, then they are getting the correct amount of light.

Also, it is important to rotate your African Violets so that they receive an equal amount of sunlight on all sides. They should be rotated one-quarter turn, about once a week or each time you water. If African Violets are not rotated in this manner, they will begin to bend towards the light and grow larger on the side closest to the window. This reaction is not peculiar to African Violets. For almost all plants, it is simply a phototropic response which allows a plant to get optimal sunlight.

If you need to use artificial lighting, (grow lights) to supplement your current lighting, make sure you buy lights that emit both the red and blue spectrums. Red light is essential for African Violets to bloom. Blue light is necessary for photosynthesis and the development of green leaves.

Keep in mind that the intensity of light will increase as the distance from the source decreases. For this reason, it is important to mount your grow light at the proper distance above the plant. If the African Violet is too close to the grow light, it will begin to develop symptoms similar to those resulting from too much sunlight, like leaf scorch. While you should give preference to any instructions accompanying your particular grow light, grow lights should generally be mounted 18 to 20 inches (46-51 cm) above the tops of standard African Violets.

Lastly, it is important to remember that African Violets need at least eight hours of darkness, each day, in order to bloom. While African Violets need enough light to produce florigen (flowering hormone), florigen itself does not trigger blooming until it is dark. For this reason, African Violets should receive light for no more than 16 hours a day. To properly regulate the duration of light, you may want to consider getting a timer for your grow lights if you end up using them.

I hope this helps Helen. Let me know how it goes after you repot!

Question #2:  Trellis Squash & Zucchini Vines

Question:  Does crookneck squash and zucchini need to climb on a trellis or does it run on the ground?

 Tammy Lehne, Slidell, LA, USA


ANSWER:   Hi Tammy! You can grow crookneck squash on a pole, or trellis, or on the ground, but zucchini can only grow along the ground. For some reason zucchini foliage is too heavy and won't vine properly up a pole or netting.

I actually blogged about this recently in the Gardening Idea Blog section of this site. You can read all about how you can vertically grow melons, cucumber, and squash. The article is at: Grow Cucs and Melons Vertically

I hope you try it, you can save a lot of space and still have great vegetables.

Question #3:  Spacing For Cherry Blossom Trees

Question:  I would like to plant cherry blossom trees. Is it best to plant them in close proximity of each other?

 Ivan McNeill, Ballyclare, Northern, IRL


ANSWER:   Hi Ivan! If you are going for the biggest splash, and want to have a very show display of flowering cherries (Prunus), I would plant them in a group, but as far as the health of the trees, it doesn't really matter how close you plant them.

Ornamental cherries are valued for their winter or spring floral display (depending upon what variety you buy), as well for their shape and form, foliage texture, and sometimes fall color. For instance, a single tree alone in a very visible place can be very dramatic, it just depends on what your goal is.

All flowering cherries are good to garden under. The large sprawling varieties make good shade trees; smaller ones make ideal patio trees.

Cultural needs are the same for all of them. They all must have fast-draining, well-aerated soil; those grown in heavy, poorly drained soil sometimes get root rot for which there is no cure.

However you decide to plant them, you can't go wrong. These are gorgeous, versatile trees.

Question #4:  Coastal Plantings

Question:  I have a new house with a new garden on the south aspect near the coast. These leads to 3 main problems:
1) the soil is very poor - mostly sand
2) its very sunny with no shade
3) its very windy

Which plants should I plant? Also do you have advise to keep the moisture in the ground?

 Robina Kay, Alkmaar, Holland


ANSWER:   Hi Robina! Your area sounds very similar to mine. I live on the coast too, but don't get your cooler temperatures.

Before you plant anything, you'll need to work at least 2 to 3 inches (5-8 cm) of good organic matter into your soil. Organic compost works very well, and it helps keep moisture in the soil.

Without some organic matter, the water and nutrients simply run right through sandy soils, which makes it hard on whatever you plant, because the roots rarely can get what they need. But with organic matter, the soil retains moisture and nutrients, and plants thrive.

Here are a few suggestions that can take the wind, salty air, sandy soil, and full sun:

  • Myoporum laetum
  • Umbellularia californica (California laurel)
  • Arbutus unedo (Strawberry tree)
  • Cistus (Rockrose)
  • Correa (Australian fuchsia)
  • Hebe
  • Leptospermum (Tea tree)
  • Rosa rugosa (Romanas rose)
  • Achillea (Yarrow)
  • Armeria maritima (Common thrift)
  • Centranthus ruber (Jupiter's beard)
  • Dianthus
  • Echium candicans (Pride of Madeira)
Try some of the above out, I'm sure you'll be happy with them.

Question #5:  Lantana From Cuttings

Question:  Hi. Can I grow lantana from cuttings?

 Donna Fowler, Perth, Western, AUS


ANSWER:   Hi Donna! Yes, Lantana (Lantana montevidensis) roots very easily with stem cuttings dipped in rooting hormone, and then placed in moist sterile potting soil, or moist vermiculite.

I would do this in the late spring and early summer, when the soil temperatures remain high. If you wait until fall, when it's cooler with more humidity, they may rot.

Keep them in a pot until they are large enough to plant out, or overwinter them until the following spring, if you want the plant to be a bit larger when you plant it out.

I know some people have actually taken soft tip cuttings, dipped them in rooting hormone and stuck them right out in the garden (just like you can with geraniums) and the lantana grew great.

You might want to try both methods and see which one works best for you in your area.

Lantana are so pretty and colorful that it's no wonder you want to plant more of them. Good luck!

Question #6:  Move A Lilac Bush

Question:  Last year I planted a lilac bush in a shady location. I think I have to move it to a sunny one and would like to know when the best time to do that is?

 Betty Ann Ratchelous, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia


ANSWER:   Hi Betty Ann! The best time to move a lilac bush is when it's fully dormant. Since it is now springtime, you'll have to wait until this fall or early spring, before the plant starts to actively grow again.

While it's fully dormant, cut it back before you move it, so in the spring when it starts to grow, it won't have as much foliage to support while its roots are still getting established.

If you ever want to propagate your lilacs, here is some more information from a previous question: How To Propagate Lilacs

Question #7:  Out of Control Bamboo

Question:  2 Years ago I planted a Pseudosasa Japonica (Arrow Bamboo). It has taken very well, infact too well! I have shoots growing out of my border and also under the matting. I don't want to dig it up because it seems "happy" where it is, but I don't want it to overtake my other plants and the garden!! What can you suggest? Many thanks.

 Pam Chadwick, Merseyside, UK


ANSWER:  Hi Pam! Arrow Bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica) is one of the most widespread bamboos in the country, and one of the easiest bamboos to grow in the UK. It makes an excellent screen or container plant. I'm surprised to hear it is spreading that badly in your yard, because as spreading bamboos go, this one isn't too invasive.

Since you don't have a terribly invasive variety (thankfully), I don't think you have to resort to one of the most accepted methods of containment, which is to excavate a trench 30 inches (76 cm) deep and line it with "rhizome barrier", which is a heavy plastic sheeting designed to control aggressive plants.

I think you could get by with pruning the underground rhizomes around the perimeter of your bamboo planting area once in summer and again in the fall during their active growth period. This is the single best way to control the bamboo and prevent it from spreading.

This should always be considered as the first option, and, if not possible or the area inaccessible for pruning, install the rhizome barrier.

Remember: The barrier does not stop the bamboo from growing, rather, it forces the underground rhizomes to grow in a certain direction. A bamboo enclosed inside a barrier still needs annual maintenance for long term health and control.

So if it were me, I would begin by pruning, and then get more aggressive as needed.

Hang in there!

Question #8:  Aphids On Houseplants

Question:  I have house plants that have aphids.I would like to know of a natural way of getting rid of them.I have pets that like to smell them every once in awhile.

  Sherry Davidson, Edmonton, Alberta, CA


ANSWER:  Hi Sherry! Yes aphids can be a real pain can't they? Especially when you have them indoors on houseplants.

For starters, make sure not over water or over fertilize your houseplants - aphids like plants with high nitrogen levels and soft new growth. Try organic fertilizers, like a hydrolyzed fish fertilizer, which release nutrients slowly.

For a spray, I would try neem oil based products. These are great, because they won't bother your pets, they are organic, and they can effectively control the problem.

Before you spray the neem oil, take some water and spray or wipe off heavily infested leaves or other plant parts, so you will have fewer insects to combat. Neem oil, like many organics, is a contact only insecticide, meaning you must hit the aphids with the spray. If you miss some aphids, they will keep living and multiplying.

You will, therefore, have to spray the neem oil a few times a year to maintain your control over the aphids and any overwintering eggs.

For more information about aphids, their lifecycle and control, please read in the Diseases and Pests Section: Aphids

You can get some neem oil at Planet Natural, here is a link: Neem oil

I hope this helps and you can enjoy your houseplant sans aphids!

Question #9:  Get Rid Of Morning Glory

Question:  Several years ago we planted a wildflower mix to fill some space down a long bed beside our home. I was a very inexperienced gardener at the time and may have inadvertently seeded my garden with the most virulent morning glory "weed" I have ever seen.

We've tried to keep it pulled, which only seems to encourage it, we have tried sprays, which only work for a short time, and so we have come to the conclusion that all is lost. It grows over everything, kills almost everything and spreads around the house a little more each growing season. I have perennials and bulbs in the same beds, we've killed almost everything trying to get rid of it. Is there anything I can do to get rid of it? I am even willing to destroy what is there and start over if it means that this nightmare will end! Thank you!

 Dani Sawyer, Riley, Indiana, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Dani! Well, it sounds like you're having a real garden party with this nasty weed. Not!

From your description you could have either morning glory (Ipomea) or field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis). From its invasiveness, it sounds like you have field bindweed, which is technically a member of the morning glory family. Based on that, I am going to give you tips on getting rid of field bindweed, because the program is more aggressive, and if you have Ipomea, it will work on that too.

Established field bindweed is difficult to control. An effective control program should prevent seed production, kill roots and root buds, and prevent infestation by seedlings.

First of all tilling under newly emerged seedlings, helps kill young field bindweed infestations, and contributes to control of established stands. Regular cultivations deplete the root reserves of established plants and stimulate dormant seeds to germinate. Field bindweed can be controlled when tilled 8 to 12 days after each emergence throughout the growing season.

After you have weakened the plants as much as possible with tilling, you'll have to spray with a product called Brush 'B Gon. This stuff kills anything it touches and can even kill trees with no problem, so be very careful to apply it just on the bindweed. Spray when it is the hottest part of the day to help translocate the herbicide down to the roots of the plants.

A herbicide applied once will never eliminate established stands of bindweed; so several retreatments are required to keep it suppressed. Because of long seed viability and tremendous food reserves stored in the roots, repeated chemical and/or mechanical control measures must be used throughout the year.

Unfortunately this is going to take a concerted, long-term effort on your part. It can take up to 2 years to successfully get this weed out of your yard, but it can be done.

I'm sorry I don't have better news for you, but I know you can vanquish this terrible foe if you just keep after it. You WILL get your yard back! Don't give up!

Question #10:  Pumpkins Won't Set Fruit

Question:  I have two of the most wonderful small pumpkin plants I have ever seen the blooms are huge, but they won't set to fruit. They are off the ground, have good drainage, and the color is great for plants, but the blossoms and the stem turn yellow and die What am I doing, or not doing, please let me know. My nephew loves pumpkins and these are really his. Thank you.

 Jack French, Garland, TX, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Jack! It doesn't sound like you are doing anything wrong. I think timing is the problem. Pumpkins have separate male and female flowers...the females are the ones that look like they have a small fruit at the bottom. The male flowers just have a "normal" small stalk below the flower.

Often, the first flush of flowers of the season will be all males, and these are expected to fall off. If the plant has both male and female flowers and is still not producing any fruit, it too could be due to extreme hot or cold temperatures, as well as lack of bee activity.

You might need to use hand pollination to transfer the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers if your current trend continues. Use a small artists paint brush to transfer the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. This is super easy and takes about 2 minutes.

That will solve your problem, and your nephew will be very happy!

Question #11:  Dog Urine Killing Grass

Question:  Is there anything I can put on the grass to stop it from turning yellow where my female dog wees on it.

 Sandra Cavill,Southampton, UK


ANSWER:  Hi Sandra! Actually, there is a way to solve the problem, but the other way around.

You should try Greenum Tablets and Green-um Treats. They are natural nutritional supplements that neutralizes the nitrogen compounds in the urine or feces so it won't burn your lawn anymore. They're effective within one day of use, and doesn't effect the internal organs of the dog in anyway, so they're safe for your pets.

You can find it at:

I hope you try it.

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If you can, it is always best to water early in the morning. This allows the plant's leaves and flowers to dry off as the day warms up.

If you water at night, the plant stays wet for hours in the cool, which are prime conditions for fungi and other problems to set in.

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