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All Past Questions and Answers Library | May 2008

This month's questions concern:

Dry Begonia Tubers
Vine Weevils in Begonia Tubers
Pruning Ligustrum 'Atrovirens
Can I Use Store Bought Garlic?
Home Made Pesticide Burned Plants
Herb & Stawberry Plants Turned Red
Italian Plum Has No Fruit
Moss In The Lawn

Please scroll down to read the answers.

Question #1:  Dry Begonia Tubers

Question:  I have stored my begonias for the winter.They're so dry now. Do I soak them in water before planting them?

 Sharon Whipple, Codys, New Brunswick, Canada


ANSWER:  Hi Sharon! This is an interesting question because begonia tubers, when in their dormant form, do look odd - but under no circumstances should you soak them before planting.

But before we get further into that part of your question, let's go over the best way to overwinter begonias, and what to do with them in the spring, and then you can proceed from there.

Before the first killing frost in the winter, carefully dig up the tuberous begonias. Leave a small amount of soil around each tuber. Cut off the stems about 1 inch (2.5 cm) above the tubers. Place the tubers in a cool, dry, frost-free area to cure for 2 to 3 weeks. Make sure they have good ventilation and are left without water to die back naturally.

After curing, shake off the remaining soil, then bury the tubers in dry peat moss, vermiculite, or sawdust. Store the tubers in an area with a temperature of 40° to 50° F (4.4° to 10° C) like a garage or gardening shed.

Do not allow the tubers to freeze or leave them in an area that is too warm. If they get too warm, they may shrivel up and that is not good. Leave them in their cool location, buried in peat moss, until the spring.

In the spring, when you take your tubers out, look them over carefully. They should have the consistency and firmness of a potato. They should also be heavy for their size, not light or dried up like a seed.

If they�re a bit dirty, that�s okay. If any look shriveled, or have soft, mushy tissue, or any signs of fungus or mildew, then toss them. Dry, shriveled tubers are unlikely to grow.

The ultimate test would be to sacrifice one of the questionable tubers and cut it in half. If the tissue inside is brown and dead, the tuber is dead and won't grow.

So Sharon, take a look at your begonia tubers and apply the criteria I mentioned above and see if your begonias are beyond help, or just looking odd as they naturally do. Good luck!

Question #2:  Vine Weevils in Begonia Tubers

Question:  How can I get rid of vine weevil in my begonia corms. They are small white grubs left by the parent weevil which feed of the corms. How can I dispose of the infected compost, without infecting other areas of the garden?

 Mrs. Christine Murphy, Torquay, Devon, UK


ANSWER:  Hi Mrs. Murphy! This is a major problem isn't it? Well, if you don't mind, before I get to the answer, I want to give a little more information about the vine weevil for those who are not familiar with it.

The vine weevil is a pest of many garden plants. All vine weevils are female and each can lay up to 1,000 eggs during the summer. The larvae are stout, creamy white, legless grubs with brown heads; their bodies are slightly curved and up to .4 inches (10mm) long.

They feed on the roots of many plants and the tubers of plants such as cyclamen and begonia. Plants growing in pots, window boxes or other containers are particularly at risk and may be killed during autumn-spring.

The adult weevil is black with fused wing covers, and is unable to fly. Adults feed at night on the outer edges of leaves, causing the leaves to have a notched margin.

Grubs live below the soil surface, and feed on the roots of plants, shrubs and trees. The grubs will attack the roots of almost any young plant in a container. They are especially fond of primulas and cyclamen.

Now having said that, how do we get rid of these troublesome pests?

A good non-chemical biological solution is Nemasys Vine Weevil Killer.

Nemasys Vine Weevil Killer effectively controls vine weevils with no risks to children, pets and wildlife. It controls vine weevil at the larvae stage when they are living in the soil and are at their most destructive.

Nemasys contains millions of nematodes, the natural enemies of vine weevil. Once applied by watering, they actively seek out and kill vine weevil larvae. Unlike other chemicals, this is effective against all larval stages.

Apply between March and November, when vine weevil larvae are present and when the soil temperature is above 40°F (5�C) in the daytime.

Now, generally from late June, vine weevil outside will be growing out of the larval stages so are not susceptible to nematode attack, but they will be at the larval stage again in late August and September, so applications through November are beneficial.

Vine weevil larvae are killed within two to three weeks.

Other Control Methods:

During mild spring or summer evenings inspect plants and walls at night with a flashlight and and pick off the adult weevils. Shake shrubs over an upturned box to dislodge and collect more. In greenhouses, look under pots or on the underside of shelving where the beetles hide during the day.

You can also trap adults with sticky traps around pots or greenhouses.

Encourage natural enemies; vine weevils and their grubs, are eaten by a variety of predators such as birds, frogs, toads, shrews, hedgehogs and predatory ground beetles.

A chemcial control is a compost called Levington Container & Hanging Basket Compost. It has been premixed with slow-release granules of the pesticide imidacloprid and will control vine weevil larvae for up to 12 months.

It is best used for potting up seedlings, plug plants, cuttings and tubers of cyclamen and begonia. When repotting older plants, wash the old compost off the roots, or it will provide a haven for the grubs.

Now Mrs. Murphy, once you have gotten the upper hand with these weevils, keep your eyes open, because stopping treatment after the apparent disappearance of vine weevil can allow the numbers to build up again. So stay on the lookout and you should be OK.

I hope this gives you some options to move forward with!

Question #3:  Pruning Ligustrum 'Atrovirens'

Question:  I've just planted 75 Liguster atroviren plants to make a privacy hedge in the front of my garden. They are between 80 - 100 cm (30 to 40 inches) tall just now. What do I do to ensure they grow to become tall and bushy?

 Ross Johnston, Bad Fallingbostel, Germany


ANSWER:  Hi Ross! Wow, you have been busy. Planting 75 shrubs is a lot of digging!

Liguster atroviren, also known as Ligustrum vulgare 'Atrovirens' (Common Privet), is a wonderful hedge, and like many privets, fairly easy to grow.

They like full sun to part shade; in the spring and summer feed them a good balanced fertilizer like a 10-10-10 or 15-15-15. The fertilizer can be granular or water-soluble, it doesn't matter.

With these particular ligustrum, they can get leggy, so prune them back hard for the first few years of growth to encourage thick, full foliage. In your case, you have 80 to 100 cm (30 to 40 inches) plants, so this year I would trim them back by a third or about 30 cm (12 inches).

Next year, you'll be able to judge how they are growing. If they still look a little leggy, meaning long straggly growth, prune them back hard again. If they are growing nice and thick and full, then you can prune them lightly and you'll be fine.

When they get to the height you want, then trim regularly every year to keep them in shape.

Ligustrum grow fairly quickly, so you will have a beautiful privacy hedge in just a few years.

Question #4:  Can I Use Store Bought Garlic?

Question:  Can I use store bought garlic cloves? When is the best time to plant?

 Debra Hayes, Smithville, TN, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Debra! There is nothing wrong with store bought garlic, people do it all the time with great success, but you need to keep a few things in mind.
  • When buying in a grocery store, you don't know what variety of garlic it is, or where is was grown. Much of the grocery store garlic comes from Gilroy California, and may not do as well in your area than if you bought a known variety that will do well in your climate

  • If your garlic doesn't develop bulbs the first year, they may need another season to develop in the ground, and you'll get some the following season

  • Plant in the spring (late April, early May) or when the soil starts to warm up

  • When you plant the garlic, make sure you separate the cloves. Try and leave the paper skins on each clove, although it's not the end of the world if they slip off. Plant with the sharp end up, about 4 inches (10 cm) apart and 3 inches (7 cm) deep.

Some people claim that store bought garlic is too dry to plant, but I've seem many people do it and are very happy with the results, so I say, go for it - and have fun!

Question #5:  Home Made Pesticide Burned Plants

Question:  2 days ago we made an organic pesticide spray using dish soap but accidently made it too concentrated. The leaves on our plants have pretty severe burn. While the larger tomato plants seem like they may recover, the smaller baby pepper plants seem completely dead. The verdict is out on several others in between. Is there anything we can do to reverse the effects? We have tried rinsing the leaves with a hose. Also is the soap that presumably is now in the soil a continued danger?

 Elizabeth Munro, Houston, TX, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Elizabeth! Major drag! Here you were trying to do something good; what a disaster.

Just as a note in the future, whenever you make a homemade remedy, try it on a small portion of a leaf of a plant first to make sure there is no reaction.

Of course you know that now, but for others reading this, it's a good learning experience.

Unfortunately there is nothing you can do. Washing off the leaves was about it. Once the cell damage is done, all the plant can do is recover and grow new tissue, or die. The baby plants are history, but your tomato may pull through.

Do your best not to stress the plants any further until they do recover. So just give them water and care, don't fertilize or spray anything for a few weeks. When you see new growth, then help them out with a little light fertilizer like a compost tea and kelp mixture.

The soap in the soil won't be a big issue, it will break down over time, so don't worry about that.

I'm so sorry, but the good thing it is early in the season and you'll be able to replant and catch up in no time. Hang in there!

Question #6:  Herb & Stawberry Plants Turned Red

Question:  Why do all my mint plants and some of the other herb plants turn red, they still taste the same but their not lucious green?

 Heather Bruntlett, St Martin de Cenilly, France

Question:  I live in France, and have recently bought some strawberry plants. I have planted them three to a trough in planters on my balcony. I bought four types of plant, and mixed them up in the planters. One plant in each planter (so I'm assuming it's the same variety each time) has started to develop red leaves. I think it may also be happening (although more slowly) on the other plants as well. The leaves don't appear to have distinct spots, they are just gradually turning red all over. Is this a disease, and something I should be treating? Many thanks for your help.

 Katy, France


ANSWER:  Hi Heather and Katy! I hope you two don't mind sharing an answer, but all your plants have the same problem, so why not talk about them together?

The problem this year is that everyone, pretty much around the globe, is experiencing a prolonged winter along with usual cold accompanied by widely varying temperatures from day to day. It's warm one day and snowing the next.

Strawberries and some herbs, especially in the cold, will start to go into their dormant cycle and turn red. Red herb leaves will taste the same, and when the weather temperatures even out and start to warm up, the new growth that will occur will be nice a green again.

Now, having said that, strawberries can get a fungus called Red Stele Root Rot of Strawberry. Symptoms of this are when the younger leaves have a metallic, bluish-green cast and older leaves turn prematurely yellow or red. With the first hot, dry weather of early summer, diseased plants wilt rapidly and die. Diseased plants have very few new roots, when compared with the roots of healthy plants that have thick and bushy roots with many secondary feeding roots. Infected strawberry roots usually appear gray, while the new roots of a healthy plant are yellowish-white.

From the sound of Katy's note however, the plants are healthy, just red. I really think this is a climate issue and all your plants will return to normal when the weather warms up.

Question #7:  Italian Plum Has No Fruit

Question:  I am wondering if i am prunning my Italian Plum tree too much. I have had it for about 5 years, and last year it finally produced a few plums. This year I pruned it quite a bit (I try to prune every year, but it was getting very messy and overgrown) and now I am not seeing too many shoots or buds. I would like to keep it under control,so I can reach branches, and so it isn't too crowded, but maybe I cut too much this year? I pruned about a month ago (March).

 Dita Strutt, Vancouver, BC, Canada


ANSWER:  Hi Dita! An Italian plum or prune (Prunus domestica) falls into the European Plum category, and generally they need relatively little pruning.

Once you get the basic frame or structure of your tree established, the only pruning they need is to remove vertical shoots, crossing and broken branches, or to lightly shape the tree. That's it.

European plums bear fruit on long-lived spurs, which are short 3 to 5 inch (7.6 to 13 cm) branches where the plum tree flowers and sets fruit, which need to be 2 to 6 years old to produce fruit. It sounds to me like you keep pruning off any older spurs that may produce fruit.

Have you gotten many flowers this year? No flowers = no fruit.

So while I understand your intentions, I would leave your tree alone for a few years, except for the very light pruning I mentioned above, and you should have more fruit that you'll know what to do with!

Question #8:  Moss In The Lawn

Question:  Moss growing in the lawn, I have used 'Feed & Weed' on numerous occasions, raked up the dead moss but still it keeps coming back. Any ideas please?

 Cynthia Asher, Bristol, Avon, UK


ANSWER:  Hi Cynthia! Yes I do have an idea for you.

This simple mix kills fungus, bacteria, and moss from growing in your lawn, on your plants and trees, and between the cracks in your sidewalk and patios.

Try this mixture:

1 part Hydrogen Peroxide mixed with 9 parts water

Just mix it up, put the solution into a spray-bottle, lightly apply it to the area that needs it. It will rid your lawn, plants, and flowers of fungi, moss, and bacteria. It�s also safe to use around plants and children.

Thanks for the question!

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Planting Depth

As a general rule, most bulbs are planted at a depth that is equal to 3 times their diameter at their widest point.

Tulips like to be planted about 6 inches (15.2 cm) deep and 4-6 inches (10.2-15.2 cm) apart.

Always plant bulbs as soon as possible after purchase to prevent them from drying out.

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