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Past Questions and Answers | May 2011

Question #1

Question:  What would be the best time for me to plant azalea in my front garden. It does get full sun, but I don't know the soil conditions. We just moved in and the grass has lots of weeds. Any advice on which flowering plants I should plant which don't require too much work?

  Glen Allen, Virginia


ANSWER:   The first step is getting a soil test. Azaleas require acidic soil and partial shade, so planting them without knowing what your soil pH is means you may lose them. The full sun area you refer to would probably not be the best place to plant them, as they do not do well in the hot afternoon sun. Find an area where they get sun in the morning but are shaded during the afternoon. As to when to plant them, December and January are the best times. Container grown plants may be planted at any time. They sometimes struggle in the hot summer when transplanted later in the spring because their roots have not caught up from being transplanted.

For the lawn, you need to find out what sort of grass you have. If it is Bermuda grass, you can use one of the weed and fertilizer products with 2,4,D in them to kill the broadleaf weeds and help the struggling lawn. If the grass is Saint Augustine, however, those products will kill it. You will have to use fertilizer alone and water one inch a week, then mow frequently enough that you are cutting only one third of the grass blade each time, but maintaining it at a height you are happy with. This works for Bermuda grass as well. Weeds cannot handle the frequent mowing and the grass will eventually crowd them out.

You county extension agent will have soil test bags and instructions as well as a list of low maintenance plants that grow well in your area. This information is free. You can find your extension agent in the county listings in the phone book.

Question #2

Question:  What fertilizers do you use or would recommend for containers. For years I have used Miracle Grow - last year I added a slow release fertile, worm casing and another fertile that came highly recommended from a nursery. Most pots had new potting soil, but with all that I did they were no different than if I used Miracle Grow. Appreciate any suggestions.

  Mary Lund, Taylorsville, Utah


ANSWER:   This is a case of more is not better. While I do not endorse any product, Miracle Grow is a well known and well tested fertilizer. It should be adequate if you follow the label directions. Worm casings are useful if mixed into the soil, but are not much good if just sprinkled on top. The problem with containers is that if you start stirring the soil, you may damage the plant roots. That is why liquids are best.

However, putting in Miracle Gro and then another fertilizer risks overdosing your plants on nutrients. Just as we can overdose on beneficial medications, Plants can get too much potassium and phosphorous and die, or fail to thrive. It is best to pick one fertilizer and stick with it as long as it is doing the job. A balanced fertilizer for containers will work fine, just pick one and follow the directions on the label.

Question #3

Question:  Do I need to cut back last years growth on my hydrangea? Thank you.

  Melissa Skelton, Dinwiddle, Virginia


ANSWER:   Most hydrangeas bloom on old wood, so if you cut them back before they bloom, then you will not get any flowers that year. It is best to prune them after they bloom in the spring, but no later than July. This gives the plant time to set new buds before winter. Those buds will bloom the following spring.

Question #4

Question:  Hi, I read your page on growing tomatoes. Very good read! I'm fairly new to vegetable gardening and am a little concerned about my tomato sprouts. You article states that if they are started indoors and planted outdoors too soon when the soil is still cold, they will turn purple. Well, that happened to mine but they are still growing strong it seems. Will these plants be productive or must I start over for the season? Thanks!!!

  Ben Carn, El Paso, Texas


ANSWER:   It sounds like you lost the gardener.s gamble that winter was over and spring had started. It happens to everyone occasionally. If your tomato plants are still growing well, you can expect tomatoes. They probably will not produce as well as plants that did not get cold, however. Most people would plant an extra tomato plant or two as insurance, if you have the room.

Question #5

Question:  This is my first spring at our new house and I was greatly surprised to see Daffodils and Hyacinth coming out in my front yard, but the daffodils are not flowering, and the Hyacinth have very week blue flowers. Also, something is digging holes next to my hydrangea macrophylla everyday. What could it be? I have only seen squirrels in my yard so far. thanks!

  Pamela Contreras, Washington, DC


ANSWER:   The daffodils probably need dividing. In the fall, dig them up and replant them after separating the bulbs from one another. As things get crowded, daffodils do not produce good blooms.

Your hyacinth probably has the same problem as the daffodils. It, too, will need to be dug up, divided, and replanted. That is done in the fall. As to what is digging in your flower bed, it sounds like an armadillo. They like to dig near plants and eat the grubs and other insects that congregate there. You will need a live trap to catch it, then will have to have a pest control professional dispose of it. Armadillos carry leprosy, so do not touch them.

Question #6

Question:  I am growing a tomato plant in a 5 gallon bucket. I am wondering how big my drainage holes should be and how many I should have. Can you help me with this? Thank you. Your articles are very informative and well written.

  Amanda Cross, Van Buren, Arkansas


ANSWER:   If you use three or four 1/4 inch holes, then spread a layer of gravel inside the bucket before you put in your soil, your bucket should drain fine. The gravel keeps the soil from clogging the holes or being washed out of them. Remember that water will drain out when you water your tomato plant, so place the bucket somewhere that can either catch the water or let it run off without making a mess.

Question #7

Question:  I have an Endless Summer Blue Hydrangea. I always fertilize it in the spring and put aluminum sulfate on it. It does not rebloom. Do you have any ideas why it doesn't put on more blooms? One year I put some blood meal on it mid-summer thinking it would help produce blooms. The blooms I had turned red. So that's out.

Thanks for your input.

  Judith Jenkins, Oklahome City, Oklahoma


ANSWER:   Endless Summer Blue Hydrangea is sold as a hydrangea that blooms on both the old wood and the new wood. Normally hydrangea only bloom on old wood, so they bloom once and are done. Unfortunately, Endless Summer Blue Hydrangea does not seem to be living up to the claims of its. breeder. So you are not doing anything wrong, the plant just is not as likely to rebloom as first thought.

Question #8

Question:  I have a clematis that has hardly bloomed for the last 2 years. I have pruned some of new growth because it was getting too tall. Please advise. Also, is it harmful to transplant spring flowers like tulips and daffodils when they are new coming up and have not yet bloomed?

  Sherry Johnson, Kokomo, Indiana


ANSWER:   You can transplant bulbs such as tulips and daffodils when they are growing but have not bloomed. However, in most cases they will not bloom the year they are moved. It is better to wait until after they have finished blooming to move them. The fall is when most people dig up such bulbs and divide them, then replant them.

As to the clematis, there are three types of clematis. One type blooms on old wood, one on new wood, and one is mixed. Since the plant is not blooming, you can prune it back rather severely to encourage new growth. Hopefully that will cause it to bloom next year. Ohio State University has a helpful publication on growing clematis you might look at, as well.

Question #9

Question:  I have a rose-of -sharon that has healthy foliage in the summer but only produces one or 2 flowers every year. Our soil is pretty acidic and I haven't pruned or fertilized. Also, do deer eat the buds? They leave my hardy hibiscus alone.

  Susanna Fisher, East Hampton, NY


ANSWER:   If you prune the plant in the spring before it blooms, you will have fewer blooms but the flowers will be bigger. Plants that are not pruned have smaller flowers. A side dressing of some balanced fertilizer would be appreciated. Just make sure it says that the fertilizer is for shrubs on the label.

As for the deer eating the buds, that depends on how hungry the deer are and what other plants are available. Texas Agrilife Extension has a good publication on gardening in deer country that you might find helpful.

Question #10

Question:  I just bought a Serissa 'pink mountain' dwarf snow rose. I was told to keep it indoors, water every 5 days, and to mist daily. I set the plant in a southwest facing window and tried to keep it watered, but three weeks later the plant's flowers have fallen off and the leaves are turning yellow. What can I do to salvage my precious plant? Does it need a bonsai pot or a humidity tray? Thank you.

  Jennifer Codding, Bear, DE


ANSWER:   Serissa are very sensitive plants. They generally drop their flowers and leaves when they are moved into a new environment. They will then regenerate their leaves and be okay if you continue with your routine. However, any time they are unhappy, they drop their leaves. Here is an article on keeping Serissa happy and growing that might help.

Question #11

Question:  In Maryland we seem to be plagued with stink bugs in the house and in the garden (brown marmorated stink bugs). They were in our vegetable garden last year, and are supposed to be a worse problem this summer.

I've read that cedar mulch can keep insects away from plants (as cedar closets keep clothes free from moths.) Do you think this might work to protect vegetables from stink bugs? Thanks very much.

  Terry Galloway, Severna Park, Maryland


ANSWER:   For your house, seal up all cracks where the bugs might get in. Then have a licensed pest operator spray the outside of the house with a pyrethrin to further deter entry.

None of the information from research stations mentions cedar shavings repelling these bugs. However, the brown marmorated stink bug has been in this country a relatively short time and researchers are still trying to figure out how to get rid of them. There are no counter indications for cedar mulch in the garden, other than expense. The most common recommendation, however, is to use row covers once the plants have been pollinated to prevent the bugs from attacking them.

Question #12

Question:  We just moved to a new house, and the previous owner had a garden. We have been getting the weeds out to make it a vegetable garden, but in some spots there some odd roots. They grow horizontal and some vertical and are light brown in color. The odd thing is, they smell like black pepper and I haven't found the part that grows above ground. The only plant we know of in the garden is rhubarb. What is this root and should I try and pull it all up? Thanks!

  Meredith Taylor, Indianapolis, Indiana


ANSWER:   Without a picture or sample, it is impossible to say definitively what the plant is. However, since you are planning to grow your garden there, pulling the plant up or poisoning it would be the prudent thing to do. If you really want to know what it is, take a sample about 6 inches long to your country extension agent and ask them to identify it.

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