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Past Questions and Answers | November 2006



This month's questions concern:

Raised Planter Issues
Bougainvillea Dropping Leaves
Growing Spinach Indoors
Tomatoes Not Ripening Properly
Propagating Bougainvillea
Fall Color Ideas
How to Get Rid Of Thistle!
Wild Onions Taking Over Sod
Mealybug on Sago Palm

Please scroll down to read the answers.

Question #1:  Raised Planter Issues

Question:  I have a large raised garden bed in front of my house that's been there since the house was built, about 14 years ago. It is surrounded by bridge ties (like railroad ties, only bigger.)

This summer, when it was very hot, I could see the black tar-like stuff oozing out, shortly after that, the small evergreen started to turn brown directly above a spot where the tar was coming out. I am concerned about the contaminants leaching upwards from the ground beneath the bed. Please tell me what you think about this?

 Nancy Morrow

 

ANSWER:  Hi Nancy! This is a really interesting question. If it was me, I would dig out the existing soil. Then I would line the inside of the bed ties with thick plastic landscape cloth, the kind with no holes. I would only do the sides, not the bottom, so that it will drain properly.

Then I would add in lots of good top soil mixed with plenty of organic compost and bit of fertilizer so the new plants will have some nutrients.

I think with the ties being 14 years old or more, they will have already leached most of what they will ever leach out and the problem shouldn't be too bad from now on.

However, you will definitely want fresh soil in there, especially if you are ever planning to plant edible products like fruits or vegetables, because in 14 years enough creosote will have leached out to make it unsafe to grow and eat anything.

Once you have new soil, I highly doubt that anything will leach upwards, and I wouldn't worry about it.

Good luck with your project!



Question #2:  Bougainvillea Dropping Leaves

Question:  I have been trying to grow bougainvilleas in my back yard as a hedge for the past 5 years. They made it through the hurricanes and were starting to prosper. Now they are dropping their mature leaves. I have them growing up my chain link fence (vinyl coated) I spray with Isatox. What am I doing wrong?

 Susan Kutz, Southwest Ranches, FL

 

ANSWER:  Hi Susan! Do you have insects or mites and that is why you are spraying with Isotox? That's a pretty strong systemic insecticide, so you must have a huge insect problem?

As to why they are dropping their leaves there are 3 things that come to mind:

1. The temperature has dropped below 65 degrees. Bougainvillea do their best in dry and hot conditions. I tried to find your climate zone for Southwest Ranches, FL, but no climate zone showed such an area of Florida. So I am going to guess that you are in a more temperate part of Florida that can get cooler temperatures occasionally. Bougainvillea will drop their mature leaves and produce smaller leaves when the temperatures are cooler and then grow like crazy when it warms up.

2. The other problem can be they don't like to be too wet. When watering try to let them dry out completely between waterings. They will do much better.

3. They have some kind of infestation and that's why you are spraying. A heavy infestation of some kind can stress plants and they can lose their leaves. You didn't mention any insect damage, so I don't know if this pertains or not.

So I would, check how often I was watering, only spray an insecticide for a known problem, and if your area gets cooler at certain times of the year, help keep the roots a bit warmer by slightly mulching the ground at the base of the plants.

If you do mulch, make sure you don't get the mulch next to the stem of the plant. Don't put mulch any closer than within an 1 inch or so of the main stem because you don't want to rot it.

A mulch that is 2 inches deep can help keep the roots warm and help them through cooler times of the year. Mulching also keeps in moisture, so monitor your watering and you'll be just fine.



Question #3:  Growing Spinach Indoors

Question:  Could you please tell me how to grow spinach during our cold winter climate? With the spinach contamination, I would like to grow it indoors. I'm not sure what type of potting soil mixture to use, or where to get the seeds this time of year, or if it can even be grown without a big expense of special lighting.

 Jacqueline Visner, Fostoria, MI

 

ANSWER:  Hi Jacqueline! Yes you can most definately grow spinach indoors. You can also grow lettuce, carrots and other root crops.

It is the subject of our Feature Story this month, so for all the details go to: Growing Spinach Indoors




Question #4:  Tomatoes Not Ripening Properly

Question:  Part way through August and September, we noticed that only half the actual tomato was red and the rest was yellow and would not ripen. The skin was very hard and the tomato was bitter in the "yellow" area. We did have about a week plus of 98-101 temperatures.

 Tony & Cathy Witczak, Philadelphia, PA

 

ANSWER:   Hi Tony and Cathy! It sounds like heat was your problem. When tomatoes get blasted with very high temperatures they can have significant ripening problems.

Red pigment doesn't develop at temperatures above 95 degrees and fruit ripening happens slower and at lower temperatures.

With extreme heat, you can have serious quality problems, just like you described.

Next time, if you are going to get high temperatures, pick your tomatoes with the first blush of color, they can even be quite green, and ripen them indoors at a cooler temperatures.

Remember tomatoes ripen from the bottom up and the inside out, so don't put tomatoes on a windowsill to ripen because they will only turn red, but not ripe. They will stay green inside.

So try this ripening trick, it works every time:

1. Place your unripened tomatoes on a tray, and then put them in a dark, warm spot. Cover them with a single sheet of newspaper.

2. These are the conditions tomatoes need to continue the ripening process, which is internal. The light, which was needed for "growth" isn't needed anymore.

3. Eat when ready!



Question #5:  Propagating Bougainvillea

Question:  I have a bougainvillea (sp) bush that I would like to take clippings from and grow new bushes off of it. Is it possible to do, and if so, how do I do it? Also how would I move it from one spot (its kind of in a cramped space) to another without killing it? I am a first time gardener.

 Maggie Battiste, Cape Coral, FL

 

ANSWER:   Hi Maggie! I'm glad you are a first time gardener! I love hearing from everyone.

As to your first question:

Bougainvillea can be propagated many ways. One of the easiest ways is to cut a young tender stem (or shoot) that is about 6 inches in length from the plant. Carefully strip off the lower sets of leaves. Then dip the cutting into a rooting compound like Rootone. Rootone is sold at just about every garden center around, so you won't have any problems finding some.

Then stick the cutting 1 inch into a small pot filled with wet potting mix. Make sure the soil is wet before you stick your cutting in. Any basic potting mix will do as long as it's kept moist.

Next cover the pot with a lightweight piece of clear plastic or a plastic bag. Put the pot in indirect sunlight on an east facing window or under fluorescent lights.

After a couple of weeks, see if the shoot has rooted. You can do this by VERY carefully tugging on the stem. If you get some resistance, remove the plastic, but still keep the soil moist until you see new growth. At that point you can start treating it like any other seedling and in a few months you can plant it out.

As to your second question:

I have never successfully moved a bougainvillea. Even when I was in Horticulture school the instructors, who had considerable experience with this type of thing, tried to move a 100 year old bougainvillea.

They took over a year to do it by carefully building a box around the roots over time, they tried everything not to disturb it, but in the end the plant still died. They are super touchy about that.

You can always give it a try. Just do you utmost not to disturb the roots.

So make as big a soil ball you can around the roots. Work a burlap bag, or or other material, under and around the roots and then as carefully as you can, lift it up and over to its new home.

Once replanted, I would water in with Vitamin B to help against transplant shock. Over the years people have said Vitamin B does no good, but I have seen it do good things. In a case like yours, I would definitely use it.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes! I always like to hear back.



Question #6:  Fall Color Ideas

Question:  I have a lot of Portulacas planted next to the house. They had a great summer but have come to seed and the plants are looking large and deadish. What can I do to make that area look better now that it's fall? Should I pull the old plants after the seeds fall? Should or could I cut them off? I won't waste the seeds, but I really don't care for the way they look now.

 Melissa R., Wooster, OH

 

ANSWER:  Hi Melissa! Yes, I bet at this time of year your Portulacas are looking a bit tired.

Portulacas are considered an annual and I would pull them out and start fresh.

Before I planted anything for the fall, I would first work a bit of compost into your bedding area and little bit fertilizer like a 20-20-20 granular. This just helps give the plants a head start headed into the cold weather.

Some good choices for fall / winter annual color that does well in your area of Zone 6 are:

1. Calendula officinalis: Pot marigold
Good in Zones 6 - 10
Orange and Yellow Flowers

2. Brassica: Ornamental Kale
Good in Zones 6 - 11
White and Purple Floiage

3. Centaurea cyanus: Bachelors Button
Good in Zones 5 - 10
White and Blue Flowers

4. Erysimum x allionii: Siberian Wallflower
Good in Zones 3 - 10
Yellow Flowers

5. Papaver: Iceland Poppy
Zones 2 - 10
All Colors

6. Papaver: Oriental Poppy
Zones 3 - 9
Often shades of red flowers

7. Dianthus: Sweet William
Zones 4 - 10
Shades of pink with white

8. Viola: Viola and Pansy
Zones 4 - 10
All Colors

If you want to, or need to, look at a climate zones map, you can always use ours: Climate Zone Map




Question #7:  How to Get Rid Of Thistle!

Question:  My garden is over-run with thistle. It is everywhere. Will the frost get it, or should I do something else? Thank you.

 Joyce Weese, Owatonna, MN

 

ANSWER:  Hi Joyce! Good to hear from you, but I'm sorry you have such a thistle problem! The frost will help, but not get rid of it.

The problem is that it has formed flower heads and gone to seed. The trick to suppressing any kind of weed is to take care of them before they form a seed head, otherwise they spread seed everywhere,and the next season, the problem starts all over again.

Here is what I would do:

1. Either now or in the very early spring before it gets too warm, get rid of all the thistle. Pull it up and clear it out.

2. Now what you next depends on what you are going to do with the area. ** IF ** you are going to use the area to sow seed, like seed a lawn, or grow flowers or vegetables from seed, then do NOT put down a pre-emergent . A pre-emergent inhibits seed germination, so if you want to seed a lawn or put seed down to grow flowers or edibles, seeds won't grow there.

If, however, the area is to be used for landscaping, and trees, and shrubs, then DO put down a pre-emergent, because inhibiting seed growth won't bother established plants.

3. If you ARE going to use a pre-emergent, because the area is always going to have established plants and not be seeded, then a good organic to use is "Corn Gluten Meal", a chemical version is "Ronstar."

4. If are NOT going to use a pre-emergent in that area, because you DO plan to put seed down, then be very diligent about keeping the weeds down either by carefully spraying an herbicide, a good organic one is: "Concern" , a chemical one is "Roundup." Just be careful not to get any spray on established plants because non-specific herbicides kill anything they come into contact with.

5. The trick is to not let the weeds get stared growing again, and with thistle especially, you don't want to allow it to go to seed again.

6. Thistle is a tough plant and you will have to keep after it for a couple of years. The good news is that every year thereafter, you will see less and less of it as it dies out, and the seed is no longer in your garden.

Hope this helps and have a great weekend!



Question #8:  Wild Onions Taking Over Sod

Question:  I have wild onions taking over my newly laid sod and it is very frustrating. I need to know what I can do to eliminate them for good! Please help!

 Tammy Hopkins, Austin, TX

 

ANSWER:  Hi Tammy! Wild Onion (Allium canadense) can be a real problem. It's fixable, but it's going to take some diligence on your part. Sorry - there is no quick fix for this one!

First of all, to better understand our enemy, let's take a look at how they grow and produce.

Wild onion are winter perennials. They emerge in late fall from underground bulbs and grow through the winter and spring. In late spring, aerial bulblets are formed and the plants die back in early summer. The underground bulbs can persist in the soil for several years.

To get rid of them, let's look at a couple of options.
  1. Dig Them Out:
    I don't know how many wild onions you have, but if you don't have that many, you can dig them out with a thin trowel just make sure you get all the bulbs and bulblets.

    Don't try and pull them out because some of the bulbs or bulblets will be left in the ground and new leaves will re-emerge later.

  2. Spraying:
    Unfortunately, there are no preemergence herbicides that will control wild onion. They must be treated with a postemergence herbicide like Roundup or Brush-B-Gon, and persistence on your part is the key.

    Plants will need to be sprayed more than once and for more than one season. One characteristic that makes control difficult is that wild onion have a thin, glossy leaf that herbicides donít readily adhere to. Adding a spreader-sticker to the spray solution will help it to adhere evenly. Be aware that some products have a spreader-sticker already added so read the label carefully, and if you're not sure, ask at the garden center.

    Unlike most weeds, mowing wild onion immediately before applying a herbicide may improve uptake. After application, do not mow for at least two weeks.

    • Timing Of Sprays: Treat wild onion in November and again in March. Inspect the lawn the next fall and spring and treat if necessary.

    • Broadleaf herbicides such as Brush-B-Gon or Roundup, will provide control of wild onion with repeat applications. These products are nonselective herbicides, so be very careful how you apply them. You may kill a bit of your grass if your spray gets on it, but the grass will grow back. As always, check the product label before you apply anything.
If you follow the above you will get rid of the wild onion, just be patient and keep at it!



Question #9:  Mealybug On Sago Palm

Question:  My sago palm has been taken over by a white dandruff looking parasite. The outshoots are turning brown. What can I do to save the plant? I have been using a fungicide for a few weeks, but it does not seem to be improving.

 Fred Reynolds, Harvey, LA

 

ANSWER:  Hi Fred! Sounds like you have mealybug on your sago palm. Bummer!

Mealybug can be gotten rid of, but you'll need to keep after them since they are tough to kill once they have had time to establish themselves.

Spraying a fungicide will not help, but you can spray with Neem Oil or Insecticidal Soap frequently (every couple of weeks) until the insect population declines.

I read all the time that you can wipe them off with a Q-Tip dipped in alcohol, but I have never found that helpful, because that doesn't get rid of the "Crawlers" or the immature mealybug.

I would spray every few weeks until the problem dies down, and then watch carefully. You may have to repeat application once a month for a while.

Lastly, to read more about mealybug and how they operate, you may want to read the article I did on them: Mealybug

Hang in there, a beautiful sago palm is worth a bit of effort!




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Keep Seedlings Moist

When you have just planted seeds, keep the soil moist until germination.

If the soil dries out, the seeds will die.

After germination, allow the soil to dry out a bit between waterings, but keep a close eye on the seedlings until they are well established.


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