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All Past Questions and Answers Library | November 2008

This month's questions concern:

Propagating Lavender Plants
Growing Tomato Plants From Seed
Magnolia Flower Color Problems
Mold On Plum and Peach Fruit
Get Orchid to Flower Again
Grow Lawn After Chemical Spill
Overwintering Geraniums
Dividing Hostas
Sansevieria Care

Please scroll down to read the answers.

Question #1:  Propagating Lavender Plants

Question:  How can I home propagate lavender plants - do I divide the plant or whereabout on the plant do I get seeds from?

 Susan Close, Auckland, Australia


ANSWER:  Hi Susan! Lavender (Lavendula sp.) has been around in cultivation for centuries and some species cross pollinate very easily, so many varieties and hybrids have developed. I just mention this because if you grow lavender from seed, it may not be exactly like the parent plant.

To your question, lavender can be propagated from cuttings, seed, and by mound layering. If you want to take cuttings you can do so two ways:

Softwood or Semi-Ripe Cuttings:
These are taken from early summer to fall

Softwood, means a cutting that is taken from new wood that has not fully hardened, or become too woody, or those that are still soft and sappy.

Take a 2-1/2 to 3 inch (6 to 8 cm) softwood or semi-ripe cutting in early to midsummer, trim below a node, and strip off the bottom 1-1/4 inch (3 cm) of foliage. Dip the cutting in rooting compound and put in a soil that is very well drained.

Put in a bright, sunny area, not full sun, and cover with plastic wrap. Remove the plastic wrap regularly to give them air, and because they are susceptible to a fungus called botrytis, spray them with an organic fungicide.

They will root in 4 to 8 weeks.

Hardwood Cuttings:
These are taken from late fall to late winter

Do the same as above, but make sure the cuttings are from hardwood, meaning fully mature wood. In winter, the cuttings may take up to three months to root. Keep them in a frost-free area.


Lavender seeds can be gathered from the dry flower heads. Sow the seed only after 4 weeks of cold stratification. This means that they will need enough cold treatment to break their dormancy, so store the seeds in a dry plastic bag in your refrigerator at 41° F (5° C).

Sow them outdoors in the spring, when the weather warms up, in full sun, keep moist, and they should germinate in a few weeks.

Mound Layering:

This is the easiest way to propagate lavender. In the spring, mix some soil with equal parts of peat and sand. Then mound 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 cm) of the sandy soil around the base of the plant. This is one of the few times it is OK to pile soil up around the base of a plant.

Pile it so that just the tips of the plant's shoots are visible. If any soil is washed away by rain or watering, replace it. Keep the mound watered, but not soggy, and by late summer or ealy fall roots should have formed along many of the lower stems.

Remove the soil, and then cut off the rooted layers and pot them up.

Having grown a lot of lavender myself, mound layering is the best and easiest way to do it. The time of year is perfect for you right now, so go ahead and try it on some lavender plants this month.

Hope this helped, good luck!

Question #2:  Growing Tomato Plants From Seed

Question:  I see that everyone buys their tomato plants; can you just plant the seeds instead? I got some tomatoes that were grown in another garden, can I use the seeds from them?

 Greg Beck


ANSWER:  Hi Greg! Most people buy tomato plants instead of seed because of two reasons.

1. Because many people want a hybrid tomato, like 'Early Girl' and the only way to get a known variety is from a plant.

2. Tomatoes can take a while to grow from seed and many people don't have a long enough growing season to let the plants grow and then produce fruit.

If you don't mind that the plants are not going to be true to type, meaning, have none of the characteristics of the parent plants, then definitely grow your tomatoes from seed.

I just did a very detailed step-by-step tutorial of how to do this:
How To Save Tomato Seeds

You may also really like my in depth and complete growing guide: Growing Tomatoes & Tomato Growing Tips

Between the two articles, you'll have everything you'll ever need to grow tomatoes! Thanks for the question.

Question #3:  Magnolia Flower Color Problems

Question:  I have a beautiful Yellow Magnolia that I planted 5 years ago in my front yard but I find that the blooms are more green than yellow. Is there something I can add to the soil to enhance the yellow while it blooms in the spring?

 Diane Cotton, Middleton, Nova Scotia, Canada


ANSWER:  Hi Diane! There are a couple of "tried and true" yellow magnolias. One is called 'Butterflies' the other 'Elizabeth'.

I don't know if you have either one of these, but you may have purchased a mislabeled plant because magnolias do come with green flowers. The variety 'Yellow Bird' has flowers with a greeny-yellow.

That said, there have been problems in the past of some yellow varieties not coming true to type, but usually they have produced more of a creamy color, than green, and many magnolia growers suggest never buying a yellow magnolia unless you can see it in flower first to make sure it will give you the color you want.

In some areas weather can affect the color of yellow magnolias, but that is normally in a warm climate, not a climate like yours. In a warm climate, such as Florida, the warm winters and bright sunlight can prevent the yellow pigment from developing fully and they get a cream colored flower.

My advice is to go back to the person you purchased it from and talk to them about it. I doubt you want to replace a 5 year old tree, but it might put your mind at rest that you're not doing anything wrong.

I'm sorry for your disappointment, but I'm afraid there isn't much you can do to change the color of the flowers. I know it doesn't help, but it sounds like you have a very unusual and quite lovely tree; I hope you can continue to enjoy it anyway!

Question #4:  Mold On Plum and Peach Fruit

Question:  The fruit on my plum and peach trees get a gray mold on them. They shrivel up and turn gray. When should I spray and what kind should use? Thank you!

 Bob Fahringer, Fairfield, PA, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Bob! What you are describing is indeed called gray mold. It's caused by a fungus called Botrytis cinerea, and it can be serious during wet spring weather.

It attacks a wide range of fruits and vegetables and develops only under particularly cool and moist conditions. A couple of things you can do:

1. Promote good air circulation around the fruit by pruning and thinning your trees, and clusters of fruit.

2. Use organic fungicides like Neem Oil, or Fungicidal Soap.

Either one will clear up your problem and you'll be able to enjoy your fruit again.

Good question!

Question #5:  Get Orchid to Flower Again

Question:  I have an orchid plant from last year but I wonder will it bloom again or do I have to buy a new plant as they are very expensive to buy, I am hoping you can advise me. Thank you.

 Shirley Douglas, Belfast, Northern Ireland


ANSWER:  Hi Shirley! No worries, your orchid will flower again provided you give it the care it needs!

If you can actually believe it, there are professional "Orchid Sitters" that will keep your plants in their greenhouses the rest of the year, and when they start to come into flower, you can pick them up. Of course these services are madly expensive, but for the orchid lover, it may be worth it? (I wonder?)

Now because there are so many varieties of orchids, and I'm not sure which kind you have, here are some basic orchid growing tips that will serve for most of them.

Basic Orchid Information:
  • Soil: osmunda fiber, hapu'u (tree fern stem) or ground bark. There are also ready-made orchid bark mixes that are very good that have the proper texture and acid requirements. I would go for one of these.

  • Light: Bright indirect. If they are in full sun then shade them with a piece of shade cloth or light curtain so they don't burn.

  • Water: Orchids should be watered only when the potting mix starts to dry out. So about once a week or so, or when the pot gets light when you pick it up. They like a little more water during their growing season which is spring - summer and you can cut back a bit during the winter months so you don't rot them when they aren't growing as actively.

  • Humidity: Orchids like to be either misted daily or put on a pebble tray full of water to keep the humidity fairly high around them. A pebble tray is made by taking a dish and filling it almost to the top with pebbles or gravel, and filling it with water. Set the pot on top of it so that the tray isn't sitting IN the water, but just on top, so that as the water in the tray evaporates, the plant gets the humidity.

  • Fertilizer: Apply a water soluble orchid fertilizer every two weeks during the growing season.

  • Temperature: There are three different kinds of orchids, cool, intermediate, and warm.

  • Cool: like 50-55° F (10-13° C) night temps and 60-75° (16-24°C) day temps. Cool Orchids are: Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Epidendrum, Laelia, Paphiopedilum

  • Intermediate: 55-60° F (13-16° C) night and 65-80° F (18-27° C) day, with extra humidity. Intermediate: Cattleya, Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Epidendrum, Oncidium, Paphiopedilum

  • Warm: 60-65° (16-18° C) night and 70-85° F (21-29° C) day, uniform warm temps with high humidity. Warm: Phalaenopsis, and Vanda.
Follow the above and you'll be just fine. I hope you enjoy your orchid flowers, they are always so stunning.

Question #6:  Grow Lawn After Chemical Spill

Question:  Accidentally, I applied a "kill all" chemical to my lawn a few weeks ago. As a result, I now have a dozen brown/yellow patches. What can I do to restore my lawn?

 Joe Dillon, Dublin, Ireland


ANSWER:  Hi Joe! Isn't it always the crazy accidents we have that are always so obvious? I mean, you could have spilled the stuff on the driveway, but I guess that's the way it goes sometimes, isn't it?

Anyway, don't worry about it. You can patch your lawn very quickly. You can either re-seed the areas, or lay down some patches of sod, either one will work.

I give great detail on this matter in the past article:
Grow a Green, Lush Lawn - Part 2- Patching, Overseeding or Starting a New Lawn

The article gives step-by-step instructions with pictures so you can't go wrong. Good luck, and next time try and spill out in the street or something! (Just kidding!)

Question #7:  Overwintering Geraniums

Question:  I have beautiful geraniums, they are still blooming. How can I keep these plants through the winter. I have been told to that them out of the dirt and clean them and store them in bags until early spring and then plant them again and they will this right or is there a better way? Thank you.

 Mary Ann Benton, Richmond, KY, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Mary Ann! Actually what you describe is my favorite way to overwinter geraniums. You're in luck though, because this month our feature story is on this very topic!

We go over in detail the other two ways to overwinter geraniums.

You can read it at:
Overwintering Geraniums - Three super easy geranium care tricks for the cold winter months

Thanks for asking the question, because at this time of year many people want to know how to do this.

Question #8:  Dividing Hostas

Question:  At what time of the year, can I split Hostas, that have grown too big for their pots?

 Dennis Fallowfield, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, UK


ANSWER:  Hi Dennis! Well this is a good question because it applies to hostas that are grown in the ground as well as in containers.

Traditionally the answer has always been to divide hostas in the spring, just as they are coming out the ground, but I don't agree with that at all.

While spring may be the easiest time for you to divide hostas because with all their foliage out of the way it's easier to see and dig, the problem with dividing hostas in the spring is timing.

In the spring when the weather is cool and the soil is slow to warm, your newly divided hostas will be producing large mature leaves with no new roots for weeks. Spring days, have bright sun, cool breezes and low humidity, all of which are very stressful for new hosta leaves.

On those days the desiccation rate is very high and the new hosta divisions with their reduced and possibly damaged root systems, dry out rapidly. If the weather turns suddenly hot for even a day or two, the hosta leaves will burn. While this damage may not prove permanent, the clumps will certainly be reduced in size.

So, if you must divide your hostas in the spring, do not over divide them. Split the clumps in half or at most quarters. Divide only fast growing cultivars in spring that can recover quickly, avoid H. sieboldianas and �Tokudamas�. Dig them with a fork, not a shovel, so as to damage their long roots as little as possible. Hosta roots only grow at the tip, if you cut the roots they rarely branch and will not get any longer. New roots will have to come to take their place.

The Best Time

The best time to divide hostas is in the late summer, early fall like in August or early September, at least 30 days before the first frost date. The conditions then are more favorable to rapid root growth because the plant is predominantly dormant but is still in the root development phase and dividing at this time does the least harm.

In the late summer, early fall, the soil is warm and the air is more humid than in the spring. Also, hostas usually put on a little growth spurt in August. Many hostas at this time of year begin to actively grow again after their summer heat dormancy. Thus, hostas divided in late summer will make new roots quickly. Many fast growing hostas will make all new foliage before frost and hold it well into fall. Some may even bloom again.

The only danger in dividing hostas in August is excessive heat or extended drought. Keep newly divided hostas wet. Do not let them dry out for the first two weeks. Removing some of the older, larger leaves or cutting the foliage back at the time of dividing will reduce water loss. Any leaves that suffer burned edges will be taken by the frost in a few weeks anyway.

So wait until next fall to divide your plants, but if you must do it in the spring, take the precautions as mentioned above, and your plants will pull through just fine. Good luck!

Question #9:  Sansevieria Care

Question:  Hi we have got 3 diffrent Mother-In-Law's Tongue plants in one pot and in the house - not a lot of sun gets to them. Will they be ok or must they move to a sunnier position and how much water do we give them?

 Ivo Desmond Jones, Middleburg,
Mpumalanga, South Africa


ANSWER:  Hi Ivo! Mother-In-Law's Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata) also known as a Snake Plant, actually take dim light very well. They are known as being an incredibly tough plant that can take low light, burning heat, and even months of neglect, but I don't suggest you push it that far!

The best situation for sansevieria is an area that has medium to bright light (not full sun), and given regular water as soon as the soil becomes dry.

Given a nice bright area, they can eventually produce a tall stalk of tubular greenish flowers that give off a heavy fragrance at night.

You will know if you are not giving them enough light, because under too low light conditions, the leaves will become floppy and soft and will break easily.

As far as watering goes, let the potting mix dry slightly between waterings, and water sparingly in the winter.

Sansevieria are not heavy feeders, so you can give them some all purpose fertilizer like a 5-5-5 or a 10-10-10 once or twice during the summer months, and that will be enough.

Mother-In-Law's Tongue are great plants, and if you ever want to divide them, I answered a question about that last year and you can read it here: Propagating Sansevieria.

Hope this helps, and have a great day!

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