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All Past Questions and Answers Library   |   November 2009

This month's questions concern:

Pruning Container Grown Blueberries
Getting Rid of Tomato Blight
Better to Till Soil In The Fall or Spring
Keep Apple Tree In A Container
When To Dig Geraniums Up For Overwintering
Lemon Tree Turning Yellow
Are Jacaranda Flowers Safe To Cook With
Pruning Virginia Creeper Vine

Please scroll down to read the answers.

Question #1:  Pruning Container Blueberries

Question:  I have three blueberry bushes in containers. These bushes are especially grown for containers.I am not sure how and when to prune them. Can you please advise? Thanks.

 Peter Tilburn, Pickering, North Yorkshire, England


ANSWER:   Hi Peter! Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are wonderful to grow, and with all the new varieties out these days, they can be grown just about anywhere.

Sounds like you have midhigh blueberry varieties - these are a hybrid cross between highbush and lowbush varieties and are bred for growing in containers. These types of blueberries have similar pruning requirements to other varieties, but here is what I would do with yours:

1. New plants should be pruned back at planting time. They should be cut back by one-fourth and any low, bushy growth near the base of the plant pruned away.

2. After 2 or 3 years of growth, regular pruning can start. On upright bushes, the goal is to open the center of the bush. On spreading bushes, the goal is to remove any low, shaded branches.

3. Prune plants in late winter just before growth begins.

4. Because blueberries bear fruit on the previous year's wood, and they bear best on young branches which are sending out vigorous new growth each season, the main goal of pruning is to keep the bush well supplied with young, fruitful branches.

5. After wood becomes 4 years old, it has lost its vigor and won't produce as well.

6. Prune out old canes and encourage new growth coming from the roots. For thinning, take twiggy branches off newer canes. If any shoots appear in late summer, prune them off.

For more detailed information about growing blueberries and several bush and bramble berries please read:

Grow Wonderful Berries - Part 1:

Grow Wonderful Berries - Part 2:

Good question and good luck with your bushes!

Question #2:  Getting Rid of Tomato Blight

Question:  This year in central Pennsylvania we were hit with tomato blight.I know it is an air-borne fungus. My question to you is do I treat the soil this fall for next spring or do I just let it go? Thank You.

 James L Hawkins, Glen Hope, PA, USA


ANSWER:   Hi James! This is a very good question. First let's take a look at blight because there are two forms of it: Early blight and late blight. Each is equally destructive.

Early Blight
This is caused by a fungus that survives during the winter on old vines, it overwinters in plant residue, and is soil-borne. It can also come in on transplants.

Early Blight Control
To fix, remove and destroy all diseased foliage. In the future, avoid overcrowding by planting farther apart, and prune for good air circulation. You'll also need to rotate tomatoes with unrelated crops, such as corn, beans or lettuce because the fungus can get into the soil and will simply reinfect your tomatoes the following year.

Wet weather and stressed plants increase likelihood of attack so don't get the foliage wet when you water, and keep your tomatoes as healthy as possible. Thickly mulching helps limit splashback reinfection from your soil. Fungal disease however, is also airborne, so you can also use a good fungicide like Soap-Shield Liquid Copper Fungicide This fungicide will prevent further development of the fungus.

Late Blight
This is caused by a fungus that is favored by wet weather. The spores travel great distances and can infect large areas.

Late Blight Control
Again, avoid overcrowding, and if the infection is severe and widespread, remove and destroy all affected plants. Late blight fungus can overwinter in frost free areas, and since it spreads to potatoes, it also overwinters in potato debris and seed, even in colder areas. Remove all debris. Rotate tomatoes with unrelated crops, use a good fungicide like Soap-Shield Liquid Copper Fungicide This fungicide will prevent further development of the fungus.

Use Raised Beds
Lastly, if your soil and area are too infected, try setting up a new area using raised beds and fresh soil. Make sure to rotate your crops in a raised bed as with a regular garden plot, so no fungus will build up for future problems.

I hope this helps and you can have healthier tomatoes in the future.

Question #3:  Better to Till Soil In The Fall or Spring?

Question:  Is it best to till up the soil for the garden next year or best to wait until spring? We want to add topsoil and wondered when is the best time of year to add the soil?

 Mary Altmeyer, Newburgh, IN, USA


ANSWER:   Hi Mary! Actually I just blogged about this very topic about two weeks ago, so yours is a timely question!

If you want to read the entire blog entry go to: Late Fall Tilling

Meanwhile, on to your question.

I personally think that any time you want to add compost or topsoil to your garden is a good time, but that said, there are a couple of considerations.

1. Soil preparation in the fall can be super beneficial because it can help control insects and overwintering bugs, and by adding organic matter in the fall, your soil will be in better condition by springtime and will be easier to dig and plant.

2. If you add a large amount of organic matter such as guano, compost, bark, and manures in the fall, it will start decomposing because the microbes are active currently and ready to start breaking everything down.


1. Tilling in the fall can cause some soil erosion if your area gets huge rain or winds during the fall and winter months. If that is the case, think about the tradeoffs of losing good topsoil to waiting and doing your tilling in the spring.

2. Be careful not to ruin your soil structure. Never work wet soil, especially clay. You may ruin the soil structure for years to come. Here's how to best determine How To Care For Your Soil Structure with this step-by-step article: Care For Your Soil Structure

I personally add organic matter both in the fall and in the spring. I live in an area where soil erosion is not a problem and I have great soil. If you have the same conditions, add compost, organic matter, or top soil in the fall, and you won't have any problems.

Good question!

Question #4:  Keep Apple Tree In A Container

Question:  I have just bought a Malus 'Gorgeous'. Could I keep it in a large container as I have not got much room, or up against a wall? How can I keep it small please?

 Marie Twomey, Cork, Ireland


ANSWER:   Hi Marie! Well Malus 'Gorgeous' also known as a White Crab Apple gets about 6 meters (18 feet) tall, but they are considered a good choice for small landscapes where space is restricted because they tend to turn into a really large shrub rather than a tree.

They are a very ornamental small tree that has wonderful spring flowers and crimson-red fruit that hang like small cherries so I can see why you chose this particular apple tree, they are beautiful.

If you have a very large container, like 1.5 m x 1.5 m (4 feet x 4 feet) you could plant it that way.

I think your best bet is to plant it by your wall as long it gets full sun. To keep it small just prune it back when it goes dormant in the winter, and prune to shape and size.

Since this isn't a very large tree to begin with, or an aggressive grower, you won't have any problems keeping it at the height or width that you want and have room for.

During the summer if you need to prune back a branch or two to keep it to size, or to remove a dead branch, that's fine too, you won't hurt anything.

Enjoy your tree!

Question #5:  When To Dig Geraniums Up For Overwintering

Question:  The Overwintering Geraniums article your did is of great help. I do have one question, though. I live in zone 5 and my Geraniums are still in bloom. When is the correct time to dig the Geraniums up?

 Pam Thompson, Columbus, Ohio, USA


ANSWER:   Hi Pam! I'm glad you found the article helpful, that's great! For those didn't read it you can find it at: Geranium Care - Overwintering Geraniums.

To answer your question, the best time to dig your geraniums up is before they get damaged by a heavy frost. That means they may still have leaves and flowers on them. If they do, remove the flowers and don't worry about the leaves because they will drop off by themselves during the overwintering process.

Thanks for the question, it's always good to clarify these things!

Question #6:  Lemon Tree Turning Yellow

Question:  My Lemon tree leaves keep turning yellow, I have tried trace elements, magnesium, iron chelates, it has blooms and had lemons from it. Do I just leave it alone or does it need more trace elements?

 Aileen Young, Cronulla. NSW, Australia


ANSWER:   Hi Aileen! Well, it could be a couple of things. You don't mention how the leaves are yellow, such as they are entirely yellow, or have green veins but yellow in between, etc. That's Ok, but let's take a look at some nutrient deficiencies and see if anything matches up for you to help diagnose what the problem is.

1. Check to see how much you are watering. Lemons don't like wet feet and if the soil is too wet, then their leaves will turn yellow.

2. I noticed you didn't mention giving your lemon a good balance fertilizer (like a 10-10-10) three or four times a year. Are you doing that? Lemons need a good source of nitrogen, so check your feeding schedule. If you're not giving it proper nutrition it can turn yellow, especially in sandy soil where the nutrients leach out very quickly.

3. You might want to get your soil tested to see if there is another underlying problem.

Iron Chlorosis Deficiency: Leaves turn yellow from edges inward, veins remain dark green. The same symptoms can be caused by overwatering - so check your watering amounts.

Manganese Deficiency: Fine mottling on young leaves, and pale or yellowish areas between dark green veins.

Zinc Deficiency: Yellowish blotching or mottling between leaf veins. Can happen at the same time as a manganese deficiency. Can be hard to tell one from the other.

Nitrogen Deficiency: Yellow across entire leaf surface and smaller than normal leaves. On some plants the leaves can turn red or purple.

Potassium Deficiency: Tips and edges become yellow with brownish-purple spotting.

Check to see if any of the above match up to what you are doing and let me know if you can. Good luck!

Question #7:  Are Jacaranda Flowers Safe To Cook With

Question:  Hi WG, I saw your piece above about Jacaranda tree. I live in Pretoria and we have many many flowering trees at the moment. They are beautiful! Just wanted to know if I can use the blossems in cakes or salads? Thank you in advance!

 Carmen, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa


ANSWER:   Hi Carmen! I agree with you that Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) flowers are stunning, but they are very poisonous and so under no circumstances should you eat them or cook with them.

In fact, the seeds are poisonous if ingested, and just about all parts of plant are poisonous if ingested.

For some people handling the plant may cause skin irritation, and some people have an allergic reaction to the flower pollen.

I'm glad you asked this question!

Question #8:  Pruning Virginia Creeper Vine

Question:  We planted a Virginia Creeper in our front garden this spring and want to know if we should prune it down now that the leaves have fallen off. It is nothing more than a bunch of twigs now on the wall?

 Bonnie Lindsay, Alliston, Ontario Canada


ANSWER:   Hi Bonnie! Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a deciduous vine and what you are describing is how they grow. Those twigs on the wall may not look so good now, but they will start growing again in the spring.

Typically when the vines reach the desired size, prune them back each winter, while they are dormant, to restrain spread and to keep away from doors, windows, or house eaves.

Simply cut out any branches to trim it back and remove any branches that have pulled away from their support, since they won't reattach.

You will be able to see the branching structure best during the winter, so prune back as far as you like, it will grow back.

During the growing season, same thing, simply trim back to keep it to the height, size, and width you prefer.

Basically, Virgina Creeper is most often pruned to prevent it from getting out of control!

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When to Harvest Squash

Winter squash is ready for harvest after the rind hardens and surface color dulls.

The vines will have dried and the skins are hard and can't be scratched with a fingernail.

Make sure you get them in before the first hard frost.

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