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Past Questions and Answers | September 2006

This month's questions concern:

Pruning Avocado Trees
Growing Peanuts
Overwintering a Passion Vine
When to Plant a Plum Pit
Loropetalum Foliage
Portulaca Care
Germinate Fringe Tree Seed
Bitter Cucumbers

Please scroll down to read the answers.

Question #1:  When To Prune My Avocado

Question:  I have two small avocado plants I grew from avocado pits. They are nearly 10 inches tall now. If I don't cut them in half to cause them to be more bushy, how tall will they grow? Thank you.

 Angela Church, Madison Heights, MI


ANSWER:  Hi Angela! Most avocado varieties grow to 30 to 40 feet tall. It would be interesting to see an unpruned avocado growing! Just remember most avocados need another near by to pollinate and because you grew it from seed, it won't be true to type like the grafted known varieties of avocados.

Question #2:  Growing Peanuts

Question:  Hi, Weekend Gardener. We planted some peanuts this season and we were wondering what we do once the plants blossom? Thank You.

 Colleen Fischer, Coloma, MI


ANSWER:  Hi Colleen! Peanuts are great fun. I used to grow them in half wine barrels and they did great. Once they flower, there is nothing really to do. At the base of each flower you will see a "peg" develop and that will grow into the soil.

The peanuts form on the "pegs." You can fertilize peanuts when you plant, but they don't need anymore after that. Wait until the foliage starts to yellow and at that time, the peanuts will be ready to harvest.

Have fun digging them up!

Question #3:  Passion Flower Vine

Question:  How do I overwinter my passion flower vine?

 Diane Dileo, Oshawa, Ontario


ANSWER:  Hi Diane! Passion vines, Passiflora, comes in evergreen semievergreen and deciduous forms. Up in your area, I would expect you have the variety that goes dormant.

Hopefully you have planted it in a warmer part of your yard like against a wall or beneath an overhang. When the colder weather hits it will die back to the ground.

The most you can do is mulch heavily around the roots during the winter to keep them as warm as possible. In the spring cut out any congested growth and it will come back quite nicely.

Enjoy those beautiful flowers!

Question #4:  When To Plant a Plum Pit

Question:  When do I plant plum seed?

 Karen Lemelle, Houston, TX


ANSWER:  Hi Karen! Depending upon the variety, plums usually need warm days with some chilling to do well. There are two ways you can go.

Because we are heading into the chilly part of the year, you can plant your pit now and let it get the chilling it will need to break dormancy naturally. In Houston however, you are a Zone 8-9, so you might not get cold enough for your pit to break dormancy.

If that is the case, you can fool your plum pit a bit. Here are some detailed instructions on another way to go:

First you want to clean all the fleshy, pulp from around the pit. Do this with water. After it's clean, I always drop the seed into a bucket of water to see if it floats or sinks. If it floats, the seed probably is not viable. If it sinks, it is good and you can continue with the next steps.

Most deciduous, fleshy, fruits require some chilling to break the dormancy and penetrate the thick seed coat. After you clean the seed, put it in a zip-lock bag with a mix of slightly moist peat moss or vermiculate and sand.

Put the pit in the mixture and place in the refrigerator, about 41 degrees F, or 5 degrees C, for about 6 - 8 weeks. Watch the seed closely through the sides of the unopened bag. If it starts to break dormancy before 6 to 8 weeks, that's ok, but you need to plant it immediately.

If, however, there is still a chance of frost outside, plant it in a container or an area that is protected until you can plant it out in your yard when all chance of frost has passed.

Lastly, if the plum is not a self-fertilizing variety, you will need to plant some other plums nearby to pollinate it so you can enjoy its fruit.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

Question #5:  Loropetalum Foliage

Question:  Hi, I have the Loropetalum plants with pink flowers. I thought the leaves would be more reddish, but mine are all dark green. Should I be feeding them something or watering them more to get the red foliage? Thanks!

 Kathryn Stacer, Round Rock, TX


ANSWER:  Hi Kathryn! Well fringe flowers, Loropetalums are tricky. A lot of them show more reddish foliage on the new growth and then it turns green.

Many varieties are sold as having purple foliage, but the only one I know that is truly purple all the time is Plum Delight.

I know Razzleberri can have green foliage and it can turn more red as it gets cooler. Overall it is a varietal problem, not an environmental problem.

Unfortunately there isn't anything you can do to manipulate the color like you can say with hydrangea flowers. I hope you can enjoy your plants anyway, they have such stunning flowers!

Question #6:  Portulaca Care

Question:  I have planted Sundial Mix Portulaca around my spa room. What size drip watering adapter should I use? Should I cut off old blossoms? Some look like they have gone to seed. What should I do?

 Ronda Arnold, Kingsburg, CA


ANSWER:  Hi Ronda! Portulaca, or Rose Moss, are neat plants. When I worked at Waller Seed, I and a coworker, were given the chance to name one of the new varieties the breeders had produced. We called it the Margarita Series.

Anyway, I'm not sure if your spa is in full sun or not, but here is what Portulaca needs to be happy.

They thrive in full sun, and high temperatures, but their flowers tend to close up in the afternoon. The variety Sundial was breed to stay open in the afternoon better.

They like regular water, so I would use a medium size drip adapter, but make sure you let them dry out between waterings, since they don't like to be kept wet.

Most portulacas don't need to be deadheaded (old blossoms removed) to keep them flowering, but I always remove the spent flowers because I think the plants look cleaner and fresher.

They self-sow really easily and it sounds like yours have done just that. It's not a problem, next year you will get more Portulaca where you planted them, but they won't be true to type.

One last thing to remember, Portulacas, at least all the ones that I have dealt with, don't put on a show for a long period of time.

They don't tend to perform like petunias or marigolds that provide color for months. So if your plants went to seed fairly quickly, it's not you, it's the nature of the plant.

Question #7:  Germinate Fringe Tree Seed

Question:  How do I get a Fringe Tree seed to germinate or start to grow?

 Ann Turner, Heflin, AL


ANSWER:  Hi Ann! This is a good time to be propagating your Fringe Tree, or Chionanthus. They like to be propagated by seed in the fall.

One major thing you should know about Fringe Trees is that they need a double dormancy which means and require both warm and cold stratification, which means it will be two years before you see anything sprout.

Fringetree seeds first need a period of warm temperatures, commonly 3 to 5 months, during which the radicle develops while the shoot remains dormant. Then they get cold exposure during winter and that overcomes the shoot dormancy.

Natural germination usually occurs in the second spring after seedfall.

So if you plant them this fall, you will see something come up in spring 2008.

Here what you should do:

The fruits should be collected from the branches after they have turned purple and before birds remove them, strip off the fruits, and clean the seeds.

They like cooler temperatures so plant the seeds on the north side of your house.

Keep them moist, but not wet, and wait.....and wait... and wait!

Let me know how it goes!

Question #8:  Bitter Cucumbers

Question:  My cucumbers turned out so bitter this year. What did I do wrong?

 Sharon Chipman, Taos, NM


ANSWER:  Hi Sharon! Well the good news is that YOU did nothing wrong! You can blame the weather. Cucumbers will get bitter when there is a sudden temperature change.

Most of the United States this year had mild temperatures, then sudden heat spikes. Those sudden spikes in heat will cause cucumbers to get bitter.

When the temperatures cool back off, better flavor will come back.

You can try and help your plants withstand those heat spikes by keeping them evenly watered and applying some mulch around the roots to try and keep them cool.

I hope your cucumbers taste better soon!

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Low Light House Plants

Many plants thrive on very little light, making them ideal for those parts of your house that are not well lit.

A couple good choices for areas without lots of light are:

Chinese Evergreen

For more information about this, watch our video on low light houseplants in the video tips section!

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