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All Past Questions and Answers Library   |   September 2010

This month's questions concern:

Petunias With Sticky Foliage
Planting Under Mature Trees
Citrus Infested With Leafminer
Climbing Roses Not Climbing
Moving a Plum Tree
Harvesting Sweet Corn

Please scroll down to read the answers.

Question #1:  Petunias With Sticky Foliage

Question:  I have a problem with Surfinia Petunias in baskets and pots. About 2 weeks, after planting,they develope a sticky surface which continues right through the growing season. It is most unpleasant, when deadheading as my hands come away with this gung. Please help.

 Dolores Ryan, Dublin, Ireland


ANSWER:  Hi Dolores! I totally understand your problem.

I used to do maintenance on a large horse ranch with hundreds of petunias to take care of and my hands used to be a mess too!

Unfortunately petunias have naturally sticky leaves and stems; it's the nature of the beast and there is nothing you can do about it.

This is one of those situations where, hopefully, the outstanding colour and performance of the plant, outshines the downside of its stickiness!

Question #2:  Planting Under Mature Trees

Question:  Hello - In one of the previous questions, a woman had asked if it's OK to raise the soil level a couple feet around a mature tree, as she wanted to plant flowers under/around the tree. This is exactly what I want to do. Unfortunately, you replied that this cannot be done (which I thought I'd read somewhere before), and that plants would have to go OUTSIDE the dripline (which would look strange). But I see flower beds under or around trees all the time - including in pictures and magazines; my neighbors on either side both have very large mature trees with round shade beds encircling the trunks, one has it at a 2.5 ft (1 m) radius, the other extends all the way out to the dripline - so within the dripline, rather than outside, which is totally opposite of what you said had to be done. What gives? I'm very confused. It can't seriously be impossible to have a shade bed under my maple...can it?!? I see this style of garden everywhere!

 Shanna Thompson, Argyle, WI, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Shanna! This is a good question and I am glad you brought it up.

It's not impossible to have a planter under a tree, as long as it was planned that way in the beginning.

What you are seeing are trees that were planted into the bedding area after the planter bed was built - not the other way around, so the tree is planted at the correct level and the base of the tree won't be buried.

If you plan ahead, that's fine. But what you can not do is bury a tree's base and smother its surface roots by building a planter around and under the tree after it's been planted because you'll kill the tree.

It's a matter of putting the cart before the horse.

You also have to consider when building a planter that will contain a tree, that the tree you are considering will like being watered as much as the plants around it are being watered.

That's why drought resistant trees like oaks make a very poor choice in planted areas. They just can not take that much water and will die.

A maple, such as in your situation, or birches or other water loving trees do well in planted areas and lawns.

So to recap: it's all right to build a planter and then plant a tree, but it is not all right to plant a tree and then build a planter under it after the fact.

Hope this helps clarify the situation!

Question #3:  Citrus Infested With Leafminer

Question:  I live in the Mediterranean and my Citrus trees are infested with leafminer. What is the solution please?

 Lottie Mallia, St. Julians, Malta


ANSWER:  Hi Lottie! Sorry to hear about your problem.

Usually you don't see leafminers get so bad that they do much damage other than cosmetic. If they get out of control however, they certainly can reduce fruit production and if there are enough of them, they can kill trees and plants.

I did an entire tutorial about this pest in our Diseases and Pests Section a few years ago. You can read it here: How To Control Leafminers

Follow the suggestions in the article and in time your trees will be clean and healthy again. Good luck!

Question #4:  Climbing Roses Not Climbing

Question:  I have a 3 year old climbing rose that does not show any signs of wanting to climb, it is well fed, watered and mulched, it gets full morning sun and filtered afternoon sun.

 Mick White, Ramco, South Australia


ANSWER:  Hi Mick! Well that's a bummer isn't it?

Well, it could be several things:

1. You purchased a rose that was mislabeled and is not a climber. This can happen sometimes and you should take a cutting of your rose to your local nursery or garden center and get them to identify it for you.

2. It needs more sun. Most roses need full sun and a lot of warmth all day long to do well. Your rose is only getting partial sun and that just isn't enough.

3. There might be something wrong with the rose's roots. In order to ever have great roses, you first have to grow the good support system (roots) and then the canes will come. I would very carefully dig up the rose and check on the health of the roots. The symptoms you are describing indicate that the roots just are not doing well enough to provide the plant with the energy to grow and flower. If you dig it up and the rose roots are doing very poorly, then I would return it to the grower you bought it from.

4. Try a different type of fertilizer. Use alfalfa (pellets, meal, or tea). It has natural "growth hormones" that encourage the production of new canes. You can buy them at any farm supply store that carries horse feed. Just make sure to water the pellets in very well.

5. Test your soil and see if it is deficient in Magnesium. If it is, you can give your rose some Epsom Salts. Just be careful though because Epsom salts should only be used if a soil test says Magnesium is lacking in your soil. You can mix a handful of Epsom salts into the soil around the rose bush and water well or dissolve a handful of the salts in water and use to water the rose bush. Do this in the spring, just as the bids are beginning to open.

For me, I think it may be not enough sunlight or a problem with the roots, but go over the five things I mentioned above and see if any of them seem more likely than others. Thanks for the question!

Question #5:  Moving a Plum Tree

Question:  Is it okay to move a 2 year old Santa Rosa plum tree this winter to a better location in my yard ?

  Ruth Auslund, Roseville, CA, USA


ANSWER:  Hi Ruth! You bet it's OK.

Just make sure the tree is fully dormant so wait until around the first of the year and then go ahead and move it.

You'll want to prune back some of the top growth so the smaller root system, which will occur after being dug up and moved, won't be over taxed with too much top growth to try and keep alive in the spring.

Once the tree starts to leaf out in the spring, feed it with some balanced natural fertilizer like a 5-5-5 or something similar.

Fruit trees are really tough, so you'll be just fine!

Question #6:  Harvesting Sweet Corn

Question:  How do you know when sweet corn is ready for picking? This my first attempt at growing.

 Ross Bendall, Poole, Dorset, UK


ANSWER:  Hi Ross! Good job with your first corn harvest!

Fresh corn is awesome, so here are some tips on how to tell when is the perfect time to harvest and get the full benefit of flavor and texture.

Look for dark brown, soft silks (not brittle silks), and pick the ears when the kernels are plump and tender and when milky liquid comes out when you prick them with your fingernail. If the liquid is clear and watery, the corn isn't ripe yet; if there is no liquid, the kernels are too ripe and past prime.

Corn tastes best when picked in the later afternoon because of its higher sugar content. Harvest by twisting the ear off the plant in a downward direction. Because the sugar in the corn quickly converts to starch, eat or preserve the corn immediately after harvesting.

The sugar-enhanced or super-sweet varieties hold their sweetness and may be kept in the refrigerator a few days longer than standard cultivars. Freeze or can any surplus corn you may have.

For more harvesting tips read our: When to Harvest Vegetables & Fruit Guide

Enjoy your sweet corn Ross!

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