“Parents are not interested in justice. They are interested in quiet.” – Bill Cosby
“We had a quicksand box in our backyard. I was an only child, eventually.” -- Steven Wright
“Adults are obsolete children.” – Dr. Seuss
“The most important time you can spend in the garden is the time you spend not gardening.” – Paul James
“You have to live life to love life, and you have to love life to live life. It’s a vicious circle.” -- Unknown
”In spite of the cost of living, it’s still popular.” – Kathleen Norris
THE GARDENER GUY’S Q&A
When I do personal appearances, the format is a simple Q&A. It’s more like a cheesy nightclub act than a traditional gardening lecture. But I like hearing what concerns gardeners most, and I like interacting with the audience. So here’s the online version of my live act. And by the way, the questions are pulled from emails you provide, so keep them coming. Just go to the “Comments / Contact Us” tab. I’ll update this page weekly.
Q&A UPDATE For April 2010
Since my last update, I received a total of 216 emails. Of those, 132 were from folks expressing their outrage over the apparent cancellation of my show. The remainder were in the form of questions, some of which I’ve answered before, some of which didn’t contain enough information for me to properly address, and some of which I’m pleased to answer now.
I got three questions regarding my feet. Interesting, huh? One was from someone who merely wanted me to know how much he or she admired them. Thanks for that. Another one was from someone who wanted to know if my feet are ticklish. (Answer: Yes, very much so.) And the third was from someone who wanted to know my shoe size, which happens to be 13D.
Jonathan in Owasso, OK, planted asparagus last spring – 100 crowns! The fernlike foliage came up and looked good up until the first hard freeze, at which point it turned brown. He’s now wondering whether he should cut the foliage down.
The answer, Jonathan, is yes. Leaving the foliage intact during the winter months does provide some insulation to the crowns, but it should be removed before new growth emerges. As the new foliage begins to form, be on the lookout for the asparagus beetle, a fairly common pest in your area. There are actually two types – one is reddish brown with six black spots on each wing cover, the other is metallic blue or black with three white or yellow spots on its back. Control them by handpicking or, for severe infestations, try spraying with Neem, an all-natural control.
And now I have a question for you, dude: Where exactly do you live. You see I love asparagus, and anyone with 100 crowns of the stuff is going to have way more asparagus than he and his family – no matter how large – can consume.
“Show Me” a Japanese Maple
Shelly in Neosho, MO, wants to grow a burgundy lace red Japanese maple on a north-facing hilltop, but she’s been told it won’t survive in such an exposed site due to cold temperatures.
Actually, Shelly, the location you’ve described sounds ideal to me. The tree is certainly hardy in your area, and a northern exposure is perfect. So go ahead and plant.
Where the Buffalo Grass Roams
Todd and Jenna want to know if they can grow buffalo grass in Zone 3b. And the answer is…maybe.
There is a variety of buffalo grass called Legacy that is hardy in your area and forms an excellent turf. Developed at the University of Nebraska, Legacy is quite vigorous, drought-resistant, tolerates foot traffic, needs only occasional mowing and fertilizing, and is rarely bothered by pests and diseases. What’s more, it actually prefers heavy clay soils.
However, it doesn’t do well in very sandy soils, or in areas that receive a lot of rain (as in more than 30” a year), or in shady areas, or at elevations above 6500’.
The Numbers Game
Lou, like so many gardeners, gets confused by all the numbers on bags of fertilizers. Specifically, he wants to know whether you can tell if a fertilizer is organic or synthetic based on the numbers.
As a very general rule of thumb, Lou, if you add up the three numbers representing nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (as in 9-3-5), and the total is less than 20, it’s fairly likely that the fertilizer in question is organic. But not always. Better to check the actual ingredients and avoid products that contain distinctly sounding chemicals such as ammonium nitrate.
The alfalfa-based product you mentioned is often organic, although not always. Alfalfa meal for example can be an excellent source of nitrogen in particular, but the alfalfa may have been grown using synthetic chemicals. Again, you have to read the label carefully to determine whether the product is truly organic.
You also mentioned using corn gluten. Although it does have some nutrient value, corn gluten is used primarily as a pre-emergent herbicide, and it’s an excellent product for controlling weeds without resorting to chemicals (see Crabby Over Crabgrass below).
Dryer Sheets as Nesting Material
Someone told Regina it was safe to set out dryer sheets (fabric softeners) for the birds to use as nesting materials. True or false?
I’ve never been asked that question before, so the best response I can give you is I don’t know. Sorry. I will say, however, that mice exposed to the chemicals in fabric softener sheets develop all sorts of problems, a fact that doesn’t bode well for the birds.
Yellow Leaves on Houseplants
Zeke writes from Highlands Ranch, CO, to say that the leaves on his houseplants are turning yellow, and wonders what the problem might be.
The problem, Zeke, could be too much or too little water, a lack of humidity, a nutrient deficiency, and even a pH issue. In other words, it’s difficult for me to diagnose the problem from afar. However, after having been cooped up for months in an unfavorable environment (the house) during the winter months, chances are your plants will rebound once you’re able to move them outdoors for the spring and summer. In the meantime, it’s okay to remove the yellow leaves.
As for the leaf drop on your hibiscus, that’s perfectly normal. With that and all your other houseplants, just follow my tips I offered in last month’s Plant Tip.
Bermuda Grass in Daylily Bed
Poor Evelyn. She’s got Bermuda grass growing in her daylily bed, which is a real drag. Bermuda grass has a sort of split personality. It’s a terrific turf grass so long as it stays where you want it, but it’s a nasty weed if it gets out of bounds.
And the truth is, Evelyn, you’re not going to care much for my solution, which is basically a two-step process. First, you need to manually dig out as much of the grass as you can, ideally without disturbing the daylily roots and rhizomes too much. You’ll need to continue the process throughout much of the growing season, at least until late August. At that time, you should dig up the daylilies and turn the soil to a depth of at least six inches to expose (and remove) any remaining pieces of the grass. Then you can replant the daylilies, which by the way should be divided every five years or so anyway. And with that done, you should apply a thick layer of shredded bark mulch.
Finally, you should install a mechanical barrier of some sort (such as steel edging) around the perimeter of the bed to prevent the grass from creeping in. Chances are you’ll still find sprigs of Bermuda in the bed, which you should pull at first sight, but if you stay on top of things you should be able to achieve good control.
As for using herbicides, well, that’s up to you. The problem is that all herbicides – organic or synthetic – made to kill Bermuda grass will also kill daylilies. So if you use an herbicide, apply it to the grass with a paint brush so that none of it comes in contact with the foliage of the daylilies.
Conifers in Ohio
Sam loves conifers. So do I. But he says he wants more than just junipers and arborvitaes in his yard, and wonders what else might work well.
Dude, you can have all the conifers you want, including those from the genera Pinus (pines), Chamaecyparis, Tsuga (hemlocks), Abies (firs), Cedrus (cedars), Cupressus (cypresses), Picea (spruces), even Cryptomeria and Taxodium. And those are just the evergreen conifers that do well in your area.
Check with local nurseries. For the most part, what they stock is what will grow well in your neck of the woods.
Saundra gardens in Zone 6 and wants to know if it’s okay to prune a gnarly Nandina. Be my guest, Saundra. Nandina is tough and can stand up to fairly radical pruning. However, because the plant produces canes, the best way to prune them is to cut several canes off at ground level to open up the interior of the shrub. If you want to reduce the plant’s overall height, it’s okay to cut back the top growth as well. The best time to do either is right about now.
Moving a Monster Gardenia
Anthony wants to move a 10’ gardenia. All I can say is, good luck!
Seriously, moving large plants can be a bit of a challenge, and gardenias are more challenging than most. The second best time to move one is right about now, but a better time is actually right after they flower. It’s also best to root prune them a few months before you dig them.
However, if you need to move it now, prepare the new planting hole first so there’s little delay in getting the plant from its old home to its new home. Also, consider pruning up to a third of the top growth. Then dig as big a rootball as you can manage – the bigger the better. Water regularly and often for the first few weeks, then switch to whatever watering schedule works best for you and the plant.
Blueberries in Michigan and Kentucky
Pamela lives in Harrodsburg, KY. Greg lives in Caseville, MI. And both have a hankerin’ for blueberries.
So Greg, since Pamela provided more information, I’ll answer her question directly, which will indirectly address your concerns as well.
First problem is, Pamela’s got clay soil, and blueberries don’t care for clay soil.
So Pamela, you’ve got two options. One is to grow blueberries in containers, where the issue of soil isn’t a problem assuming you use a good sterilized potting mix. The other option is to amend your soil with lots of organic matter, preferably good old compost, whether store-bought or homemade. Either way, however, you’ll need to acidify the soil using soil sulfur. Blueberries require a soil pH of around 5.0. Follow the instructions for applying the sulfur and don’t overdo it.
Blueberries don’t necessarily require two to tango, but you’ll get better fruit production if you plant more than one variety.
As for you question about growing Stevia, Pamela, it’s easy to grow, whether in containers or in the ground. It thrives in good garden soil, and doesn’t require much if any fertilizer. However, don’t get in a hurry to plant because it’s tender. Wait until overnight temps are in the 60s. And forget trying to grow from seed – they take forever to germinate, if they germinate at all. Buy transplants instead, and space them roughly 18” apart.
A Tree for Scott’s Mississippi Garden
Scott remembers me describing a small tree growing in my yard, but he can’t remember what it’s called. Don’t worry, Scott, I have that problem too, which I described a few months back as CRS – Can’t Remember S%#t.
The tree in question is one of my favorites – Styrax japonicus, also known as the Japanese Snowbell. It’s hardy to Zone 5, tolerates a good deal of shade, isn’t all that picky about soil type, and has no serious pest or disease problems. Plant one, and you’ll thank me every May or June when the flowers appear in staggering numbers.
Dave in Michigan got his hands on some Ghost Chili seeds, and he’s been told that they need a soil temp of 80-degrees to germinate. So just how do you get the soil that warm?
By heating it, of course. You can buy electric soil-heating mats or cables that you simply place in a planting tray and cover with soil. Several online sources carry them, and most are under $25, although you can spend plenty more. Personally, 80 degrees sounds a bit warm; my guess is the seeds would germinate at 65 or so, although they may take longer to do so.
As for the Ghost Chili, also known as bhut jolokia, it’s native to Bangladesh and northeast India and is considered, hands down, the world’s hottest pepper, with a Scoville Heat Unit of over 1,000,000. By comparison, a really hot jalapeno comes in at around 40,000 units. It’s so hot that the Indian government is using an extract of the stuff in hand grenades.
Tulips in Hawaii?
Connie wants tulips in her Maui garden. Yeah, right. And I want pineapples in mine!
Truth is, Connie, you can grow tulips in Hawaii, but only as annuals, and only if you buy (or produce your own) pre-chilled bulbs. Tulips require 14 to 16 weeks of temperatures between 35- and 45-degrees Fahrenheit to develop. You can chill them in your refrigerator, but frankly I don’t know anyone with that much extra room in the fridge. Better to buy pre-chilled bulbs from one of several online sources. Just do a search and you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Compost on Concrete
Sam in Caledonia, WI, asks if it’s okay to build a compost pile on concrete, and the answer is no, unless you have no other choice. Ideally, compost should be placed on the ground so that all sorts of soil-dwelling critters can crawl or climb or slither up into it. But if concrete’s all you got, consider one of those compost tumblers. I don’t believe they make finished compost as quickly as their ads claim, but if you turn them every day and keep the contents moist (and the carbon to nitrogen ratio nearly ideal), they will make compost faster than most other methods.
Rice in Compost
Cynthia in Pearl, MS, has two compost questions. She wants to know if it’s okay to put cooked rice in a compost pile, and whether the pile should be in full sun. The answer to both questions is yes.
It’s okay to put plain cooked rice in the compost. However, I’d suggest you learn how to measure the rice more carefully so there aren’t any leftovers!
Compost cooks best when the pile or bin is placed in full sun, or at least such that it gets six or more hours of sun a day. You can compost in the shade, but it’ll take longer to get finished compost.
Aimee in WI wants to do a little aerating, and wonders whether a product such as Nitron can do the job are as effective as a core aerator.
There’s no way a liquid can do the job of aerating as effectively as an old-fashioned, gas-powered core aerator. Besides, products such as Nitron are sold as soil conditioners, not aerators, and for what it’s worth they do a great job of conditioning the soil. So if I were you, I’d consider aerating first, then applying the Nitron, which by the way is organic.
Water Meter for Hose
Gerry in Long Beach, CA, is looking for way to monitor her water usage at the hose, and there are several meters on the market that’ll do just that. Just do a search using the key words “hose-end water meters.”
Just make sure the meter coupling(s) fits the diameter of your hose fittings (usually 5/8” inches these days). However, let me warn you that the results may surprise you in terms of how much you’ll have to pay for a good meter, as in around $150.
Mushrooms in the Lawn
I received several questions concerning mushrooms in the lawn, and my usual response is not to worry. The mushrooms often indicate that you’ve got some old tree roots decomposing underground, and they the vast majority of mushrooms don’t cause any harm.
There are, however, two species of mushrooms that attack trees, oaks in particular. They appear in cluster at the base of the trunk. The bad news is that they will in time kill the trees. The worse news is that there is no known cure.
Crabby Over Crabgrass
Tom’s got crabgrass in his Milwaukee lawn, and is wondering what in the world he can do to control it.
Well, Tom, I suggest you try corn gluten right away. Corn gluten is a very effective, all-natural pre-emergent herbicide. As such, it must be applied before the seeds have a chance to germinate, and in your area that’s pretty soon. Another application in the fall will control any seeds that were produced during the summer. You should also consider hand digging any clumps that do appear, and make sure you mow before the crabgrass has a chance to set seed, because one mature clump can produce up to 80,000 seeds.
There are also lots of post-emergent herbicides on the market, but the selective ones, meaning those that kill crabgrass without harming your turf, are synthetic, so I don’t use or recommend them.
Understand that unless your neighbors are controlling crabgrass as well, yours is a never-ending battle because the seeds will find their way into your lawn.
Corn gluten is available from several online sources, and is often sold at rural feed stores as well.
Why No Greenhouse?
Elliott wants to know why I don’t have a greenhouse. Good question.
I had a greenhouse at my previous home. It was pretty slick, too, with heat and air-conditioning, automatic vents, and shade cloth. But no sooner did I finish building it than we sold the house.
At this point, I’d love another one, but I’m thinking about moving again.
Paul has pecan trees and dogs. He’s wondering whether the pecans are safe to eat given the fact that his dogs poop around the base of the tree.
Eat away, Paul. Although there are pathogens in dog droppings that can be transmitted to humans, it’s rare, and it’s virtually impossible for those pathogens to be transmitted to the pecans. So while the nuts are safe to eat, there’s no guarantee they won’t taste like…well, you know.
Anthracnose on Tomatoes and Cukes
Tom’s tomatoes and cucumbers have anthracnose, a disease caused by the fungus Colletotrichum. On tomatoes, symptoms appear on ripe fruit as small, sunken, watersoaked circular spots or lesions. The lesions often contain dark, hairlike fungal structures that contain masses of salmon-colored spores. Inevitably, infected fruit rots rather quickly. Infected cucumbers display similar lesions, and very often the leaves are affected as well.
Unfortunately, Tom, the only control that’s been thoroughly researched is a potent fungicide, and I wouldn’t eat a tomato or cuke that had been doused with it. Poor drainage seems to make the problem worse, so you might consider amending your soil with compost or growing in raised beds or containers.
I did find one article that suggested using a solution of skim milk and water (one part milk to nine parts water), and milk has been shown to control other fungi that attack vegetables. You’ll need to spray at least once a week throughout the growing season.