“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.
Sorry for the delay in responding to questions. I’ll try to be more prompt in the future. And by the way, folks, please remember to tell me where you garden (city or state or at least USDA Zone). Otherwise, I may not be able to accurately answer your question.
Here’s one I’ve never been asked before: TC bought a pack of non-filtered cigarettes to use as a prop on Halloween, and wants to know if he (she?) can compost them.
Go right ahead, TC. The tobacco and the paper are organic, and will break down pretty quickly. The additives in the tobacco won’t have a measurable effect on the end product.
Crape Myrtles in the Garden State
Elizabeth lives in the Zone 6B region of New Jersey, and wants to know if she can grow crape myrtles, and the answer is yes. Crape myrtles are typically thought of as trees or shrubs for southern gardens, but they thrive as far north as Long Island and portions of the Garden State. Even if a severe winter destroys the top growth, chances are new growth will appear from the base of the plant the following spring.
Crape myrtles are one of the last trees to leaf out in spring, so don’t panic if they remain dormant well into May. And don’t prune them, except to get rid of crossing or damaged branches.
As for your newly planted Hawthorn with brown leaves, it’s a good bet the plant is merely suffering from transplant shock. Hawthorns do well in a variety of soil types, so I doubt that’s the issue. However, they do succumb to fire blight, a fungal disease that’s very difficult to control. For now, all you can do is wait and see. Let me know if it leafs out next spring.
Arbor Day Trees
Chris in West Virginia got some trees from the Arbor Day Foundation, and wants to know how best to ensure their survival.
Well, Chris, the last thing you want to do is try to raise them indoors, which you suggested. Even the small (6” to 12”) trees need to experience natural climate changes just like mature trees in the ground, so here’s what I suggest.
First, plant the trees in pots – one gallon nursery pots are ideal. Use a good potting mix, not garden soil, because garden soil will compact too much. Then bury the trees, pots and all, roughly half way in the ground and cover the exposed portion of the pots with shredded leaves or bark mulch. Water well, even during the winter months, especially if you experience cold but dry conditions in winter. The following spring, you can pot them up or plant them directly in the garden.
The larger trees, those that are up to three-feet tall, can be treated in the same fashion or planted directly in the garden right away.
Live Christmas Trees
Another Elizabeth is planning on buying a live Christmas tree (specifically a pine) and wants to know how to care for it indoors.
Live Christmas trees are great, but here’s the catch: They shouldn’t remain indoors for more than a few days – a week at the most.
Place the tree indoors in a spot that gets good light, and make sure the root ball never dries out. And while the tree is indoors, prepare the planting hole outside. After Christmas, plant the tree and water well.
Peg planted some garlic this past spring, and she thinks it’s ready to harvest, to which I respond – wait!
In most parts of the country, garlic is best planted in late fall to early winter, yet nurseries always offer it for sale in early spring. The garlic sends up green shoots and begins to develop a root system, then when a hard freeze hits the top growth dies back and the bulb goes pretty much dormant. In early spring, the growth cycle begins anew, and the garlic is usually ready to harvest by summer, just as the top growth begins to turn brown.
Rhonda in Indiana has naked ladies in her yard. Cool! Actually, Rhonda, the plants you describe are Lycoris, curious members of the Amaryllis Family. The plant starts out as a bulb, which sends up straplike leaves in spring that die back in summer. Then in late summer to early fall flower stalks appear seemingly out of nowhere, topped by lilylike flowers of varying colors.
wonderful pink 'naked ladies'
Slugs in North Dakota
Sandy describes a familiar challenge: On the one hand, she uses wood mulch in her garden beds, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, however, the mulch creates the perfect environment for slugs. So what’s a poor gal to do?
I’ve tried every method of slug control imaginable, from beer traps to diatomaceous earth to hand picking, but I’ve concluded that the best way to destroy the slimy critters is with a sprinkling of iron phosphate, which is the active ingredient in a product called, appropriately enough, Sluggo. It’s readily available, and it works great. What’s more, it adds a dash of nutrients in the form of iron and phosphate.
Bill in Johnstown, NY, wants to grow tomatoes indoors. Good luck, Bill. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the number-one issue is light, which tomatoes need lots of. You’ll need to use either HPS (high pressure sodium) or MH (metal halide) lamps with at least 400 watts, and those babies are expensive, as in around $400. You’ll need to grow a lot of tomatoes to justify the expense, but then again, a tasty, homegrown tomato in the middle of winter is priceless.
Overwintering Angel’s Trumpets
Karen in Auburn, CA, wants to overwinter her Angel’s Trumpets (Brugmansia), and the good news is that it can be done. In fact, you have two options.
You can move the plant indoors to an area that gets a lot of light. Chances are a number of the leaves will drop, but this is a normal occurrence. Water once a week, but don’t overdo it.
You can also prune the plant back hard and place it in the garage, watering maybe once a month just to keep the roots from drying out completely. The plant will lose all its leaves, but don’t worry. Once spring rolls around you can place the plant back outside and it’ll leaf out within a few weeks. I prefer this option, if only because all parts of the plant are extremely poisonous, and I don’t want to take a chance on my dogs snacking on the leaves or stems.
Caroline in New Jersey is trying to prevent winter injury to her rhododendrons. She’s tried antidessicants with limited success, and wants to know whether wrapping them in burlap might work better.
I too have tried antidessicants, and I’m not convinced they work all that well. Wrapping young rhodies in burlap is not a bad idea, but for more mature plants, your best bet is to water them thoroughly before the first hard freeze. And if you have a mild winter, continue to water them now and then.
Michele is battling Kudzu, and asks what she can do to control its spread.
Sadly, Michele, Kudzu is one of the toughest plants to control, and the only organic herbicide I know of that might work is horticultural vinegar, which contains 20% acetic acid. It works best on hot days, so you might want to wait until next summer to try it.
Kudzu, which is native to China and Japan, was planted decades ago to control erosion in the south. (In fact, Jim Wilson, the awesome former host of Victory Garden, was paid as a young man to plant it in Mississippi.) The vines can grow up to 60 feet in a single season. Unfortunately, it has spread beyond anyone’s expectations and has no natural predators.
Rebecca in Oklahoma City, whose husband, like me, likes to sit down when he pees, has a case of the yellowing yews.
My guess is that the condition is related to the soil in your area, which I happen to know isn’t all that great. Yews will adapt to different soil types, but good drainage is essential, and the heavy clay soils common to your area may not drain well. However, if drainage isn’t the problem, then a lack of water could be. Yews are not at all drought tolerant, so make sure the soil doesn’t remain dry for extended periods. Also, don’t fertilize the plants – they don’t need it – but do mulch them well. Finally, try to protect the plants from the strong winds in your area, for they can quickly cause the plants to dry out.
And say hi to your hubby.