“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 periodically.
Up in Arms
I got a ton of emails about the curious-looking contraption I’m wearing on my arm in several of my more recent shows airing on HGTV. See my blog for a complete explanation of what happened. www.gardenerguy.typepad.com
Alcatraz “Soil Souffle”
I also got a lot of questions about what went into the “Soil Souffle” that’s used by the gardeners on Alcatraz. Well sorry, but I wasn’t able to find the exact recipe. I’ve sent an email to the head gardener requesting the formula, and I’ll get back to you when she gets back to me.
K in Kansas City wants to grow a variety of rhododendron known as ‘Olga Mezitt’ in heavy, alkaline clay. Well first, K, excuse me while I chuckle. After all, those are two of the worst conditions imaginable for growing rhododendrons. However, if you’re willing to dig a large planting hole (as in at least five times the diameter of the root ball), fill it with pure compost, and lower the pH with sulfur, you just might be able to get away with it. Beyond that, you’ll want to make sure the plant gets only morning light, and the soil stays relatively moist.
Geese on Grass
Terri has a problem with geese eating her grass. She doesn’t mention what the geese leave behind, but I’m assuming that’s a problem as well.
There are several goose repellent products on the market, the most popular of which is called Migrate. It’s made from plant extracts, and is perfectly safe. Available as a concentrate, one gallon treats 16,000 square feet, and lasts up to three months.
Timing of Pre-Emergent Herbicides
Sue in Virginia wonders about the timing of a pre-emergent herbicide application in late winter to early spring.
As you mentioned in your email, Sue, a lot of references suggest you should apply a pre-emergent just as the forsythias begin to bloom. However, in my experience that’s often two to three weeks too late. Here in my area, a number of weeds – dandelions, henbit, and chickweed among them -- are already up and growing by the time forsythias bloom.
I think a better indicator is witch hazel, which blooms several weeks earlier than forsythia. And by the way, consider using an all-natural pre-emergent herbicide made from corn gluten instead of those nasty synthetic products.
Ligea in Colorado is considering using rocks as mulch around a mature oak tree, but is concerned that the rocks will make the soil more alkaline.
Your concern is legitimate, Ligea, but I wouldn’t worry about the rocks raising the pH of the soil, at least not for a decade or more. And you can always test the soil now and then, adding sulfur to lower pH. The only thing I would suggest is that you put down a porous weed fabric before applying the rocks. Grass and weeds will inevitably grow in the mulch, and getting them out can be a pain.
Sandra in Washington claims her Chinese wisteria hasn’t bloomed in five years, and wonders what’s up with that. You know, Sandra, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that question, I’d be sitting on a beach right now instead of at my desk.
Here’s the deal: Wisteria are notoriously slow to bloom. Those propagated from seed can take up to fifteen years to bloom, if they bloom at all. Those propagated vegetatively, as in from cuttings, often take five years or more to bloom. So be patient.
You might consider root pruning the wisteria in early spring. Back off from the base of the plant about a foot and stab and sharp shovel into the soil at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions. Severing the roots stresses the plant, and a plant’s response to stress is to flower and set seed to ensure its survival. This trick is largely anecdotal, but there is a scientific basis for it. I’ve recommended it to others, and the success rate is better than 50 percent, so it’s worth a try.
No Blooms on Hydrangea
Several people have complained about hydrangeas failing to bloom. Myma in Maryland has a climbing hydrangea that hasn’t bloomed in seven years, and David has three hydrangea shrubs that haven’t bloomed in five years.
Well, gang, you’re not alone. That’s another question I’ve been asked about hundreds of times. (Maybe I should start charging a dollar for each answer!)
Usually, failure to bloom can be narrowed down to three possibilities: the plant simply hasn’t reached maturity (I was a late bloomer); the plant was pruned at the wrong time, depending on the species; or the plant was overfertilized, particularly with nitrogen.
So first, be patient. Second, don’t prune, unless you want to get rid of errant or crossing branches. And third, don’t fertilize.
Steve in Kansas wants to know if shredded leaves would make a good mulch for his hostas, and the answer is yes. Shredded leaves are perhaps the greatest mulch of all, especially for plants native to woodland environments, including hostas and ferns.
A four-inch layer would be ideal, and to prevent winds from blowing them out of the bed, you can top the leaves with bark mulch.
Beth in Indiana wants to know how best to overwinter her plumerias – in the house or in an unheated garage?
And the answer is either or both. Plumerias should be taken indoors (whether the house or the garage) before outdoor temperatures drop below 50-degrees Fahrenheit. They’ll lose their leaves eventually, but that’s normal. Don’t fertilize them at all, and only water when the soil is completely dry. They don’t need light, so don’t worry about where you put them. If you store them in the garage, you might want to wrap the pot with bubble wrap to insulate the root ball, especially if the temperature in the garage drops below freezing.
Come spring, place the plumerias back outside once overnight temperatures are consistently in the 50s, and they should begin to leaf out within about three weeks.
One more note: plumerias prefer to be potbound, so avoid the temptation to pot them up. I’ve grown six-foot tall plumerias in a 12-inch pot, and they do just fine.
Grateful Dead Hat I Never Got
Jeri wrote on behalf of herself and her friend Jan wondering if I ever wear the Grateful Dead hat they sent me. Well girls, the truth is I never got the hat, but I wish I had. If you’d be willing to send me another one, I’d be grateful.
October Glory Maple
Barb in Connecticut recently planted an October Glory Maple, but says that the leaves are light green and wonders whether that suggests a problem of some kind.
Chances are the tree is merely suffering from transplant shock, and it should recover nicely assuming it was planted properly and in decent soil. At this point, I don’t think I’d worry too much about it. Cross you fingers that it develops its fall color, because it’s one of the most beautiful of all maples.
Light green leaves can be indicative of chlorosis, which is caused by more than one nutrient deficiency, but assuming you fertilize your lawn, I wouldn’t necessarily add any additional fertilizer at this point. Let me know how it’s doing next spring.
Kalen in South Carolina asked about the toxicity of Crotalaria, also known as the rattlesnake plant because of the sound the seeds within the dried seed pods make when shaken. She is especially concerned because the plants are growing in an area where wild turkeys forage.
I’ve got bad news, Kalen. Crotalaria is extremely toxic to chickens, turkeys, horses, cows, pigs, and to a lesser extent sheep, goats, and dogs. I suggest you get rid of it as quickly as possible. It’s an annual that reseeds readily, so either remove the entire plant or cut off the tops of the plants as they begin to flower.
Caroline in New Jersey
Caroline didn’t have a question. She merely sent some pictures of her New Jersey garden and wanted me to acknowledge the fact that I received them.
Well, Caroline, I got them. And your garden looks great! Keep up the good work.
Getting Rid of Trumpet Vine
Although Trumpet Vine can be beautiful, it does have a tendency to take over. And Sue, who doesn’t mention where she’s from, wants to know how to get rid of it. Well just rip it out of the ground, Sue, roots and all!
Seriously, that is one way to get rid of it. Another would be to use a non-selective herbicide made especially for killing vines, although the most popular ones on the market are synthetic, and I don’t recommend that you use them. Basically, they contain a concentrated solution of the chemical glyphosate, the safety of which is questionable at best.
Jan has tried to keep the raccoons out of her water feature using repellents, but to no avail, and now wants to know if I can offer any suggestions.
Sorry, Jan, but short of trapping the masked marauders I don’t how to get rid of them. You’ll find listings for animal exterminators in the phone book, although you may want to ask exactly how they go about doing the exterminating. Some do use traps and release the critters in the wild, but others use poisons.
Peach, Pear, and “Fruit Cocktail” Trees
Dr. Tom explains that he’s got suckers growing from just below the graft union of his peach and pear trees, and wonders whether he should let them continue to grow or prune them. And the answer is…prune them!
Typically, dwarf or semi-dwarf fruit trees are grafted to a standard fruit tree root stock. So if you don’t remove the growth from the root stock, you’ll wind up with an entirely different – and often full-size – tree. Chances are you planted the trees a tad too deep; otherwise the suckers wouldn’t form in the first place.
As for the “Fruit Cocktail” trees, which have several different types of fruit grafted on a single tree, I wouldn’t bother planting one unless you just want a conversation piece.
Frank wants to know about the little donuts used to control mosquitoes, specifically where to get them. Well, Frank, it just so happens that the manufacturer of those all-natural dandy donuts is a sponsor of this website. So all you need to do is click on their ad and place an order, or go to www.summitchemical.com.
Powered Water Weeder
I demonstrated a water-powered weeding device on my show a while back, and Erik wants to know where to get one.
I got mine from Lee Valley Tools – www.leevalley.com. It’s called the Water-Powered Weeder and it sells for $46.50, plus shipping.
Nut Picker Upper
Marla in Michigan saw me demonstrate a gizmo that’s used to pick up pecans and other nuts, and she’s wondering whether it’ll work on the pesky acorns in her lawn.
According to the manufacturer, the Nut Wizard will indeed pick up acorns (as well as most other nuts, even golf balls and shotgun shells). You can order direct at www.nutwizard.com. Prices range from $45 to $49, plus $12 shipping.