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Why Did My Plant Die?

This is the place to read Ketzel's advice to readers' most harrowing gardening challenges from whitefly eradication to weed killer application, lawn alternatives, and bulb care. No matter where you keep your garden, check out the resources available to you locally. Find a shady spot and maybe a helping hand in the Talking Plants Gardens and Arboretums map of the United States.

Archive
Here's the Vast and Cavernous Archive of Enquiry that I've already answered. Good clean fun for the whole family.

This week's questions:

  • Saving Forced Bulbs
  • Maidenhair Ferns
  • Whitefly Invasion!
  • Give Or Take A Zone
  • Indoor Citrus Tree
  • Bermuda Triangle In My Front Yard
  • Small Trees For Wisconsin
  • Texas Bluebonnets in Maryland

    Saving Forced Bulbs

    Dear Doyenne,

    I received a beautiful basket of forced bulbs for my birthday in December. They all bloomed but are now dying off. Is there a way that I can possibly plant these bulbs: tulips, hyacinth and daffodil: in my garden for longer life, or is it like my garden center personnel told me -- forget it? I live in Northeastern Wisconsin (zone 3 in most cases)

    Thank you!

    Marcia

    Marcia,
    You should be able to save those bulbs, though it may take a year or two for them to rebloom in the garden. What you need to do is make sure the bulbs completely dry out, so if they're in a pot, lay the pot on its side (prop it up if need be)and let it sit for a few months (until the ground outside completely thaws). At that point, take out the bulbs and plant them, deeply, with a little granular fertilizer in the hole.

    Best of luck, KL

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    *****

    Maidenhair Ferns

    Dear Doyenne,

    Well actually they haven't died recently, because I've resisted adopting any more, because of all their predecessors that I killed in the past. I adore maidenhair ferns: can you teach me how to grow them so they'll survive, maybe even flourish? I live in Seattle. It's supposed to be damp here, but it seems to be dry-ish in our apartment, possibly because my husband keeps it fairly cold, about 55 degrees F. Also, I have only northern windows.

    All advice appreciated.

    Thank you!

    Sheila

    Sheila,
    The best way to grow a maidenhair fern indoors is in a terrarium. Don't know if that interests you or not, but it is a way to make sure your moisture/humidity levels are both high and constant. You might also keep a spray bottle of water near your plant, and everytime you walk by, give it a little phhtt! BTW... what's with this cold-blooded husband?!

    Best, KL

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    Whitefly Invasion!

    Dear Doyenne,
    We're in Vista, CA -- northern San Diego county. A year ago we ripped out most of the driveway and yard and redid it from scratch.

    Among the plants yanked out were hibiscus that were whitefly high-rises. Not a single plant in the area stayed (a few roses were brutally pruned back, treated and potted until they were replanted in other areas). Now, we have lions tail with whiteflies, moonflowers (which didn't die this winter!) with whiteflies, roses (with some, and some aphids...), and whiteflies showing up here and there among the citrus and the plumerias.

    This isn't a single plant infestation. It's not even a few. Is there *anything* we can do? We strenuously avoid using pesticides as a rule -- but when dormant oils, Safer's, and attention don't seem to suffice, are willing to consider other options... IF they're really effective. Is there anything?

    Thanks,

    Pat

    Pat,
    Southern CA. is a bug factory. But there's one more thing you can try: Beneficial insects. Start with ladybugs for the aphids and Encarsia (tiny, harmless wasps) for the whiteflies. Something else to do now is to cut the moonflower and lion's tail down to the ground and consider switching to plants such as aloes, Lampranthus (ice plant relative), lavenders and grasses. It seems that plants with large leaf surfaces are prone to pests - then again, why am I telling you?

    Best, KL

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    Give Or Take A Zone

    Dear Doyenne,
    I have a couple of questions about fruit trees and berry bushes:

    1) I plan to plant them in Wheeling, WV, which looks to be on the edge of zones 5 and 6. A friend told me to buy from a nursery in the north, because plants from the south may not survive our winters. Is that good advice?

    2) Can you recommend a nursery or two from which I might buy cherry, apple, and apricot trees and blueberry, rasberry, and blackberry bushes?

    Many thanks.

    Pam

    Pam,
    Your friend's advice is a safe bet if you're concerned about hardiness. Definately buy from nurseries in regions colder than your own. One in particular is McKay Nursery in Waterloo, WI. 800-236-4242. Their stuff is super-hardy and quite reliable. Another good one is Teltane Farm & Nursery in Monroe, ME., 207-525-7761. This is not to say that you shouldn't experiment with plants that are labeled Z6, because your biggest problem is not the actual cold in Wheeling but late spring frosts. The trick in your area is to grow fruiting plants that bloom as late as possible.

    Best, KL

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    Indoor Citrus Tree

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Park City, Utah. Just before Christmas I purchased a large grafted citrus tree for my house. The tree is about 6 feet tall in a container about 16" wide by 22" tall. There are 5 different kinds of citrus fruits grafted on the tree, 2 varieties of oranges, limes, lemons and mandarin oranges. It is in a room with lots of southern and western light and it generally stays between 60-72 degrees.

    I have been getting a lot leaves dropping off and some turn brown and almost crispy half way on the leaves. I have been watering about every 5-7 days and fertilizing with sea bird guano 1-10-1 as suggested by my nursery and then figured maybe it wasn't enough nitrogen so I use Peters 20-20-20 every other time I water.

    I had one person at the nursery suggest that I water the tree and really soak it well and just let the water sit in the dish below just evaporate, and not water till it was dry in the dish. Someone else at the nursery suggested watering well and then drawing the water out of the dish with a turkey baster, and water more often.

    Any suggestions?

    Jean

    Jean,
    I hate to offer even more advice since you seem to be drowning in it, but here goes: Citrus love consistency. They prefer soil that is neither dried out nor soggy, so once you find that balance, stick to the regime. They like nitrogen as you'd suspected and they like micronutrients (iron, zinc, manganese) which are not in the guano, so you might consider switching from guano to foliar applications of chelated iron (spray on). I'd also recommend that you cease and desist from asking any more so-called experts since my gut feeling is, mother knows best.

    Enjoy! KL

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    Bermuda Triangle In My Front Yard

    Dear Doyenne,
    I garden in Berkeley, California. We had a live oak tree removed from our front yard about 4 years ago before having the whole yard landscaped. Since that time we have had three trees die when planted in the same general area where the oak once stood. (Two were western dogwood and I'm not sure what the third was -- a kind of lily-of-the-valley tree). Also, the nandina "hedge" which otherwise grows lushly is stunted in that general area of the garden. The soil, though thoroughly rototilled and amended, is clayey and heavy in that area as well. The yard faces east and is not otherwise shaded. We would like to plant another tree there -- a magnolia, say, or another dogwood, but feel it may be a waste of money and time. Do you have any suggestions?

    Thanks,

    Nancie

    Nancie,
    Not a pretty scenario, though I can't imagine what keeps going wrong. I wonder if something was dumped there once upon a time. Have you considered a soil analysis? It doesn't make sense for me to recommend trees -- although I might have warned you against the western dogwoods because they're tricky, and the Oxydendrum (lily-of-the-valley tree) because it likes perfect drainage and even moisture. But here I am, making a recommendation anyway: Magnolia denudata, the Yulan magnolia, which deals quite well with poor soil, a must for your situation. If you don't like the magnolia, stick with trees that are tough. Let me know how things turn out.

    KL

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    *****

    Small Trees For Wisconsin

    Dear Doyenne,
    My neighbors just cut down a huge silver maple tree which had kept the southeast corner of my yard in pretty deep shade. Now that the hostas, etc. I planted just before the axing occurred, are dead, I'm thinking I'd like to plant a smallish, fastigiate tree in the corner. I'd like a fruit tree but not too messy a one. I live in Stevens Point, WI (zone 4).

    Hoping you can be Ketzel the Tree Fairy for me,

    Alice


    O.K., Alice, here's a couple of suggestions for small trees with multi-seasonal interest. You pick:

  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora)
  • Amur Maackia (Maackia amurensis)
  • Tea Crab Apple (Malus hupenhensis or any number of other selections)
  • Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas)
  • Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

    Not a fruit tree in the bunch, but that's just my prejudice.

    Enjoy! KL

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    Texas Bluebonnets in Maryland

    Dear Doyenne,
    I just brought home to the Maryland Eastern Shore some Texas Bluebonnets from my daughter's yard in San Antonio TX. I'm hoping they'll bloom at least this spring, but wonder if I can expect them to survive in the ground here.

    George


    George,

    The plant in question, Lupinus texensis, is a hardy annual and will do nicely on the Eastern Shore. Thing is, it needs to go into the ground immediately (if you haven't planted it already). Bluebonnets do best in "disturbed" soil, e.g., in a bed that's been recently dug and is frequently weeded. They do not like to be crowded. So, assuming that your plants live, flower, and set seed, you should be all set for this and next year.

    Enjoy, KL

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