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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.

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:

  • Agave Plants
  • Sweet Olive
  • Corn Gluten
  • Shade, Clay, Yikes
  • Pruning Grapevines
  • Windowboxes of Whiteflies

    Agave Plants

    Dear Doyenne,
    I purchased Agave seeds 3 years ago at the Grand Canyon Gift shop. I put 2 seeds in one 6" pot and they both are doing great. At this point I am tempted to repot them, but should I do that in its nongrowing phase? When would that be? My fear is that by transplanting/seperating them I will never be able to make tequila.



    Agaves are famous for breaking their pots if the gardener waits too long. You'll know the're nearing readiness by the roots and babies trying to escape through the bottom of the pot. Don't worry about timing: you can repot the agaves anytime, as long as you use a good cactus soil mix. And don't worry about separating them; agaves do not have delicate roots.

    Have fun, KL

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    Sweet Olive

    Dear Doyenne,
    While on a tour of the Missouri Botanical Gardens I caught the scent of a plant that I've been trying to find ever since at local stores and nurseries, but haven't been able to do so.

    It was a sweet olive. I looked it up in a couple of books and I think it's also known as a fragrant olive, or osmanthus fragrans. It's scent was so pleasant, I thought I would try to find one and grow it indoors.

    Can you give me any clue as to how I might go about finding and purchasing this plant?

    Thanks very much for your time.


    There is simply no better place for gardening information than the
    Missouri Botanical Garden. I just went to their website and was able to find out what was in bloom last October when you might have been there, and indeed, it was Osmanthus fragrans. I'd ask them what your chances of success would be growing Osmanthus indoors -- I suspect it's going to be an uphill battle -- but when has that ever stopped a gardener?

    Enjoy, KL

    P.S. I've just heard from Elaine in Voorheesville, NY that she's been growing a sweet olive on her windowsill for years. She says you can buy small plants from Logees Greenhouse in CT. Perhaps they can offer you more specific growing tips.

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    Corn Gluten

    Dear Doyenne,
    I've heard that corn gluten is a good organic weed killer. Any comments, specifics you might have on how to utilize this source.



    Great question. Corn gluten works by promoting a fungus that causes weed seeds to damp off and die on germination. It's an excellent organic way to control weeds and is readily available at most feed stores. You just toss it around like bird seed -- a fine cover will do -- and water it in lightly if the ground's dry. I'm looking forward to trying it myself this year. Word on the block is that even landscape maintenance companies are giving it a try. Thanks for bringing it up.

    Best, KL

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    Shade, Clay, Yikes

    Dear Doyenne,
    I just moved in to a house that has a shady garden with very heavy clay soil. Currently it is covered in clovers and elephant ears. Every book I have read seems to give me a solution for either shade or clay, but never both. To make matters worse, I have a dog. Should I just consider putting bricks and gravel everywhere and try to grow everything in containers?

    Please help me!!!!!


    Containers are a very good idea. Can't think of anything else that will fit so neatly in between the shade, the clay and the dogs. Books? Time for container gardening books. Thumb through a few in the local book store and see what style is "you".

    Best, KL

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    Pruning Grapevines

    Dear Doyenne,
    Could you please tell me the best way to cut back my grapevine? Thank You


    Here's the rule of thumb for pruning grapes: cut off everything that is smaller than the diameter of a pencil, and I mean everything. It may seem severe, but don't worry. Viticulturists have been doing it for centuries. Easy, huh?


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    Windowboxes of Whiteflies

    Dear Doyenne,
    I recently moved from the frozen North (Cambridge, MA) to sunny Paradise (Santa Barbara, CA) and of course the gardening possibilities are just thrilling. Unfortunately, since I'm in an apartment with no yard, just a porch, I have to restrain myself to container gardening. So I put up some window boxes on the porch and filled them with herbs and flowers, which promptly collected bugs (whiteflies, I think) and what looks like strange orange mold spots on the dirt. Most of them are now dead, and I'm thinking of dumping everything and replacing them with flowers that are alive and hopefully bug-resistant. Can you recommend anything that fits the bill? I'd like bright colors, something trailing and something not too tall, and the porch faces due east. Thanks!


    Great move for a gardener! But what you've lost in a cold winter you've gained in never-dormant bugs. In other words, welcome to pest-ridden sunny SoCal; better learn to love that whitefly... and flowering succulents. Introduce yourself to Echeveria elegans, aka, hens and chicks, a succulent with bright pink flowers edged in flower. As for herbs, try trailing rosemary. Should be a winner. And consider joining the Santa Barbara succulent society if you want to have your mind forever blown.

    Best, KL

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