NPR

| Back to npr.org

Talking PlantsKetzel on the RadioAsk KetzelDigital DiaryPlant ProfilesDirt on the DoyennePlant This!

Home
 

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:

  • Transplanting Shrubs
  • Clematis Pruning
  • Gardening under Linden
  • Vine Won't Flower
  • No-Fuss Lighting
  • Revenge of the Slugs
  • What Grows Under Bearded Collies?

    Transplanting Shrubs

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Central New Jersey, zone six. Last year I noticed that a rose bush had planted itself in my back yard. It had buds but never fully bloomed, I suspect, because of the diminishing sunlight it received. One stem grew to be 3-4 feet, so I suspect it might be either a climbing rose or a rugosa. But as I said, it came out of nowhere. Anyway, I want to move it to a sunnier place to encourage blooming. I need advice about when (early in the season or wait until later), how large a hole should I dig and any special care I should take with roses.

    The other plant is a weigela. It needs more space to spread. Is transplanting better for the plant before it blooms or after?

    Thanks for your help.

    Ben

    Ben,
    You want to move both those shrubs before they leaf out, so get going as soon as you "feel" spring. Be sure to get a good root ball on the weigela; no reason for it not to bloom this year if you move it intact and keep it well watered.

    Now about that rose: In my mind's eye, I see you struggling to extract an octopus of a shrub from the ground (a knobby center with long woody roots), and if that happens, don't sweat it. Just dig the receiving hole first. Make it shallow but wide enough so you can spread the roots out, then backfill with soil and a couple of handfuls of alfalfa meal. Finally, sprinkle a cup of epsom salts around the base of the rose and water it in well. Should be a floriferous spring.

    Enjoy, KL

    Back to top

    *****

    Clematis Pruning

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Portland, Oregon and do most of my gardening in containers & pots on my front and back porches. Last year I bought a mid-sized clematis that was rated good for container growing. I planted it in a lovely ceramic pot and put it on my front porch - where it thrived last year with a nice showing of purple flowers. But now in winter it has turned brown, dried stems and leaves, on its trellis. I've lost the tags and don't know if I need to prune it back or leave the old growth in order to get the best bloom this summer. Any advice (besides keeping better track of my plant info)?

    Thanks,

    Carol

    Carol,
    You're right, you do have to know what clematis you're growing in order to know how to treat it, since some bloom on new wood and others bloom on their previous year's growth. So how about this: cut it back to 18", and if it blooms beautifully this year, you'll know to cut it back each spring. Certainly you won't do any damage, and since 70% of clematis do bloom on new wood, the odds are in your favor.

    Best, KL

    Back to top

    *****

    Gardening under Linden

    Dear Doyenne,

    We have a huge linden tree in front of the house (10 feet away is the trunk and the shade covers the entire front in a large circle) which faces NE in Buffalo, NY. The small flower garden that butts the house in front cannot seem to sustain any flowering plants. We do manage some tulips in Spring, Hostas for the Summer. What flowers can we put in that will thrive?

    Thanks

    Jim and Barb

    Hello Jim and Barb,
    I've got a linden, too, and it's no party. I particularly hate the debris that is constantly falling. But I have noticed that some plants do well and look good under it, particularly foxglove. Other perennials, moving from spring to fall, include: columbine, bleeding heart, epimedium, masterwort (Astrantia), globe bellflower (Campanula glomerata), bowman's root (Gillenia), goatsbeard, toad lily (Tricyrtis), and bugbane (Cimicifuga). That should keep you busy.

    Enjoy, KL

    Back to top

    *****

    Vine Won't Flower

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Southern California, in the San Diego area. We get some frost. I planted a Red Trumpet Vine, looking forward to the great blossoms. What I've got is a great fast growing green vine, but not a single bloom. One nurseryman suggested a product called Super-Bloom, but it doesn't move that plant a bit. Any ideas or suggestions? Or do I have live with a great green vine?

    Thanks,

    Ted

    Ted
    I don't know whether you're talking about Campsis radicans or Distictis buccinatoria... but since both are in the same family, I'd root prune the plant to shock it into flower. I am not sadistic, honest, this is often done when a plant is putting its energy into vegetative growth vs. flower production. Root pruning involves taking a sharp shovel and cutting a circle around the plant, maybe 3' out from the base, deep enough to sever the roots. Frankly, you've got nothing to lose; the plant sounds vigorous enough to take it.

    Best, KL

    Back to top

    *****

    No-Fuss Lighting

    Dear Doyenne,
    This is not a "plant question," so you may wish to ignore it. I'm in a position to replace an outside wall light and would like a light that will spotlight my garden. My current light fixture only lights up the first 3 feet between my backdoor and patio. I want something tasteful, not a blinding floodlight that will confuse low-flying planes, or one of the motion-sensors that will go on every time a squirrel moves.

    I garden in the Boston area, and the garden that I'm hoping to shed some light on is about 7 feet out from the house.

    You may advise me to get fancy in-ground lighting, but I'm trying to keep this a simple project.

    Thanks for your help!

    Gardener In The Dark

    Dear In The Dark,
    I can't help but think that you need to light up the area at its source, not aim a light at it. Solar lights might do the trick. Here's a Web site for you to peruse (I'm not endorsing this company per se, it's just a place for you to start):
    http://www.solar-lights.net/solar-lights.htm

    Good Luck, KL

    Back to top

    *****

    Revenge of the Slugs

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Dalby, Sweden, where the winter temperature go down to -5 C at most, and the summers are at most about 20 C. We get lots of rain, and there is a large nature area behind us. All summer long we have invasions of both brown and black slugs from this wilderness area, which eat everything in sight (As well as the roots of radishes!). We've tried everything to get rid of them, but poisons wash away quickly in the rain, beer doesn't entice them as much as our strawberries, and our housing association forbids having pet ducks in the yard... Every morning and evening we go out and pick between 50 and 100 slugs - and the only way we've figured to kill them is to boil them! Help!! Any ideas?

    Thanks,

    Christy

    Christy,
    I won't even ask why you boil them. :( Here's an idea if you're primarily growing vegetables: move things into wooden containers and put copper flashing around the outside edges (the flashing needs to be at least 4" wide). Slugs and snails are unable to cross copper because it combines with their highly mineralized metabolism and shocks them with an electric current. You might also serrate the top edges of the copper (cut it ragged) to further discourage their passage. Another deterrent for small-scale control would be crushed egg shells, circling particular plants. And if you want to collect a whole bunch of slugs at once, take a 2'x6' board, pour beer over it (or soak it in a bucket), elevate it on two bricks, and put the board in the sun near your plants. The slugs will take shelter underneath the board; then presto, flippo, turn it over and scoop them off, into a bucket of salted water. This conversation is making me queasy...

    Best, KL

    Back to top

    *****

    What Grows Under Bearded Collies?

    Dear Doyenne,

    I just bought a 1920s cottage with a 50'x200' south-facing backyard in Nashville, TN. My nature guardianship now extends to this rectangle of slightly graded mud, a teenage maple tree, 8 wildly overgrown junipers, as well as my two bearded collies.

    Are there any perennials, ground covers, shrubs or grasses will both 1) look interesting all year and 2) survive 8 paws and a unskilled gardener, or should I be looking at paving?

    Best wishes,

    Deanna

    Deanna,
    Yours is a huge garden space so it's pretty difficult to just throw a couple of plant ideas at you and think we've solved the problem. Perhaps you need to think more about how you want to use the space, and how the dogs fit in to that useage. I mean, if it's primarily their yard, then you might create beds of large shrubs/small trees that are grouped together and largely impermeable. Or maybe you'll want to create a patio area for yourself, then surround that with plants. Or perhaps you'll want to fence off an area that's dedicated to either a garden or the beasts (I know, bad idea, it's their house after all, right?). The point is, you'll have to protect anything that's going to be underpaw; better to get a handle on what you want first and design around that.

    Enjoy, KL

    Back to top

     

    Copyright © 2003 National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.