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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 the Doyenne has already answered. Good clean fun for the whole family.

This week's questions:

  • Nocturnal Visitor
  • Herbicide and Succulents
  • Death of Dodenaeas
  • Pruning Jasmine
  • Hemlock Border
  • When Voles Attack
  • Missouri Native Grasses
  • Yellow-Leaved Rhododendrons
  • Those Darned Mayapples?

    Nocturnal Visitor

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in on the second floor of an apartment building in Los Angeles. My garden consists of about 75-100 pots of various sizes on my patio. Here is my problem: I have a nocturnal visitor that is "stipping" and destroying my plants. This animal is also very adept at burrowing holes. S/he created several 2"-3" diameter holes in my old plastic worm bin (now replaced with a steel can), then started digging out vegetable seedlings and carrying them away. Flowers are also popular -- my nasturstium, scarlet runner bean, and hollyhock have all been hit. I bought a sound generator to scare off pests, but it did not deter this one. I put on some of my cat's (used) litter thinking that it's not only mulch, as the bag suggests, but may imply a predator for this creature. What can I do to deter this animal?

    Thank you,
    Amy

    Amy,
    First of all, let me say this: cease and desist from using "used" cat litter! Cats are carnivores and their scat might contain pathogens.

    Moving right along, what you have is more than likely a vole (though I wouldn't rule out a mouse, shrew or rat, either). Voles dearly love the shady area in-between pots. You might try separating the pots a bit to get more light between them, and to cut down on the places such creatures might be hiding from your cat. When you move the pots, you might also keep an eye out for signs of a rodent 'latrine', which will confirm the source of your problem.

    If the cat can't get the vole, you may have to trap it. You'll find all manner of live solutions at your local hardware store. And promise me, no more used litter.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Herbicide and Succulents

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Phoenix, AZ and have many prickly plants in my garden, including various cacti, succulents, and roses. I also have many weeds, some of which grow so close to the aforementioned prickly plants that I cannot get near enough to pull them, even with gloves. I would like to blast the weeds with a carefully-aimed shot of Round-Up, and am wondering if doing so will endanger the cacti, succulents, or roses should a small amount of herbicide get on them.

    Thanks,
    Ruth

    Ruth,
    Roundup is DEADLY to succulents. Fact is, they are particularly susceptible to herbicides. The reason is that their exteriors are built to absorb water, and their interiors are built to hold it. You can see the problem, yes? I suggest you use long handled tools, heavy gloves and clothing and then mulch heavily with big rocks to control the weeds. Otherwise, I fear you'll be kissing the succulents goodbye.

    Hope this helps, KL

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    *****

    Death of Dodonaeas

    Dear Doyenne,
    I have planted dodonaeas in several places in my garden. Three of them -- in different locations -- have just up and died very suddenly. It almost seems like it might be fireblight but other gardeners tell me that dodenaeas are impervious to EVERYTHING. The leaves curl, turn grey and then it's over.

    What is it and what can I do to prevent it? I have tried spraying with funginex, but didn't succeed in saving any of them.

    I used to live in Portland, but have recently entered a whole new, year-round gardening location in Oceanside, Calif... 40 miles north of San Diego.

    Thank you,
    Nancy

    Nancy,
    I'm not exactly sure what is wrong with your dodoneas but I can offer a few guesses. Poor drainage? Dodonaeas like porous well-drained soil and dislike standing water. Some kind of soil borne fungus such as verticillium, oak root fungus, Texas root rot? In any case, you don't want to plant any more dodonaeas. Instead you might try something like Leptospermum, Callistemon or Xylosma, all plants that are relatively immune to such diseases.

    Enjoy, KL

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    *****

    Pruning Jasmine

    Dear Doyenne,
    I now live in the SF bay Area and have some very productive Pink Jasmine vines but I do not know how to take care of them. The question really is that it is too large and I want to make sure that I know when, what and how to prune this vine. You help is appreciated.

    Regards,
    Jim

    Jim,
    The best time to prune pink or any other color jasmine is right after its large flush of bloom (end of April in the Bay Area). It can be cut back as much as you want and will quickly regenerate. Since pink jasmine blooms most prolifically on the previous year's wood, you should probably make sure that your pruning is done by June to give the vine plenty of time to regrow and establish itself before setting new buds next fall and winter.

    Enjoy this gorgeous spring, KL

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    Hemlock Border

    Dear Doyenne,
    I just moved to snow-bound Buffalo but when the white stuff melts (probably May!) I would like to plant 3 or 4 short and narrow evergreens as a border separating our house from the neighbor's drive-way. There are now a few spindly deciduous trees there and the soil is constantly damp and filled with roots. A friend recommended Canadian Spruce for its feathery leaves and because it does well under deciduous trees. Problem -- This is the same plant that separates us from neighbors on the other side of our house. I want variety... any suggestions?

    Thanks,
    Pauline


    Pauline,
    How about Cananda helock (Tusga canadensis) for a little variety. You'll want a cultivar that doesn't shoot straight up since you mentioned something short. Narrow I can't do with hemlock -- unless, of course, you maintain it as a hedge.

    Otherwise try a low-growing, dwarf form of spruce. There are many to choose from. Check out a reputable nursery with a wide variety and see what they suggest; then go with your own aesthetic and pick the ones you like.

    Hope this helps, KL

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    *****

    When Voles Attack

    Dear Doyenne,
    In my full sun garden, three different butterfly bushes in the same spot have gradually died from the top down and when you remove the plant from the soil, no roots. drainage is good, drip irrigation when dry, but voles have become a problem with evidence of runs and openings. Could they be eating the roots?

    Thanks,
    Pat

    Pat,
    It sure sounds like voles. The giveaway is being able to lift the rootless plant right out of the ground. Voles are rodents that live underground and travel through your yard in the tunnels made by moles. I just talked with a friend of mine who had quite a severe problem some years ago and lost literally dozens of hostas. The problem went away by itself, more or less; I suspect her cats helped. She says another thing that turned the trick was reducing the size of her lawn and increasing the size of her garden beds. That resulted in fewer grubs supporting fewer moles which, in turn, supported fewer voles. Anyway, until that happens, you might think about fashioning a cage out of chicken wire and sink it into the planting hole of your butterfly bush. Probably if you can get it going, after a few years a couple of nibbles won't be so devastating.

    Enjoy, KL

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    Missouri Native Grasses

    Dear Doyenne,
    We just put in a 5 acre pond on our 40 acre piece of land. What could I plant on the far side of the dam? I would like to not have to mow on this incline and I would like something native to Missouri. What do you think about Buffalo Grass? I would like something low growing, a ground cover maybe?

    Thanks,
    Cecilia

    Cecilia,
    I don't blame you for not wanting to mow. Buffalo grass needs very good drainage and prefers hot, baking sun. It may do. If not, try one of the cultivars of switch grass (Panicum virgatum). It will grow taller -- 3-6 feet -- but make a lovely spectacle when planted in a mass. One cultivar, 'Shenandoah' grows to about 3 feet tall and turns a lovely red. Another native prairie grass, little bluestem (Schizachyrium) grows to 2-3' and also turns a beautiful fall orange-red.

    Enjoy, KL

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    Yellow-Leaved Rhododendrons

    Dear Doyenne,
    We live in a suburb of Boston, with a row of Rhodos in front of the house, facing southwest. Gets very sunny in the afternoon. For years, they have turned horribly yellow during the winter, and recover very slowly throughout the summer. We have loaded them with Rhodo/Azalea fertilizer on occasion, but it doesn't seem to help. What should we do?

    Thanks,
    Mark

    Mark,
    Look, you've given them time. You've given them care. You've given them fertilizer. They've given you not a lot. My hunch is, it's time for a change. Look around your neighborhood and find out what does really well in the same light situation and try some of that. No doubt you'll be a lot happier with a plant that wants to thrive. If the rhodies are small enough to transplant, you might want to give them a second (third, fourth?) chance in a spot with morning sun only. Rhododendrons are understory plants that thrive in acid soil that is moist, but well-drained. But frankly, it sounds like it's time for the old heave-ho.

    Good luck, KL

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    Those Darned Mayapples?

    Dear Doyenne,
    We love our Nandinas but despise those darned mayapples. Is there any easy way to get rid of them or do we just have to dig and dig and dig?

    Sincerely,
    Lawrence

    Lawrence,
    Beauty, as we all know, is in the eye of the beholder. Many of us adore mayapples and would kill to have a problem such as yours. Consequently, I'm not really the best person to advise you re:getting rid of them, except to discourage you from doing anything more aggressive than simply digging, and to suggest that perhaps after digging, you give those native beauties away.

    Best, KL

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