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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:

  • A Four Season Tree
  • Printer Paper Compost
  • Sweet Potato Vine
  • Ailing Bonsai
  • Dwarf Bottlebrush
  • Gardenweb Junkie
  • Buttercups
  • Bloomless Wisteria

    A Four Season Tree

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in the Shenandoah Valley. I have done a kitchen renovation, and have a new space to fill. There is a square outside the kitchen which is calling for a small tree, 4 seasons with blooms and nice fall leaves, interesting sticks in the winter and foliage in the summer.

    Thanks for your help.
    Carolyn

    Carolyn,
    I think a Stewartia monodelpha or Stewartia pseudocamellia would be wonderful in the situation you describe. Either plant grows slowly to 30 feet and has beautiful mottled bark. The branching structure is tiered and in summer the trees develop charming, 2" white flowers with a central boss of yellow stamens. Fall color is great to stupendous. As a nice blanket at your stewartia's feet, I might suggest Epimedium. It's a shade-loving perennial that comes in a wide range of flower colors -- white , yellow, orange and purple -- and a tough plant that competes easily with tree roots.

    Enjoy, KL

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    *****

    Printer Paper Compost

    Dear Doyenne,
    Here's an Information Age meets gardening question: I recently bought a paper shredder to reduce my bumper crop of office waste paper. Almost all of the paper is ordinary white paper printed by my laser printer or similar white paper. I have no idea what the black toner is, but guess that it is mostly carbon.

    Is it okay to add this stuff to my compost pile?

    Thanks.
    Orrie

    Orrie,
    Although I can't recite the chemical composition for toner cartridges (probably trade secrets), my guess is that any solvents that were in the cartridge have long evaporated after ink was laid to paper. You're right, it's basically carbon, as is the paper.

    The only thing I'd caution is to mix plenty of "green" compost in with this paper, as it is completely lacking in nitrogen and will be a problem if it's not aged properly.

    Enjoy, KL

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    *****

    Sweet Potato Vine

    Dear Doyenne,
    For the last couple of years I've been buying sweet potato vines from the garden center and using them in my flower beds and planters. Each year I try to take clippings from the vines so that I can nurse them through until the next spring. No luck. I've even tried to dig up the potato-like bulb and keep that in a dark, cool place, much like I do elephant ears. No luck. This year I saw just the smallest of shoots but the minute I planted the bulb (or whatever it is called), it turned all mushy. What am I doing wrong?

    Julie

    Julie,
    Sweet potato vines take some work from cuttings, which should be taken in September. Then, they must be maintained in very warm (about 68 degrees) and humid situations with protection from hot sun. Here's some step by step instructions:

  • Take a cutting with at least one leaf node and cut the existing leaf in half to reduce the amount of leaf area and the evaporation/transpiration of water from the plant.
  • Use a standard rooting hormone (powder is best for soft cuttings) and stick it in a mixture of 1/3 peat, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 fine pumice in a container that drains.
  • Then take a 1 liter plastic pop container and cut the bottom off of it. Mist the cutting well and put the top of the plastic container over it and place it in bright indirect light. Mist the leaves at least once a day. It should root in several weeks, provided the plant is placed in a bright window and watered to keep it from going dormant during the lower light levels of winter.
  • Plant it outside once the night time temperatures remain above 55°F.

    About starting from tubers: Start them in spring but ONLY if they have bottom heat. Pot them up in rich potting soil and put them on a propagating mat which will maintain a soil temperature above 65°F -- anything cooler and they will rot.

    Is this more than you bargained for? Enjoy! KL

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    *****

    Ailing Bonsai

    Dear Doyenne,
    I was given a 5-year-old Acer palmatum bonsai as a gift. It was grown in Eugene, OR. I brought it to Vacaville, CA about six weeks ago. As soon as it was set up in the house in strong indirect light, the leaves began to develop brown spots and then to wither as if the plant had not been watered. I water the plant regularly, soaking it once a week as the instructions indicate, and misting it two to four times a week.

    Thanks,
    Stephen

    Stephen, I strongly suggest you get that bonsai outside in a shady location. The low humidity levels and low light levels indoors are most likely what's causing the problem (Japanese maples can't take low humidity). Once outside, it should be much easier to maintain. Everything else you are doing seems fine.

    Best, KL

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    Dwarf Bottlebrush

    Dear Doyenne,
    I've just planted a dwarf bottlebrush plant called Callistemon citrinus 'Jeffersii'. I wasn't paying attention at the gardening center and didn't mean to get a dwarf. Do you know how tall and wide it will get?

    Thanks,
    Carol

    Carol,
    Callistemon citrinus 'Jeffersii' is indeed a dwarf bottlebrush. It only grows to about 6' tall and 4' wide, and has brushes that are more of a purple than the common red that you often see. Its a nice plant, and is often sold because it blooms for a ridiculously long time. So you did pretty well after all!

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Gardenweb Junkie

    Dear Doyenne,
    I'm a gardenweb junkie. I read about some exotic smelly plant that only grows between the toes of Tibetan goats, and I must have it. I must. And eventually I will, many internet journeys and dollars later. But I will have no idea how to make it grow and bloom (Tibetan goats aren't exactly a dime a dozen out here).

    Meanwhile, I need instructions for: Cananga odorata, Magnolia coco, and Michelia champaca alba. They're all in quite large clay pots, slightly acid soil, half sun/half shade, until I know better.

    Thanks,
    Karin

    Karin,
    I'm going to assume you're gardening somewhere in LA?

    The story with both Magnolia coco and Michelia champaca is that both plants can be grown outside in your area. The challenge will be to insure that the soil stays on the acidic side, so you're gonna have to treat them the same way you would treat gardenias or camellias. That is, plant them in a place where their roots will be in the shade and their tops will be in sun or part sun, and water them in with a dose of fertilizer for acid loving plants (Mir-Acid is one option; the organic way to go would be fish emulsion). Keep them well watered (moist not soggy) until you see new growth, then cut back on the water to once every 10 days or so. If you notice that new growth is showing signs of chlorosis -- a nutrient deficiency caused by too alkaline soil -- you can green it up with a foliar spray of chelated iron.

    As far as Conanga odorata? This chump is stumped. Gotta go pick plants out of my toes.

    Best, KL

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    Buttercups

    Dear Doyenne,
    What's a good nonchemical method to kill these fast growing and spreading Buttercups?

    Thanks,
    Linda

    Linda,
    Believe it or not, buttercups are pretty low on the "impossible to control" scale (you should try our bindweed, horsetail, bamboo, and reed canary grass!). Since they pull out fairly easily and don't seem to regenerate from root fragments, that's all I'd do. Then mulch heavily with coarse wood chips, and I mean very coarse, to smother and impede any new growth. Some gardeners weed with blow torches these days, but you may find that a bit extreme.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Bloomless Wisteria

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Central New Jersey and have a flourishing White Japanese Wisteria vine that has been trellis-trained up and along a deck and balcony. It is at least 15' in length. This is its 4th summer and lives in a southern exposure with lots of sun. While this is a very prolific climber, creating a very romantic setting, my question is: Why does my wisteria NOT bloom???

    Rhonda

    Rhonda,
    Rhonda, I get asked this question A LOT. A previous listener reported waiting a decade without bloom (I recommended she rip it out and start over). The problem is often with the plant that you buy -- many are grafted, which can work against you -- which is why it's critical to buy a wisteria in flower. The one thing you haven't tried is root pruning, which 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. If there's no improvement next year, consider cutting your aggravation level and starting again.

    Best, KL

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