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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:

  • Banana Tree Care
  • Ground Ivy
  • Poor Hibiscus
  • Daphne With Bare Knees
  • How To I.D. A Cherry Tree
  • Bradford Pear Bush?
  • Fond Memories Of Pussywillows
  • Why Buy Leaves?

    Banana Tree Care

    Dear Doyenne,
    We live in Malibu, Calif. and have two banana plants that need pruning. Our friend from Hawaii says to ruthlessly cut them down to about two feet tall once a year -- sounds too drastic. What do you think?

    Thanks,
    Deborah

    Deborah,
    Your friend from Hawaii is right. The best way to freshen up the overall look of a banana tree is to hack it back to a stump about 2' tall; it will then grow like a telescope from the center. Your other option is to cut off all the leaves, and allow the plant to regrow from the top of the crown. Since bananas grow very fast (and benefit from a little organic compost plus regular water), hack and be brave.

    KL

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    Ground Ivy

    Dear Doyenne,
    We have a small vining plant (we call it creeping Charley) growing in our yard. It has small, scalloped leaves, a tiny purple flower and a minty smell. We can't seem to get rid of it and it is spreading throughout our yard and beginning to invade our neighbors' yards.

    Can you help?
    Mike

    Mike,
    Sounds like Glechoma hederacea, a.k.a. ground ivy. There are a couple of ways to go to get rid of it. If the area in question is in full sun, you can solarize the soil (bearing in mind this will kill the lawn if you have any, too). You solarize by smothering the area in question, either with layers and layers of newspaper held in place by rocks, or with clear or black plastic (one friends uses two sheets of clear plastic, separated by rocks, bricks, whatever; that way you get twice the burn). Solarizing typically takes six weeks. The less environmentally friendly option is to use an herbicide, specifically Roundup, painted directly onto the leaves. I've also heard about an herbicide made by Safer, composed of potassium salts of fatty acids (in other words, a very high concentration of soap).

    Hope this helps, KL

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    Poor Hibiscus

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Southwest Florida. I have several potted hibiscus outdoors in the southern exposure, so lots of sun. One of my hibiscus has dropped almost all of its leaves and is looking very poorly. I don't see any sign of infestation. My first guess was that I overwatered. The plants have been in the pots for about a month. I planted them in a mixture of potting soil and cow manure. I checked the soil in the pot and it is moist but doesn't appear to be overly wet. The other hibiscus are doing ok. We are experiencing a drought down here and are only allowed to water on certain days. Any help you can give would be appreciated.

    Thanks.
    Ken

    Ken,
    It sounds like overwatering, though hibiscus are funny plants. I'd just repot it into fresh soil and treat it like you do the others. It could just be a lemon!

    Best, KL

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    Daphne With Bare Knees

    Dear Doyenne,
    I planted some lovely and aromatic Daphnes. They came back with a few flowers (pink) but a lot of what looks like barren stems. Our zone 5 winter had alot of snow. I hear Daphnes are tempermental. Should I prune them back after they flower? And if yes, how much?

    Thanks,
    Honey

    Honey, Daphnes are temperamental, yes, but in Zone 5 (though where, I wonder?) the problem is more likely to be the cold rather than the snow that has caused the loss of foliage. Trim back only what is dead or, if the branches are still alive but leafless, trim them back to outward growing buds -- perhaps half way down the bare stem. You'll be amazed how regenerative this otherwise fussy plant can be.

    Good luck, KL

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    How To I.D. A Cherry Tree

    Dear Doyenne,
    I have known and lusted after a tree in Richmond, Va. that has gorgeous pink blossoms for about two weeks in the spring. I have taken the blossoming branch to our local county extension agent who cannot identify it, but I think it is some cultivar of Prunus serrulata. HELP!

    Jeffrey

    Jeffrey,
    Probably the reason the extension agent could not identify your tree is that there are so many cultivars of the Japanese flowering cherry (if that's indeed what your mystery plant is). On my own bookshelf, I found Japanese Flowering Cherries by Wybe Kuitert (Timber Press); it has a lot of pictures, so you might try to get your hands on that. Frankly, I think your best bet is still a year away, when you ought to visit a really good arboretum (Ginter or National Arb are your closest, I believe) and look at the possibilities. You might also bring in a branch to someone there. What more can I say?

    KL

    Best, KL

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    Bradford Pear Bush?

    Dear Doyenne,
    In August 1997 one of our Bradford pear trees split in two and we had it removed, but we were too cheap to remove the stump. Soon it sprouted shoots and my husband decided we should cultivate a Bradford Pear "bush." Today there are three main shoots with lots of horizonal branches but it is about 8 feet tall and looking ugly as a bush. If we pick one shoot and trim it can we grow another tree? Will it be strong enough - these are not the strongest trees to start with. Or should we get rid of it and start over?

    Thanks,
    Andrea and Sal


    Andrea and Sal,
    The short answer is, yes, get rid of it and start over. Even if you trim your bush back into some facsimile of a tree, it will still be subject to the splitting that is a characteristic of some Bradford pears. Besides, think of the alternatives! Flowering cherries (Prunus species), Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa), redbuds (Cercis canadensis), Chinese fringe trees (Chionanthus retusus), or perhaps I could interest you in our native sweet bay magnolia (M. virginiana).

    Enjoy, KL

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    Fond Memories Of Pussywillows

    Dear Doyenne,
    I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and have fond memories of pussywillows in the backyard. I live in Charlotte, N.C. now and would love to grow some here. I have a large yard that offers full sun, partial sun, wet spots, dry spots... you name it, there's a place for any plant. My question is, will pussywillows grow here...I have not seen any in the four years I have lived here. If the answer is yes, where can I purchase them online as the local nurseries do not seem to carry them.

    Thanks so much,
    A Faithful listener in NC

    Dear FL,
    If you like pussy willows that much, it's certainly worth a try. Perhaps the only reason you aren't seeing any is that they're not as popular as they once were. Frankly, given the willow's remarkable vitality, I have trouble thinking one would not thrive. To be on the safe side, though, if you've got it, I'd vote for a wet spot with partial sun. FYI, the mail order nursery
    Forestfarm has a number of pussy willows, though I'm sure you'll also find sources closer to home.

    Best of luck, KL

    Another Gardener Weighs In on March 12, 2002:

    I work at the N.C. Zoo and saw a letter you had received from Faithful in N.C. This person was wondering if pussywillows would grow in the Charlotte area. We have them growing here at the zoo, but some have died. I also tried a few years ago to transplant them from Pennsylvania. and they did not make it. I would be great if you could get it back to her that other people still very much love the pussywillows and are trying to establish them in North Carolina. And tell her to come to the zoo!

    Thanks!

    Wendy

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    Why Buy Leaves?

    Dear Doyenne,
    We live in Western Michigan, on 5 acres with mostly red & white oaks and white pines. We have very little "lawn". Instead, we planted several perennial gardens, and vinca minor ground cover. Every fall I blow piles and piles of leaves out of the perennial gardens. Each spring we pay for shredded leaf mulch. What's wrong with this picture? What can we do to turn our leaf piles into mulch?

    Thanks,
    Anne

    Anne,
    Depending on what kinds of leaves we're talking about, there may be no reason to blow them out of the perennial beds at all. If they're all large and heavy like the oaks, then yeah, they might be a bit much left undisturbed. But if they're of a lighter texture (ash, Japanese maple, etc), you're best off leaving them in place (certainly this would go for the conifers). As for the oaks, sounds like you're the perfect candidates for a chipper/shredder. You'll still need to rake the leaves before you shred them, but how satisfying to put them back into the land as winter mulch.

    Enjoy, KL

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