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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:

  • What's A Farfugium?
  • Surprise, Surprise: Leaf Miners in Birch
  • Elephant Ears on the Move
  • Messy Magnolias
  • Love Those Nematodes
  • Groundcover Under Oak
  • When To Plant Poppies?
  • Cat Invasion

    What's A Farfugium?

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in a suburb of Kansas City. In an effort to expand my perennial garden, I purchased a Farfugium japonicum 'Aureomaculata'. I had seen a picture of one in a magazine and decided this would be this year's challenge. It arrived with no explanation as to how to plant it and whether it would survive outside. It is marked for zone 6 but do I need to dig this up in the fall?

    Thanks,
    Julie

    Hi Julie,
    You say farfugium, I say Ligularia, a moisture loving perennial that can and will droop if left to dry out. You would know better than I whether Kansas City is reliably Z6 (winter lows to -10F), but if you suspect you get colder than that, try a winter mulch of evergreen branches once the plant's died back. Your other option, if it's in a particularly exposed site right now, is to transplant it someplace cozier. Otherwise, my guess is this would be a hard plant to overwinter inside.

    All the best, KL

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    *****

    Surprise, Surprise: Leaf Miners in Birch

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Southwest Michigan (just north of South Bend, Indiana). Our 40+ foot birch tree has some kind of small worm inside the leaves. When I examine a brown leaf, I can peel the top and bottom layers apart and find small brown spots (droppings?) and tiny worms or caterpillers -- barely big enough to even see -- they've eaten out the entire insides of the leaves. When I look at the tree, there appears to be less than 10% of the leaves which are green, and even some of them have the brown appearing on them. Is the tree a goner?

    Thanks,
    Michelle

    Michelle,
    Horse/carriage, birch/leaf miners. No big surprise there. A birch can survive a few years of miner attack, even very severe infestations, so I wouldn't take it out unless it's under some other stress. Some experts recommend Bt if the problem persists, since leaf miners can be a fatal stress if they occur over consecutive years.

    For now, water it well (particularly through summer) and perhaps give it a shot of nitrogen (follow directions on package). Chances are it will get a second flush of leaves, hopefully after the miners are gone. You might ask around to see whether other birches in the area are affected; if so, perhaps a local government agency would be willing to spray Bt for you.

    Don't despair, KL

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    *****

    Elephant Ears on the Move

    Dear Doyenne,
    We have a large cluster of Elephant Ears that need to be separated and moved. Right now they are about two (2) feet tall. What is the best way to move a section to a different location: dig around the stem and cut from the main trunk/bulb?

    Thanks,
    Jim and Janet

    Jim and Janet,
    If you are talking about Colocasia, called elephant ears for its huge leaves, they grow from bulb-like tubers. Best to divide at the end of your growing season. Dig down, lift and separate the tubers and transplant some of these to another location. Alternatively, you can eat the extras as is done in the Pacific Islands where they serve as a starchy, potato-like food or as the basis for poi! Not that you asked...

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Messy Magnolias

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in San Diego, about 10 miles from the coast, clay soil. I have a 20+ foot magnolia in my back yard. At this time of year more than others, when it is starting to bloom, it seems to have a lot of falling leaves. Is there any way to minimize this leaf fall? Some neighbors chop theirs down for this inconvenience, though I never would - I am the tree advocate in the 'hood.

    Thanks,
    Troy

    Troy,
    I don't know what species magnolia you have, but I'm guessing it's the evergreen Magnolia grandiflora. "Litter" is a given with this tree, and I'm talking leaf fall, twig fall, and flower fall. It's really a specimen best suited to large areas where the debris just disappears into the landscape. Ultimately, the answer to your question is, no, there's nothing you can do, short of enjoying its many attributes.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Love Those Nematodes

    Dear Doyenne,
    Are there any negative effects to using nematodes to kill grubs in my lawn? I have two children (ages 4 & 2) and don't want to use any pesticides. Everyone tells me how safe these nematodes are, but before I let them loose in my lawn, I want to make sure things will be okay with my family.

    Thank you,
    Mike

    Mike,
    Beneficial nematodes are microscopic organisms that feast on a variety of unwanted pests. They are by no means a pesticide, in fact, just the opposite: they are a safe, biological control. Follow directions carefully for best results, particularly as concerns soil and air temperatures and the time of day you apply them.

    Good luck! KL

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    *****

    Groundcover Under Oak

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in St. Louis Missouri. In my backyard I have a large oak tree. On the oak tree I have four (4) bird feeders. The birds and squirrels "spit" out the blackoil sunflower seed hulls under the tree. I know that the hulls from the seed have killed the lawn. Is their anything that I can plant under my oak tree that will survive the shade and sunflower seed hulls? Would gravel mulch hurt the tree?

    Barb


    Barb,
    Though the sunflower hulls didn't help, the lawn under your oak was probably not too robust anyway, due to the shade and acid soil that come with this territory. Gravel mulch would not hurt the tree, but a more aesthetic solution might be an underplanting of ferns mulched with shredded hardwood. Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is a good choice for this situation. Also, Lenten roses (Helleborus x hybridus) are a nice, flowering possibility, tall enough not to be bothered by a few hulls.

    Hope this helps, KL

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    *****

    When To Plant Poppies?

    Dear Doyenne,
    I'm planting my first perennial beds around our house in Denver. The front of the house has a sunny southern exposure and our soil is clay, clay, clay. I love poppies of all kinds and was wondering if it's too late to plant them this spring? I know they won't bloom this year, but must I wait until fall?

    Thanks,
    Linda

    Linda,
    Potted Oriental poppies will transplant fine in early spring (certainly late May by you), and will bloom better in subsequent years. As for sowing the seeds of annual poppies, I'd defer to the opinion of a local, reputable nursery (or the helpline, if there is one, at the Denver Botanic Garden. You should be going there regularly anyway!). Certainly, if you can find poppies already developed in containers, you can plant them now. You won't believe 'Patty's Plum'; now all you have to do is find it (here's a hint for next year: Heronswood Nursery, Kingston, WA).

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Cat Invasion

    Dear Doyenne,
    My yard is perhaps the meeting place for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Cats of the Alley. They eat stuff, they select the four square feet of surviving flowering plants as the proper site for their feuds and frolics, and occasionally one will proceed through the environment under a cloud of bark, pursued by a streak of Labrador Retriever. I assume my tomatoes are destined to be ground cover.

    Now, don't tell me how to discourage cats. That is like shoveling water uphill. Tell me instead what outside the oak family will stand up to the casual Mach One pussycat or felines intent upon a loinlock.

    Thanks,
    Ray

    Ray,
    Funny note. Thanks for the laugh. Here's an idea: Protect your tomatoes in wire cages and plant tough perennials. What's tough? Liriope (which also makes a good edging), black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), asters, maiden grass (Miscanthus) and Sedum 'Autumn Joy'. Consider covering the garden with black plastic netting until the plants establish themselves and really take off. FYI, there's a gizmo on the market that squirts intruders with a jet of water; read all about it at the
    Whatever Works Web site.

    Best of luck, KL

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