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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:

  • Is July Too Late To Plant?
  • Rhododendron Cuttings? Not.
  • Life Under Dense Pines
  • Vinca Right or Wrong
  • Rose Pruning 101
  • Unstoppable Rhodies
  • Roses As Deer Bait

    Is July Too Late To Plant?

    Dear Doyenne,
    I recently bought a house in central Pennsylvania (zone 5) but haven't planted anything since masons and painters have been working on the exterior. Is it too late to plant flowers to look good this summer or fall, or should I just start planning for next year?

    Thanks,
    S.S.

    S.S.,
    Having just lived through the installation of a fence that ruined my existing garden, my first thought would be to take care of the soil, which I imagine has been badly compacted (mine was like rock). Depending on what kind of gardener you are, you might want to dig in compost, composted manure, whatever, to invite back the worms (mine vacated). If you're not that ambitious, by all means, go ahead and plant; just know you're committed to providing your new plants adequate irrigation through the hot summer.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Rhododendron Cuttings? Not.

    Dear Doyenne,
    I have a large, antique rhododendron. It came from a large plant in Massachusetts and was transplanted at least 25 years ago. It blooms in late July -- after all other rhododendrons have finished -- with pale pink flowers. It is now large and flourishing. I want to know how to take a part of it and transplant it to another site.

    Thanks
    C.W.

    C.W.,
    Rhodies are impossible to divide, unless they have low branches that have rooted themselves into the ground. These can be removed and transplanted elsewhere. The only other way to do it is to take cuttings, dip them in root hormone, keep in a humid spot (like a mist chamber), and pray. Depending on the time of year, this can be an easy to impossible task. I spoke with a colleague in the horticulture department of a nearby university, and she had the best luck taking cuttings from the middle of June through mid-July. She reports an 80% success rate, but keep in mind she had a university greenhouse with a mist chamber at her disposal. All in all, I wouldn't touch it.

    Best of luck, KL

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    *****

    Life Under Dense Pines

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Denver and have two very large, seemingly very old pine trees in my yard. They cast quite a wide umbrella under which EVERYTHING dies. You can trace the outline on the garden bed. And itís not just due to shade because some sun actually gets under there for a few hours a day. Is there anything that can grow there or should I just cut my losses and throw in wood chips or something?

    Thanks,
    Jon

    Jon,

    If I were you, I'd ask the brilliant folks over at the Denver Botanic Garden what they'd grow in such a tough setting. Things like sweet violet, sweet woodruff and lily-of-the-valley leap to mind, but they may have more original ideas. You might also check out any/all the books by Lauren Springer and Rob Proctor, very famous and eloquent Colorado gardeners, who may have written about just this problem.

    Best of luck, KL

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    *****

    Vinca Right or Wrong

    Dear Doyenne,
    I am getting some flack from my sister for planting vinca. She claims that this is the same type of plant that is choking the life out of the lake my parents live on in Michigan. But after years of gardening in the Midwest, I am struggling with the Denver, Colorado growing season and have been taking a lot of cues from farmer's market sellers... one of whom sold me 12 vincas! Please tell me that I won't have to live this down for long!

    Jennifer

    Jennifer,
    A plant that behaves badly in one part of the country is often a cherished perennial in another (with the exception of English ivy and lythrum, which I think we can all agree shouldn't be planted anywhere). That said, you'd have to check the noxious weed list for Colorado to see if vinca qualifies; my guess is it doesn't. If you take a look at the piece I did with Scott on
    noxious plants, you'll find links on that page to various noxious weed lists. Don't feel too guilty just yet, but for diversity's sake, do keep looking for alternatives.

    Enjoy, KL

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    *****

    Rose Pruning 101

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Baltimore, MD and purchased a rowhouse in the fall with a very large (6' tall) old rose bush in the back yard. I pruned back any new growth in the spring that did not have buds on it. It has been blooming for several weeks now. Should I cut off the flowers as they die, should I continue to prune it during the summer, and are there any basic guidelines you have for pruning roses?

    Thanks,
    Mara

    Mara,
    Serious rosarians distinguish between bushy, arching, and climbing roses, as well as roses that bloom only once, and remontant roses (repeat-blooming). I mention all this in case you're interested in pursuing the rose subject further. Given that yours is a big, old plant, it's a safe bet to call it an arching rose, which is at its most attractive when left to billow and, well, arch. Rather than cutting back individual canes, you're better off thinning out old ones, as well as removing any angular, dead or ugly growth as the season progresses.

    As far as deadheading faded flowers, there are ample schools; it depends on how much work you want to do. Sounds like you're ready to indulge this shrub, so I'd say take off the spent blossoms by cutting the flower stem back to an inch above the closest five-leaved leaflet (you'll see threes and fives). That'll encourage more bloom and keep things looking spiffy. Bear in mind that if your rose blooms only once and you remove all the spent flowers, you won't have rosehips in fall. I'd lay off the last flush of flowers.

    Best of luck, KL

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    *****

    Unstoppable Rhodies

    Dear Doyenne,
    I have three rhododendrons in front of my front door. Here, at the New Jersey shore, they are thriving -- overwhelming the house. Two years ago, I cut them back by a foot or two right after they bloomed, and had few flowers the next year. But they rapidly recovered their height and now are blooming happily. If I cut them down really severely, will they recover? I know they will look terrible if I go down into the bare lower areas, but I guess I could put up with it for a few months.

    Thanks,
    Barbara

    Barbara,
    Before I moved to the NW, I would have cautioned you against drastic rhodie pruning. But having seen how they respond here to hack-and-run gardeners, I've learned that a thriving rhodie is indeed an indestructible beast. I hesitate giving you pruning tips without seeing the plants in question -- it could be that they need to be reshaped, rather than cut back -- but I will say you will lose whatever structural integrity your plants now have if you cut them down to stumps. Consider removing entire limbs and changing their overall appearance before cutting them down. And might I recommend a fabulous article on
    pruning rhodies by one of the country's leading plant activists, Cass Turnbull, founder of Plant Amnesty. You'll love her writing.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Roses As Deer Bait

    Dear Doyenne,
    A herd of deer came into my Zone 9 (California) garden and stripped my six rose bushes of all buds, flowers, leaves and most of the thorns. Should I prune off all the remaining stems and branches , or should I leave them and hope they come back?

    Thanks for your help.
    O.C.

    O.C.,
    Yikes! Are you sure you want to grow roses? They are guaranteed deer fodder, and I can only imagine they'll eat them again and again (unless you're considering an 8' fence). I certainly wouldn't cause them any further indignities, other than shaping them up a bit in the hopes that they'll risk growing again. Answer me this, though; would you?

    Best, KL

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