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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:

  • Moving Wisteria
  • Save This Apple Tree!
  • Will Vodka Kill Tall Fescue?
  • Mushroom Menace
  • Get That Burlap Off That Root Ball!
  • Rose Campion Care
  • Baptisia Blues
  • 'Only The Lonely'

    Moving Wisteria

    Dear Doyenne,
    My father has a beautiful Wisteria vine which has been in place for about 15 years. He is selling his home and thinking about trying to transplant the vine. Will it make it or will the move kill it? Central Michigan is the location.

    Thanks,
    Mary

    Mary,
    It really depends on whether it's worth the risk to him. Certainly wisteria is a tough plant, but in order to move it he's probably going to have to cut it way back (I'm assuming it has vined its way all over the place). Certainly his chances of success will be greater if the plant's moved in spring or fall. I've moved -- and lost -- quite a few plants; some I regret. Then again, I have even greater regrets over the ones I left behind!

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Save This Apple Tree!

    Dear Doyenne,
    Our home is in northeast Ohio, within 10 miles of Lake Erie and we enjoy lake effect weather in what is known as the snow belt. We have a Yellow Delicious apple tree that was struck by lightening last year. The trunk split and part of the tree fell over. The trunk is split 70/30. The 70% side is dead and supports the portion of the tree that was left standing.

    The remaining portion that fell over sprouted new growth this spring [see picture below]. I severely pruned it and it was covered with blossoms. I want to save the tree. Should I cut down the dead wood? How do I treat the split trunk to maintain its life without bringing harm or causing additional trauma?

    Thanks for your response,
    JWF
    Save This Apple Tree?
    Save This Apple Tree?

    JWF,
    I hesitate to say this, but there are definite drawbacks to saving this tree. It is literally hanging by a thread, and there is no way to "heal" the split. As the surviving limbs continue to grow, they will increase the weight strain on the living trunk which will inevitably split further. Tying it back together is simply not an option (probably not feasible, anyway), as this can introduce disease into the system.

    I guess the question is: is it the tree you want to save, or the cultivar? If it's the cultivar, and it's hard to replace, you'd be better off taking some cuttings this year and starting new trees.

    I do realize this isn't what you want to hear, and I'm confident you'll ignore my advice (as you should! follow your heart!), but sometimes it's just better to say goodbye.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Will Vodka Kill Tall Fescue?

    Dear Doyenne,
    Yes, yes, I know that lawns area bad idea, but I have one and its great for my kids, so for now, I'm keeping it. My soft-to-barefeet lawn is being invaded by tough tall fescue. I'm wondering if there is a way to get rid of it without using toxins and without digging it out? Does it hate tomato juice or vodka or something? If I have to dig it out I'll have lots of bare spots. Can I do this in the fall before the rainy season (here in central California)and reseed it then?

    Thanks,
    Norma

    Norma,
    Put the tomato juice and the vodka in a glass and read on...

    The short answer is no, you can't get rid of the tall fescue. Certainly not nicely. You can dig, you can spray, you can curse the heavens, but climatic conditions are going to favor certain grasses over others and in this case, tall fescue will win, invading and outcompeting turfgrass every time. Even if you reseed, you'll likely have the same problem down the road.

    Bottom line: You're going to have to find out what turfgrass mix does best in your climate. Most of the commercial varieties are East Coast mixes, which obviously don't work with your dry summers and mild winters. I'd contact the turfgrass expert at Davis (second choice, the Ag Extension Agent; could be the same office) and find out what he/she recommends. It may take a little work, but it's your best shot at having a sustainable lawn... and it sounds like it's important enough to you to be worth the work.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Mushroom Menace

    Dear Doyenne,
    I am in St. Paul, Minnesota and used to have an apple tree in my back yard. It was dying so I had it cut down. Now, in the lawn around where I had the tree, I get mushrooms. The yard is sunny and open to a lot of air. How do I get rid of the mushrooms? And if I can't get rid of them, will the decomposing roots ever die? And will they harm another tree? I am hoping to plant another tree within 5 feet of the old spot and don't want to harm that.

    Thank you very much,
    Joan

    Joan,

    You're in luck; digging out the roots is not the answer. They've already died, that's why they're decomposing, and the pesky fungi (mushrooms) are on your side. They're responsible for the decomposition; do not harm them! They're beneficial microbes busily replenishing the soil nutrients through their activity. If you can't stand looking at them, the one thing you can do is mow.

    As for replanting, wait till spring. And don't bother with the soil prep (honest, not for a lawn tree; or for any tree, but that's another story); just be sure to dig a hole at least twice to three times as wide as the root ball and only just as deep. Water in well, add a bit of nitrogen (you don't need a balanced fertilizer) and mulch the area to retain water and inhibit weed growth and competition. Everything will work out, no more stressing!

    Best of luck, KL

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    *****

    Get That Burlap Off That Root Ball!

    Dear Doyenne,
    I have a possible disaster on my hands. I planted a Gingko Biloba tree in my friend's back yard last week in memory of her Dad's recently passing away. When planting, I untied the rope around the base, but never loosened the burlap sack enclosure. Do I have to rush over there and dig up the tree? Will it still take root? Amazing that I forgot to do something when planting a Gingko (memory) tree! Only me!!!

    Thank you,
    Elizabeth

    Elizabeth,
    Guess what you're doing this afternoon? Liberating that ginkgo from its bag. You don't need to dig up the tree, just remove the soil surrounding the root ball, then peel the bag away all the way down to the root ball's base (you don't have to actually lift the root ball to get the bag out from under it; you can leave the burlap to decompose in the soil). Then water, mulch, and be sure the tree's kept watered throughout the season since the hot summer is upon us. Don't beat yourself up about this; it's happens to us all.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Rose Campion Care

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in western North Carolina and have just discovered rose campion. Most of the plants are doing well, but one is dying. It only has the base leaves and no flower shoots. The base leaves are turning brown and it looks very sad. It receives mostly direct sun and is in a well mulched area. Can I save this plant? The other question I have is about whether I should dead-head the flowers, leave them or prune to the joint.

    Thanks,
    Carol

    Carol,
    I imagine you know that you're dealing with a plant that likes full sun and fast drainage. Given that, I can't imagine why that one rose campion (Lychnis) in particular is doing badly; if you've only just planted it, it could be a dud. Also, you mentioned mulch -- could be overkill on the loving care. Bear in mind that L. coronaria is not a true perennial, although plants may survive a number of seasons. Best to consider it biennial or even annual. The good news is that they will happily self-seed. As for deadheading, I'd take the stalks right back to the ground. Incidentally, if you want to meet other members of that genus, here's my profile on
    Lychnis from Plant This!

    Enjoy, KL

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    *****

    Baptisia Blues

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Richmond, Virginia, home of HAZY, HOT and HUMID. My cause of concern are my 6-7 year old indigo plants. On one of them has a few stems that have died off; also, the fruits turned indigo long before the seeds ripened. Do you know of any indigo enemies? I purchased the original plants at Monticello, which has a nursery dedicated to plants that Thomas Jefferson grew, or that could be found nearby (while he was alive).

    Thanks,
    Steve

    Steve,
    Just to make sure we're on the same page here, I'm going to assume you're talking about Baptisia australis, false blue indigo. My best suggestion would be to call the nursery at Monticello. No doubt there's a gardener there who's extremely experienced with this plant. I'm not aware of there being any particular indigo enemies (other than voles, which are said to love the roots); as a matter of fact, baptisia has a reputation of being a particularly trouble-free plant. Hot, hazy, humid not a problem.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    'Only The Lonely'

    Dear Doyenne,
    I once saw a program from England on TV showing plants for shade with white blossoms. I was taken by the plant, "Only the Lonely" and have been unable to find it on any website or book. Have you heard of it? Where might I find it?

    Thanks for your help.
    Wayfarer

    Wayfarer,
    'Only The Lonely' is a cultivar of Nicotiana sylvestris, flowering tobacco. Should be in better nurseries, or perhaps seed catalogs.

    Best of luck, KL

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