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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:

  • Mutant Rose
  • Bloomin' Bougainvillea
  • Shedding Oak Tree
  • Wisconsin Groundcover
  • Viburnum Pruning
  • Cape Cod Gaillardia
  • Lethargic Climbing Plants
  • Pussywillow Pruning

    Mutant Rose

    Dear Doyenne,
    Recently my mother and I were going through some old pictures. In the background of one was a magnificent rosebush. The next day I took my shovel and pail, dug it up and triumphantly carried it home. It has thrived! It appears to be what is commonly called a "cabbage" rose. It has a divine scent and is the thorniest thing I've ever seen. What is weird is that some of the blossoms have odd, additional growths in them. At first I thought they were seeds or something. I have left them alone to see what they develop into and now they look like small rose buds - coming out of the center of an existing bloom. What on Earth are these?

    Thank you,
    Ellen

    Ellen,
    Many plants develop this kind of mutation. It is not harmful to the rose so I would just leave it and enjoy it as a curiosity. Mutations, or sports like this are often the source for new named cultivars. In fact, many double roses that are so common today began as mutants on single petalled roses.

    Enjoy! KL

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    Bloomin' Bouganvilla

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Waco, TX and have bougainvillea plants -- fuchsia and red, actual type unknown. What type of fertilizer is best for them to keep them blooming?
    Thanks,
    Daly

    Daly,
    If they are in containers, use an all-purpose liquid fertilizer (20-20-20) every time you water. BUT, use half the recommended dose, twice as often. If your plants are in the ground, they usually require no fertilizer at all.

    Best, KL

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    Shedding Oak Tree

    Dear Doyenne,
    Our Oak Ridge, Tennessee house is 35 years old. We have two oak trees about 30 feet apart that were mature when the house was new. This summer both trees starting sloughing a fair amount of bark. I'm trying to find if that's natural -- we haven't seen it before and we'd hate to lose the trees if there is something we can do.

    Thanks,
    Bob

    Bob,
    This sounds like a disease called hypoxylon canker. You might be able to find crusted fungal growths on the affected area. In particular, look for black, fruiting bodies.

    If I'm right, and only a few branches are affected, you can cut them off. If the fungal growths are on the trunk, I fear the tree is doomed. It might survive a few years, but will become a hazard, since it will increasingly drop its branches.

    I'd run this by an extension specialist or a certified arborist -- perhaps someone can take a look -- and find out if they concur.

    Best, KL

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    Wisconsin Groundcover

    Dear Doyenne,
    We live in Wisconsin and have a backyard dominated by two large Maples -- I think one is a silver maple and the other a Norway maple. The larger of the two (the silver) is over 50 feet tall, probably 50-60 years old and the smaller one is 20-25 years old.

    We can't get grass to grow under the trees very well. Suggestions have been Hostas, pachysandra and other small, leafy shade lovers. We also have a very active 2-year-old (and another little one on the way) who needs to be able to run around. Any suggestions for varieties of grass or grass-like ground cover that could survive here? We are 4 blocks from Lake Michigan, so we do not get as cold as the rest of the state in winter.

    Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated!
    Eric

    Eric,

    The situation you describe seems a good one for epimedium which I'm certain would thrive as a groundcover for you. But like hostas and pachysandra, epimedium will not hold up to kid traffic.

    The first grass-like plant that comes to mind is liriope, an incredibly easy plant to grow which comes variegated and plain green. It tops out at about 8" and spreads (though not obnoxiously) by runners.

    Again, though, there's the foot traffic issue. We are in all these cases talking ornamental plants. It could be that the best solution is to densely plant certain areas so they look inviting, then mulch heavily for the kids.

    All the best, KL

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    Viburnum Pruning

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Kansas - Zone 5. My husband and I have an older two-story house which is in need of painting this summer. We have two extremely large leatherleaf viburnums planted in front, the tops of which almost reach the second floor windows. They are both approximately 12' across.

    Because we need to prune them so that we can paint, we thought we would try to bring them under control as well. I am inclined to cut them back to perhaps 4-6' (or less) to let them grow back so I can control the shape better with regular pruning.

    Do you see any problems with this plan? They seem to have quite a fierce will to survive - growing long new shoots when we've tried to prune them enough for us to get to the front door.

    Thanks,
    Penny

    Penny,
    I'm sure you've already taken things into your own hands. But just to confirm your decision, I concur that leatherleaf viburnums are quite tenacious, and if hardy, suffer more from bad pruning than any other abuse. Clearly, they're hardy in your area, and clearly, you're a conscientious pruner, so I'd say they're in luck. Just remember that simply cutting them back is not a long-term management solution. Instead, they'll need serious shaping, so make hard decisions about what limbs to keep and what limbs to remove. Take complete control!

    Best, KL

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    Cape Cod Gaillardia

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live on Cape Cod, where we have very sandy soil. I have tried Gaillardia for 3 years in a row. It grows in my neighbor's yard but I have no luck. We have an in-ground watering system and use lots of mulch. I want to try it one more time; please help.

    Thank you,
    Ginny

    Ginny,
    You might look closely at where your neighbors have their Gaillardia planted and see if you can't mimic the same growing conditions in your own garden (my guess is full sun and well-drained soil). Then, at this stage in the season, I'd recommend you plant again in the fall, giving the roots a leg up on the ladder come next spring.

    Best of luck, KL

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    Lethargic Climbing Plants

    Dear Doyenne,
    We live in north-central Indiana and planted Joseph's Coat roses and clematis on a trellis on the front of the house which faces South and has a good mix of sun and shade, about 50/50. This being their first season, I expected them to be a little lethargic, but they seem more so than I'd thought. Is there something special we should be doing to take care of our climbers?

    Thanks,
    Lindsay

    Lindsay,
    You were quite right to expect lethargy from both of these plants; clematis and climbing roses need at least a year or two to establish. You might consider giving them a little jump start by dissolving 1 cup of Epsom salts around the base of each plant. Then, if you really want to wake things up, topdress in fall with a 1" mulch of composted steer manure. Yum!

    Best, KL

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    Pussywillow Pruning

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Montvale, VA. and a couple of years ago my father gave me a pussywillow. It is thriving. The only complaint would be that I see where beetles have started to eat the leaves. My question is this, Is the pussywillow a tree or a bush? Should it be pruned to look like a bush or allowed to grow in treelike form? Mine is getting rather tall.

    Thank You,
    Tina

    Tina,
    Depending on the overall structure of your willow, it could be treated as either a shrub or a tree. My personal preference is to "lift the skirts" of large shrubs/small trees and limb them up (remove bottom branches) if they have interesting trunks (especially multiple trunks that twist and curve). This also gives you the opportunity to plant things underneath. By treating this willow like a tree, you are able to psychologically accept that it is getting tall and you won't be tempted to top it (that is, chop off its head!). As for the munched leaves, I'd just make sure the tree is well-watered through summer and let it take care of itself.

    Best, KL

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