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Why Did My Plant Die?

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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:

  • Fence Cover
  • Bloomless Bouganvilla
  • Listless Basil
  • Spectacular Echinacea
  • Mulberry Removal
  • Indiana Rose Recommendation
  • Crapemyrtle
  • Epimedium Companion

    Fence Cover

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live inland in Los Angeles. I just replaced 50 feet of six foot tall wooden fencing that runs between my house and my next door neighbors' house. This fence is the "view" from all of the windows on the south side of my house. The pink jasmine that had been growing out there for the past 15 years had to be taken down to the ground when the old fence was demolished. What else could I plant that would be green all year, flower occasionally, and not need huge amounts of water? The soil is a mixture of every kind of soil imaginable, but there is quite a lot of clay. A friend of mine suggested Sasanqua camelias. What do you think?

    Sincerely Yours,
    Jane

    Jane,
    Sasanqua camellias would be a nice solution. They have a somewhat lax habit and can be pruned into a nice, airy espalier. About that jasmine: Unless it was ripped out by the roots, it could be that it will return, particularly if it was as old as you say. Other vining suggestions for your fence --
    Pandorea jasminoides (Bower plant)
    Ficus pumila (creeping fig) -- green but no flowers
    Petrea volubilis (Queen's wreath)
    Hardenbergia violacea (purple coral pea) -- purple flowers all winter

    I'll leave all further research to you. Enjoy,

    KL

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    *****

    Bloomless Bouganvilla

    Dear Doyenne,
    I have three bouganvilla on my patio, in hanging baskets. Two are just beautiful and have blooms and stop blooming, but then start back. One of them has beautiful green leaves, but doesn't bloom. I am using bouganvilla feed every two weeks until they bloom and then feed them once a month. I keep them watered well and they do receive quite a bit of sun. I live in Houston or rather Baytown, Texas. It bloomed earlier and now has just quit.

    Thank you for any helpful info.
    Judy

    Judy,
    You're doing just fine. Either continue with your present regime, or switch to fertilizing every time you water with half the recommended dosage. Also, while I don't know what you mean by "quite a bit" of sun, I will tell you that the best way to ensure flowering is to provide bouganvilla with as much sun as you possibly can.

    Best, KL

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    Listless Basil

    Dear Doyenne,

    I live in Chicago, and am growing basil indoors. I bought a small planter from the grocery store, which had many, many seedlings growing in a small (3"?) pot. I replanted it in a larger (10"?) pot, separating the seedlings as much as possible. I had it in a west window since about July and it was doing great. Then I went away for 12 days. I forgot to remind my boyfriend to water my plants until about 8 or 9 days had gone by. When I came home about half were dead, but the rest looked okay and like they would recover. I gave them a big drink and didn't worry. Well, after about a week I noticed that they were doing terribly and in fact more were dead than when I arrived home. I certainly hadn't been overwatering them (a past mistake of mine), so I was very confused, but out of root-rot paranoia, I waited a few more days before watering them again. Yesterday I did water them, but they look worse than ever. Leaves are curling, drying up, whole stems have shriveled. I've even seen a couple of bugs that look like tiny flies in the dirt, which I've sprayed with a household plant spray. It looks like I'm going to have to start again, but I don't know what went wrong. Any clues?

    Thanks,
    Monica

    Monica,
    No one is at fault here! Basil is just very difficult to grow indoors. It likes the heat, bright sun and humidity of the outdoors. And once its "spent", it is an irreversible slope of decline. Perhaps most important, basil is a short-lived plant, a true annual that should be renewed every two months or so. Best way to do that: Either take a cutting and stick it in a glass of water in a bright window, or, start from seeds in regular potting soil in as bright a window as you have.

    Stay with it! KL

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    Spectacular Echinacea

    Dear Doyenne,
    My cone flowers in my garden are spectacular... too spectacular! They bloom profusely and grow from five to six feet and even higher. I see purple cone flowers in other gardens that are around three to four feet. Is there a way to limit their height without sacrificing blooms? I live in zone 6 and they are exposed to full sun. I was going to chop them when they reached four feet but wasn't certain what that would do to them.

    Regards,
    John

    John,

    Everyone should have your problem! Sounds like you've got the straight species, which can be quite tall when established and happy. The shorter plant you may be seeing around is Echinacea angustifolia 'Magnus', a compact cultivar not difficult to find (and possibly even sold as the straight species). You can either take out your plants and replace them with the compact cultivar (another one is called 'Kim's Knee-High', from Niche Gardens), cut your coneflower back by half next year (by early June) or simply enjoy your bounty.

    Best, KL

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    Mulberry Removal

    Dear Doyenne,
    I'm trying to remove two well-established white mulberry trees from a friend's Indiana yard in the sandy dune soil of Lake Michigan. I want to do it organically if possible, but after digging for a couple of hard hours I thought I'd see if you had any recommendations. How much of the root system/tap root do I need to remove to ensure that they won't resprout?

    Thanks!
    Noel

    Lou,
    Digging it out is about as organic as you can get. Cut the trunks/stems off about 4" below soil level and then make a tic-tac-toe grid of incisions on the surface of the cut, at least 1/4" deep. This will encourage the plant to rot, though you may continue to see sprouts. I'm up against the same challenge with a Tree Of Heaven; not an easy task.

    Best, KL

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    Indiana Rose Recommendation

    Dear Doyenne,
    What is the best way to grow roses in northern Indiana? Should I dig up the whole plant and store it in the basement? Are there better varieties for this area? Are there soil enhancements that are better than others? what about fungus and insect (japanese beetles) prevention?

    Thank you,
    Wes

    Wes,
    There are A LOT of different kinds of roses that you can grow in northern Indiana. The easiest and most pest- and disease-free would be varieties of Rosa rugosa. If you don't find a large range to choose from locally, I suggest you either do a web search for the nearest mail order nursery that carries them, or check out Heirloom Old Garden Roses in St. Paul, Oregon. They have a terrific, descriptive catalog with good care instructions for every hardiness zone.

    Best, KL

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    Crapemyrtle

    Dear Doyenne,
    I have an area about 4x5 feet in which I would like to try this that is bordered on one side with a sidewalk and the other with a driveway. Since this spot is also at the corner of my house, I would like something rather tall and narrow. I was thinking a dwarf or semi-dwarf crape myrtle -- although the first is really too short and the second is too wide. Any suggestions for a piedmont NC gardener?

    Thanks,
    Janice

    Janice,
    Crapemyrtle is a great idea. How about Lagerstroemia 'Sioux', a very upright, pink cultivar, to 10'-15' tall and only 4'-5' wide. Nice bark too. Or if you prefer white, 'Acoma' is a dwarf form with a nice shape and again, good bark.

    Best, KL

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    Epimedium Companion

    Dear Doyenne,
    For my Washington, D.C. yard, I am looking for a low (2-6") perennial to compliment my existing Epimediums, Astilbe, and boxwood. Something with white or gold in it would be nice for contrast. Also, year-round interest would be great, since the area borders the front porch. The spot is underplanted with small spring bulbs. It is shaded by tall deciduous trees, and is on the dry side. And lastly, I would prefer not to plant hostas!

    Thanks,
    Sirina

    Sirina,
    Sounds like a great place to try some asarums, low-growing perennials with intriguing evergreen leaves. Check out the variety offered by
    Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC. Also consider hardy cyclamen, which has smaller, nicely mottled foliage and sweet, small blooms. Cyclamen coum blooms in early winter (careful about mixing a hot pink form with your soft yellow epimedium!); C. hederifolium blooms early fall. Lastly, for stiff, sword-shaped foliage that takes epimedium-like conditions, try the genus Acorus (sweet flag), whether the dwarf, A. gramineus 'Pulsillus', the chartreuse 'Ogon', or many other forms.

    Enjoy, KL

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