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Why Did My Plant Die?

This is the place to read Ketzel's advice to readers' most harrowing gardening challenges from whitefly eradication and 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:

  • Frosted Hollyhocks
  • And Again, Ficus
  • Propagating Lisianthus
  • Hellebore Hardiness
  • Tuberoses and Shady Slopes
  • Brugmansia Storage
  • Bermuda Grass Eradication

    Frosted Hollyhocks

    Dear Doyenne,
    Help! It's snowing on my Rhode Island garden, I never cut back the hollyhocks and now I'm wondering what to do? Will they survive? Should I cut them back now? Thanks for any suggestions!

    Thanks,
    Marsha

    Marsha,
    Don't worry! Cutting them back/not cutting them back has nothing to do with their winter survival. It's only about appearances. Just be sure you cut them down before growth begins again in spring.

    Best,

    KL

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    *****

    And Again, Ficus

    Dear Doyenne,
    Is there anything I can do to keep my ficus trees from dropping so many leaves when I move them inside? They get full and beautiful on the deck during the summer, but after their transition time in the greenhouse when they get moved to a south facing window in the living room, it sounds like fall with all the dropping leaves. I try to keep them well watered, but it's always so traumatic for them when they come back inside.

    Thank you,
    Diana

    Diana,
    First off, many people have found solace at
    Ficustree.com for general support. Now, more specifically, here's what my friend Marc has found during his longterm relationship with a 25 year-old tree:

    1. They'll always drop some leaves, so don't worry.
    2. Water minimally. I brought mine in two weeks ago, and I have yet to touch it with a watering can. I've also been told to never let a ficus stand in water indoors.
    3. The disclaimer: I frankly have no idea whether this non-watering will really work, but I do know that last year it dropped all its leaves and I was keeping it wet.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Propagating Lisianthus

    Dear Doyenne,

    I ordered plants called "Lisianthus, Forever Blue" this spring and am attempting to find out if I can propagate them myself. According to their catalog, this plant loves a dry environment. It produces a flower similar to a poppy, which is highly attractive to bees. The company sells them as plant stock only, and they are annuals.

    Thanks,
    Mary Ann

    Mary Ann,
    You've taken on quite a challenge. Lisianthus are among the most difficult plants to grow outside of their native Texas. It took years for growers of cut flowers to master them, and sometimes they are unwittingly sold as potted plants to consumers who buy them only to watch them decline.
    Here's a Lisianthus Web page that should be of some help.

    Best of luck! KL

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    *****

    Hellebore Hardiness

    Dear Doyenne,
    We own a nursery near Raleigh/Durham NC that specializes in Hellebores and have been selling them mail order for the last couple of years. We get request for plants from places where we have no personal knowledge of how they will grow, and we tell our customers this, but it doesn't always satisfy. Any knowledge of Helleborus in zones 9 or 3?

    Regards,
    Judith

    Judith,
    I've seen hellebores doing well enough in New Hampshire (Z4), but my hunch is that in Z3, they'll survive mild winters but eventually freeze out. At the other end of the spectrum, hellebores in many parts of Zone 9 don't get enough winter chill to vernalize and go dormant. Consequently, we're talking plants that are short-lived and poor bloomers. One exception might be Helleborus argutifolius, which, given its Mediterranean origins, is adapted to warmer climates.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Tuberoses and Shady Slopes

    Dear Doyenne,
    So please tell me about tuberoses. Someone gave me eight bulbs and no directions. I live in Inverness, California, Zone 10.

    Also: Am open to suggestions on what to grow other than poison oak on two acres of steep hillside. It's mostly in shade and I was thinking of Hostas. The deer ate everything else but my daughter.

    Thanks,
    Bob

    Bob,
    Tuberoses are best grown in average potting soil, but their most important requirement is heat (not something Inverness is known for, I gather). Put them in a 12" round pot with the bulbs nearly touching and then water them and put them in the very warmest place you have (got a south-facing wall?). Keep them well-watered during the summer drought and wait, as tuberoses take about eight months to bloom. In your area you should expect flowers in September or October. Incidentally, forget growing them in the house, since they'll never get as much light as they need. Fertilize every other month with a liquid fertilizer.

    Re: that steep hillside. It's likely that the hostas would succumb to Inverness's renowned Banana slugs long before Bambi got a crack at them. My suggestion would be Polystichum minutum - Western Sword Fern.

    Keep close tabs on that daughter.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Brugmansia Storage

    Dear Doyenne,
    I garden in Zone 5 -- Belmont, Michigan -- and have a 6' brugmansia which has twice over-wintered in a greenhouse. I lost my access to this greenhouse and this winter I'd like to stash it like a dormant root. Any tips for success? I've already allowed it to lightly frost, cut it back hard, unpotted it, knocked most of the soil free (it was in a 24" pot); and now it's slumbering in my garage. Is it worth the effort?

    Thanks,
    Roy

    Roy,
    Given that brugmansias are insanely forgiving plants, it's definitely worth the effort. Just make sure the temperature never gets below freezing in the garage, and that the plant doesn't completely dry out. Water it once a month or so, then pot 'er up and put her back outside in spring. Should be fine.

    Best, KL

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    *****

    Bermuda Grass Eradication

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Phoenix, Arizona and have a front yard of Bermuda grass. I'd like to get rid of so that I can plant a more desert-friendly landscape. So far we've tried not watering it and mowing it short to let it burn, but give us three drops of rain and it comes back green and happy overnight. My own thought was to rent a sod-cutter and to get it out that way, but we do have an in-ground sprinkler system and my husband thinks we'd end up cutting the pipes.

    Do you have any suggestions?

    Thanks,
    Amy

    Amy,
    Bermuda grass is a tough customer. I think your best bet would be to cover it with clear plastic during your hottest weather and then just fry it. You don't have to do it all at once; in fact, doing it in patches may be easier than having to deal with a large area. Once it's dead, you'll want to remove the top layer of sod and dispose of it. Delighted you're making the switch to regionally appropriate plants.

    Best of luck, KL

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