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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 to weed killer application, 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.

Here's the Vast and Cavernous Archive of Enquiry that I've already answered. Good clean fun for the whole family.

This week's questions:

  • Winterizing Hibiscus
  • Name That Plant!
  • When Slugs Attack
  • Plight of the Poinsettia
  • Perennial Bed for the Newbie

    Winterizing Hibiscus

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Winter Garden, FL. Just the name of my town should be right up your alley, right? It's just west of Orlando and just north of the Mouse with a capital M. I've lived here 20 years, and though not the coldest winter, it has stayed cold longer than any other winter. Recent freezes have done a number on my hibiscus, and some other bushes I have. My "other bushes" have varigated leaves, delicate purple flowers and orange berries, and the butterflies love them. But I can't remember thier name! All of my hibiscus and "other bushes" are now burned a lovely shade of brown, and if the wind keeps blowing like it has been, will soon be leafless.

    My question is, when should I cut my hibiscus and "other bushes" back, and by how much? My hibiscus is (was?) about 10 feet tall, and my "other bushes" are about 6 feet tall. I also have some smaller hibiscus, but it's my big one that I'm most concerned about.

    Thanks so much!


    Since the winter's not over yet and more cold may be coming, the best thing to do right now is nothing. Wait until your shrubs start to send out new growth in the spring, and at that point, prune out the dead growth. Take the hibiscus back to its undamaged green stems; same for your other winter-burned shrubs. The good news is that the larger a plant is, the more resilient it is when zapped by cold. But admittedly, the jury's out on this one till spring.

    Best, KL

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    Name That Plant!

    Dear Doyenne,
    My grandmother got this plant from my aunt's friend without any information about the plant. In the past two years the plant has flowered twice. Each time just a single (weird) flower. We live near Detroit, Michigan so we won't be planting this plant outside. The problem is it's busting out of the plastic pot it is in. It needs to be transplanted badly. Do you have any ideas about caring for this plant?

    Thanks in advance.


    Thanks for the picture, let's hope you start a trend. So much more fun to identify plants this way. So what we've got here is Stapelia, Starfish flower, from Madagascar. Good call not to plant it outside. Do transplant it into a pot 2" bigger than the one it's in. Other than that, whatever you're doing seems to be just fine.

    Enjoy, KL

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    When Slugs Attack

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live at the Oregon coast and we fight slugs all year long. I have been composting all my kitchen scraps along with garden detritus and the bin is actually starting to work pretty good. Here's my question: Every time I take the lid off the compost bin to pour in more stuff, there are a half dozen or so slugs. I really don't want to create great compost that is laced with slug eggs! What can I do to keep the slugs out, and should I do something to the compost in the bin to treat it for slugs? Thanks, this has been bugging me!



    Don't worry too much about the slugs (I know, that isn't what you wanted to hear). After all, they are helping the process along. And those little eggs are awfully easy to squoosh. But if you're bound and determined to be rid of them, buy some Deadline or Sluggo and put it in a wine or beer bottle (that way pets can't get to it). Place the bottle on its side near the compost. That should trap most of the slugs. Another trick is to crush up eggshells throughout the compost bin. That will cut them up. Of course you could also get some slug-noshing ducks :}

    Best of luck, KL

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    Plight of the Poinsettia

    Dear Doyenne,
    Every Christmas I get several poinsettia plants from various well-meaning friends and family members. They always die by mid-January!! Is this a common problem?

    The one I got this Christmas was actually doing very well for a time. Then I foolishly bragged to my sister (after I saw her withered plant) about how nice my plant still looked. Within a couple days leaves started turning black, withering, and falling off. Within a couple weeks this had happened to all of the leaves. I finally threw out the poinsettia stems last week. I had noticed fuzzy white patches (mold!?!) in the soil after the leaves started withering. I honestly don't think I was overwatering the plant -- I gave a 7" poinsettia about a cup of water a week. However, if the dead poinsettias are indeed my fault, I am willing to accept responsibility. So, how does one keep a potted poinsettia alive in an apartment?

    Thank you,


    I like what you did with your poinsettia (that is, throw it away). It's not my favorite plant. Word on the block is that if you do want to save it next year, repot in a slighter larger pot after Xmas and trim off the "flowers" (actually, sterile bracts) so that only the green leaves remain.

    Your watering regime was perfect. The plant's a pain. Bear in mind it had been fertilized w/in an inch of its life all its life (plus zapped with off-the-charts light levels), so you've also got to maintain those addictions. Reading between the lines, read this: it wasn't your fault!


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    Perennial Bed for the Newbie

    Dear Doyenne,
    We live in a new subsivision and the only trees are small and insignifigant in terms of shade. However, we have a 6 foot privacy fence and I'd like to plant a perennial garden on the north side of it. My question is this: Should I consider this area on the north side of a privacy fence with no trees shade, partial sun, or full sun, what? I'm new to gardening and a little scared of making a mess of things.



    Your concern about making a mess of things is a handicap you must overcome! Just throw yourself into whatever you want to do and never mind the mess. You're about to embark on a learning curve that will blow your mind; the more mistakes you make, the quicker you'll learn, and the more splendid your garden will be. With that in mind... plant whatever you want in that north-facing perennial bed, which is generally bright enough for sun plants but sheltered enough for part shade. As your trees grow, the exposure will change, and whatever plants are unhappy can simply be moved. Trust me, you will be itching to move plants around once you're knee-deep in gardening.

    Enjoy, KL

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