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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 the Doyenne has already answered. Good clean fun for the whole family.

This week's questions:

  • Poison Ivy Eradication
  • Bloomless Climbing Hydrangea
  • Repel The Deer!
  • Pruning Ceanothus
  • Overwatered Avocado Tree
  • New Hampshire Living Fence
  • Wild Roses On Long Island
  • Morth Orchid

    Poison Ivy Eradication

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Marlborough, MA (30 Miles east of Boston, zone 5-6). My problem is severe allergic reaction to poison oak and ivy. I have been systematically pulling out the poison plants, which commingle with the desirable plants, each spring. I don't use chemical poisons (I'm a native Northern Californian) preferring to pull them out, roots and all as best I can. I do this after a rain, slathered in "Ivy Block", rubber gloves, garden gloves, long sleeves and pants all covered by a disposable haz. mat. suit and wellies. My questions are these: When I am finally rid of the visibly growing poisonous plants, how long will it be before I can get into my garden with just a spade and a smile? Will the dead roots carry the poisoned oils for 100 years? Any suggestions that would make my quest simpler?


    I'm starting to get a lot of poison ivy questions and despite the fact that I hate myself for doing it, I continue to recommend Roundup. The problem is that even conscientious hand-pulling doesn't do the trick. When you pull the ivy, only individual stems come out (as you no doubt know); the woody rhizomes are left underground. They will continue to resprout as long as any portion of the "megaplant" (all the individuals connected through the rhizome system) is above ground and sending sugars to the roots.

    I appreciate your organic approach and I applaud it and I encourage you to find other more safe, aggressive means of iradicating the ivy (perhaps you could inquire at Garden in The Woods?). But short of digging up the entire area and disposing of it, consider a modified use of Roundup: Cut the ivy stems back to about 4 inches above ground, mix up the herbicide and put it in one of those plastic bottles with a sponge top used for moistening envelopes, and paint the cut surface of the stem. Obviously, you'll be handling the plant, but it seems you've adjusted to doing that.

    Best time for this final, drastic approach is after flowering, when reserves will be shunted back to the roots (as opposed to the leaves and flowers). Keep me posted, particularly if you've come up with alternatives.

    All the best, KL

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    Bloomless Climbing Hydrangea

    Dear Doyenne,
    I planted a climbing hydrangea in 1995 under an oak tree and it still hasn't bloomed. I know they are slow to bloom, but six years? The vines are climbing the tree nicely, but not rampantly; they are also spreading on the ground. Last fall and again this spring I fed it super phosphate. Suggestions?

    Thank you.

    I'm at a disadvantage here because I don't know where you garden, and don't have a handle on how much sun and water your vine is getting. I've seen hydrangeas on big trees in the Maryland area and they did well, though they certainly had a fair amount of sun. The lack of flowering could be a result of too dense shade and/or soil that is too alkaline. See what you can do about providing the vine with more light (pruning the tree, perhaps), test the soil and acidify if necessary, and if all else fails -- though this isn't the solution you're hoping for -- move the vine to more sun.

    Hope this helps, KL

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    Repel The Deer!

    Dear Doyenne,
    We need help with keeping deer away from our plants. They have feasted on our roses, day lilys and hostas this week. I've heard spreading human hair around the plant will help. Could that be true? If so, how much should be spread? Are there any other methods we might employ?

    Keep up the great work!

    If you're not using 6' fencing around your property, you're going to have to make some informed decisions about what/what not to grow. Daylilies, hostas, roses, and tulips are all plants deer adore; I dare say those are their absolute favorite garden plants (along with hollyhocks, impatiens, coneflowers, peonies - somebody stop me!).

    Whether it's the hair thing or the soap thing or the urine thing, the point is that the deer are hungry and the deer are here to stay. There are any number of websites offering any number of solutions, ranging from barriers to plants to scents and sounds. A simple search "deer in gardens" will bring you to quite a few useful links; if nothing else, you will not feel quite so alone!

    Finally, I'm including below a letter from a listener that doesn't work for me, but may work for you.

    Best, KL

    Dear Ketzel,
    As gardeners and garden writers, we all know what a huge problem deer have become. Recently a friend in Sweden sent us a recipe for an anti-deer formula. They said this has been used successfully for three summers at Sweden's famous Rosendal garden.

    We're not sure anything will work against voracious American deer, but we thought it was worth passing along. One interesting aspect of this idea is the use of florists' oasis to keep the treatment fresh.

    Swedish Skewers -- Deer-Repellent Cubes:
    Mix 2.5 lbs of bloodmeal into one bucket of water. Add 1 cup of ammonia.

    Place cubes of green Oasis (the kind used for cut flowers) on bamboo stakes or skewers. Dip the oasis into the above "soup" -- until saturated. (Somewhat like making Fondue!)

    Place the Skewered Cube Stakes strategically throughout your garden, hosta patch or naturalized bulb plantings -- or wherever deer are problematic. Re-dip the cubes weekly to resaturate.

    That's it. We hear it works.


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    Pruning Ceanothus

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in NE Portland and I planted 2 ceanothus after reading a profile that you did for The Oregonian Home and Garden Section (EDITOR'S NOTE: Ketzel's article on the California lilac is included in her book,
    Plant This!)

    After 2 years they are getting to a perfect size. However, I think I might eventually have a case of right plant wrong location because I'm not sure I want them to get much taller. Would they be OK with a little pruning? And, if so, when should I prune them?

    Also, if they don't like to be pruned, do you think they would mind being moved around a little in October if I stick to the requirements in your October tip?



    I hope you haven't hacked our friends back just yet!

    You can certainly prune Ceanothus but there is a bit of a trick. First of all never prune any stems that are larger than 1/4" wide. Instead prune the very tips of each branch back to where you want it to be. And, since ceanothus bloom on 'new' wood, this should provide you with an even more spectacular show next year. Prune after the plants are through flowering; at that time you can also remove the spent flower spikes which will also help it look less wild.

    As for moving a ceanothus, they are generally not very long lived (7-15) years and they have very large root systems which makes moving them difficult. Best to just start with a new one since they grow so fast. However, if you did want to risk it, know that it prefers to be transplanted at the hottest times of the year (mid-July to Mid-August), when temperatures are in the 80's or 90's- one of the few exceptions to the move-it-in-October rule.

    Enjoy! KL

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    Overwatered Avocado Tree

    Dear Doyenne,
    Where can we find some expert Avocado Tree doctor advice to explain and prescribe regarding red and dead leaves on a 40 foot tall avocado tree in Berkeley, California that may have been over-watered during one long day a little over a year ago? The tree was healthy and bearing before the watering.

    Thank you,

    Avocados are very susceptible to root rot. Consequently, overwatering can make a perfect soil environment for fungal pathogens to flourish. A 40' avacado should be very tolerant of drought. I'd just leave it alone and see how it does through the drier summer months. BTW, it is normal for avacodos to shed some leaves from their interior. Things may not be as scary as they seem.

    Best, KL

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    New Hampshire Living Fence

    Dear Doyenne,
    I need a plant, a whole row of them actually, to create a fence in New Hampshire that will be about 8-12 feet high and 30 feet long. The perfect plant would be evergreen, but not necessarily needle bearing, grow to 10 feet overnight and stop, and have lush, dense foliage. I currently have a hedge there made of weedy maples that look terrible, though they do function well in the summer.

    Got any advice?

    The first plant that comes to mind was Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). It can be easily topped, sheared, snipped, etc and will stay at a managable height. It also grows fairly fast, provided kind growing conditions (even moisture to begin, part sun, good air circulation). I'd check around the better nurseries to see if there's a small-ish selection out there (I'm out of the hemlock loop, we don't use it nearly as much out here). If not, I can't imagine you wouldn't enjoy the straight species.

    Oh, one caveat: wooly adelgid. Check locally and see how bad the infestations are on hemlock, and decide whether or not you're going to have to do some preventative maintenance (dormant oil spraying early spring).

    Enjoy, KL

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    Wild Roses On Long Island

    Dear Doyenne,
    Is Rosa glauca the rose that grows wild along the beaches and other ares on the east end of Long Island NY? If so, can it be purchased or started from a cutting? I live on the pine barrens and it seems that this beauty would do quite well. Also, there is a wild rose that grows all around out here... it's a vine or bush with very fragrant white clusters of 1/2" roses with yellow stamens. How can I get this in my garden?

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    I haven't seen the beach roses blooming on the east end of Long Island, but it's a safe bet they're not
    Rosa glauca. You'll need to purchase this blue-leaved rose at one of the better local nurseries. I'd just call around or, if no luck, check on-line; there are ample mail order nurseries on the East Coast that carry it. Regarding your wild rose, my lack of familiarity with what's blooming in your neighborhood prevents me providing an i.d.; the most common runaway rose is R. multiflora, a notorious pest and not something you'd want to cultivate at home. Best to take cuttings and bring it into a local nursery for identification.

    Best, KL

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    Morth Orchid

    Dear Doyenne,
    I have a somewhat mature moth orchid, which for years now has a yearly cycle as follows: produces two leaves, sends up a flower shoot, the flower shoot produces wonderful orchids, the shoot dies, which is followed by the production of two new leaves. However, this cycle I got my usual two new leaves, but I now have in place of a flower shoot, two new leaves growing out of the side of the plant which appear to be the start of a new plant. There also appears to be a shoot also growing on the side with the leaves, but I am not sure if it is a flower shoot or a root. Is my plant trying to form a new plant, and should I allow it to do this?


    Lucky you! Your orchid is so happy it's expanding. Sounds like you can do one of two things. Either allow it to set the new rosette of leaves, and chances are you will get more than one spike of flowers per year. Or, you can detach the side shoot and pot it up and then you have two plants. Either way what you are doing is correct and you have succeeded at growing a very tough plant.

    Congrats, KL

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