Friday, October 14, 2011

October Garden Talks Mailbag

Hello again,

Welcome to October in Skillin's Country. Some might say that October is an "off" gardening month. Well after you read some of the Questions and Answers in this month's mailbag you may have to  rethink that. October is a great transition month. Plants coming inside. What to prune. Vegetables to grow.

So ask the Questions and we will give the Answers! "We Know" gardening!

Check back to this post often--we will date the entries and keep the more current Questions and Answers near the top.

AND we will donate $5 to the Good Shepherd Food Bank for each Question and Answer we post to this Garden Log. At 10/14 we have 15 Questions and Answers! That means $75 so keep the Questions and Answers coming!

If you have a question you would like answered just send your question to!

Question: (10/12) From Skillin's Friend Mary: "We have a weeping cherry tree that lost its weeping branches and the branches that took over don't bloom.Was it a graft? Should we wait or cut it down?

It is more than 3 years old, we (are) think(ing) the branches (may have) died as a result of the very cold winter(s)."

Answer: "Sometimes those trees have side grafts and sometimes top grafts. They are generally hardy to -15F and sometimes -20F.

Thoughts: Are the new, non-blooming branches weeping? If so, they should bloom if the winter is not too rough on the flower buds. Is the tree planted in a lawn that receives high nitrogen lawn food? That can interfere with blossom set and bud hardiness.

I would wait and see what happens next spring. The tree is given a little time, and if you decide to replace you will have many options next May/June. If your garden happens to be too cold for the weeping cherry, a weeping crabapple should work for you in its place."

Rhubarb Leaves Make Great Compost!

Question: (10/11) From Skillin's Friend Mary: "Is it alright to compost rhubarb leaves? Heard they are poisonous."

Answer: " Mary, it is absolutely fine to compost rhubarb leaves. The leaves in their pure form are toxic to humans but the toxic Oxalic acid breaks down very easily in any compost pile. So the composted leaves give plenty of organic matter to your compost."

Question: (10/10) From Skillin's Friend Roxanne: "I have a black walnut that finally produced nuts this year. It will take me a while to get the hang of harvesting, cleaning, and drying them though. My veggie garden and blueberry bushes are all within 80 feet of the dreaded drip line and I must make the decision to move the garden and bushes, according to websites I have consulted. They did not do well this season.

What advice can you impart on this loyal Skillin's gardener re preparing a new spot for both."

Answer: Congrats on the black walnut; we are excited for you. Tim and I have both looked at your email. We feel the veggie garden and blueberry bushes should be planted well beyond the 80 feet mark. We are reading the same 80 foot barrier that you are but our experience is that the black walnut can go grow roots beyond the drip line and secretions from these active roots can cause problems for your plants.

I have looked for revised distances but without much success. I think adding another 40 to 50 feet of distance would do the trick.

Be extra good about cleaning up black walnut leaves, branches and of course nuts.

As to the veggies and blueberries I would go "standard procedure" on the new location. A very sunny area--the more sun the better! Prepare the soil well with good doses of organic matter/compost. Fall is an excellent time to prepare a bed in anticipation of the coming Spring.

Question: (10/07) from Skillin's Friend Linda: "I read recently about a product called Bobbex to repel squirrels and other such animals.  I noticed that red squirrels? (or some other animals) are chewing the top of some wooden posts on our unfinished shed.  Would Bobbex be safe to use on the wood?  If not, what might you suggest I spray to deter animals from chewing. "

Answer: “You could try the Bobbex or some sort of hot pepper spray. It might prove to be a little bit of a deterrent. We do not carry Bobbex but I hear good things about it. We offer a product called Repel by Bonide which might be effective. We also offer the hot pepper spray. Jeff Skillin also suggested you employ a small Hav a Hart trap and to keep it out only during the day as that is when the Red suireels are out. They sleep at night but skunks are out at night!”

Question: (10/06) From Skillin's Friend Barbara R:  "I have had a bad season with snails and slugs; there's almost nothing they won't eat. I have used beer, Sluggo, homemade ammonia spray (You have to find them to use this) and still more bugs! My question is, is there anything I can do this Fall to prevent this onslaught next year?"

Answer: "I am not aware of anything you can do this fall to prevent the onslaught.Question: (10/05) From Skillin's Friend Barbara D: "We have a lovely cast-aluminum fountain planter that accumulates algae during the summer season in the water. A friend suggested we place copper pennies in the fountain to stop the algae. Does this remedy work?"

I pretty faithfully use Slug Magic by Bonide (similar to Sluggo) and that helps a great deal. Slugs and snails love to live in dark places—like under hosta canopies. When you apply Slug Magic make sure you put some near or under the Hosta. They almost always prefer the Slug Magic over plant material and that placement might help deter some more. “Get them where they live” during the day so to speak."

Answer: Copper pennies would work on a real limited basis—I would recommend picking up a good Pond Clearing algicide (sold at most garden centers). Besides pennies are not really copper these days, is that correct?

Question: (10/04) From Skillin's Friend Judy: "I have some bamboo growing right next to my foundation of the house who can i get rid of is impossible to dig out the roots."

Answer: Judy bamboo is very tough to get rid of. Persistence is the key.

You can not dig out the roots without strengthening the plant in the long run.

Question: (10/04) Also from Skillin's Friend Holly: "I planted a bugbane last fall, and this spring it got early growth to about 6 inches, then nothing happened all summer. Was expecting it to do more this year.  Should it next?"

Answer: "I love the bugbane--one of Mike's Must Haves. If the plant is was still looking healthy this summer and early fall despite its diminutive state then I suspect the plant was devoting more time for root growth. More roots should mean a much bigger plant next year and beyond!"

Question: (10/04) From Skillin's Friend Holly: " I know that foxglove is a biennial, but I thought when I bought a lovely, large plant from you this spring from White Flower Farm, that it would at least bloom this year.....nothing! Should it next year?"

Answer: "It should bloom next year Holly and furthermore those flowers should drop seeds which will mean a few more plants down the road."

Question: (10/03) From Real Skillin's Friend Bruce: "I have several amaryllis plants that have spent the summer outside in pots. How should I get them ready to bloom?"

Answer: "In late summer or fall bring the amaryllis indoors, reduce watering and allow the plant to die back. As the foliage dies, cut it back to the top of the bulb, remove the bulb from the pot and clean off the soil and old roots. Store the bulb in a cool (45-50 degree) dry area until mid December and then begin again! (The natural tendency of an amaryllis is to bloom in late January and well into February; this is when your amaryllis will bloom in subsequent years)."

Question: (10/02) From Real Skillin's Friend Holly: "What is your opinion on fall garden clean up for perennials? I have been advised to totally cut everything back to about an inch or two
from the ground, and then another person says to just leave it. Which do you
recommend and what would the best time do this, after the first frost?"

Answer: "As for the perennials, the rule of thumb I use is to prune back any dead or dying growth. Much growth this time of year can still in good shape. I would not prune that yet. Wait until late hard frosts have killed that growth off or prune such growth very early next year (March or so). An early Spring pruning is a neat way to stimulate the roots of your perennials to send out nice new growth. Back to this year: much of our earlier flowering material (peonies, astilbes, coneflowers) is dying off or has died off. That "worn" or "dead" growth is what I would prune. Cut everything back to fresh green growth and then look to cut more when more dead growth occurs! Also pick up and clean out any material lying on the ground. Such material will become great hiding places and incubators for next year's insects and diseases. Fallen leaves and branches should be picked up and composted."

Question: (10/02) From Real Skillin's Friend Barbara: " I have 2 miniature rose plants in pots outdoors. Can I plant them in the ground, will they come up next  Spring or summer?  Any special treatment needed ? "

Answer: "Miniature rose plants make great year round outdoor plants. I think they may be more hardy and reliable than many conventional rose plants. Plant them now and water them in very well when you do plant. Keep them well watered between now and when the ground freezes. I would also mulch them over late this fall as the ground is freezing. Pull that mulch off in early April or so."

Question: (10/01) From  Real Skillin's Friend Lois: "I have two hibiscus plants that I put outside in their pots for the summer.  They didn't produce blossoms and now they look terrible.  The leaves yellowed and fell off. There are few leaves left. I just brought them inside a week ago.  What should I do do with them.  During the winter, they did blossom. They really need a lot of something."

Answer:  Lois, great to hear from you! I am sorry about the hibiscus; here is what I would do:

First off your hibiscus need as much sun as possible through the winter. Second it is time to give them a solid, solid haircut to make a better shape. This haircutting will encourage MUCH new growth and the flowers always come from new growth.

Third, hibiscus can attract insects when outside. Next time you are here pick up a small container of Systemic Houseplant Granules by Bonide. They are easily applied and can provide weeks of protection against any harm that can come the hibiscus way.

Fourth, hibiscus love great soakings. Their roots are numerous and very fine. They drink a lot of water. So when you do water them, really soak them (think a couple of gallons at a time). Any excess water should be poured off. (Use your bath tub for convenience sake).

Fifth, hibiscus love consistent food and Miracle Gro does not do that. I recommend applying all natural fertilizer granules by a company called Dynamite (sold right here at Skillin’s!). Apply these granules every 3 months and let them work their benefits on your plants.

Lois, when that hibiscus is blooming beautifully bring me a flower!

Question: (10/01) From Real Skillin's Friend Mickey: "Please advise me when it is the best time to prune my rose of sharon bush. This year I had the most beautiful roses on it. "

Answer: Glad to hear about your great success with the rose of Sharon. The best time to give your rose of Sharon a good pruning is late this March or early in April of this coming year. Give it a haircut to a few inches BELOW where you would like to target it’s growth. That way when it flushes back it’s growth it should fill in nicely!
  It is always a good idea to give the bush a protection of mulch around the base when the ground starts to freeze. This will keep the root ball in place and ensure a great amount of flowers for you!

Many people live with a segment of bamboo and then use a herbicide like Bonide Brush Killer to keep new growth at bay. I recommend being persistent with spraying Round Up on new growth that emerges. Vigilance and attention will cause the new growth to shrink back and will actually result in less overall spraying! You still have at least a couple of more effective weeks to use the Brush Killer by Bonide (sold right here at Skillin’s).

Many gardeners also do cut back the bamboo that they want to get rid of but they do this cut back for the purposes of having the bamboo send out new tender leaves. These tender leaves are ripe for spraying because the leaves will absorb the Brush Killer rather quickly. The Brush Killer will then go onto weaken the bamboo roots.

Persistence, persistence!

Mike Skillin
October 2011

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