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Keywords: Insecticidal soap, Citrus limon, Aphids

PAL Question:

My Meyer lemon has aphids all over it and has lost its leaves! I just brought it inside for the winter. What can I do?

View Answer:

The aphids were more than likely already there, even if not enough for you to notice, and once inside the warm(er) house they multiplied. Aphids do love citrus plants. The blossoms probably fell off due to the temperature change they experienced coming indoors.

The following information was found on p. 278 of the 2001 edition of the Sunset Western Garden Book:

Citrus in containers. Fertilize monthly from midwinter to mid-autumn with high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer, containing chelated zinc, iron, and manganese. Potted citrus ... in cold-winter regions: shelter plants in winter; a cool greenhouse is best, but a basement area or garage with good bright light is satisfactory.

Many of the common products sold in nurseries or garden centers contain the trace elements listed in the Sunset info above. Also, there are specific formulations for citrus available, also carried by many nurseries and garden centers.

...Sunset Western Garden Book continued...Citrus as houseplants. No guarantee of flowering or fruiting indoors, though plants are still appealing. 'Improved Meyer' and 'Ponderosa' lemons [other citrus names omitted] are most likely to produce good fruit. Locate no farther than 6 ft. from a sunny window, away from radiators or other heat sources. Ideal humidity level is 50 percent. Increase moisture by misting tree; also ring tree with pebble-filled trays of water. Water sparingly in winter...

I grow 2 Meyer lemons and find that they do best outside until the temperature goes down into the 20s. They are pretty hardy. The aphid problem is not a problem outside until spring. If you have a sun porch at your house, that might be a great place to put the lemon in winter.

As for the aphids, Colorado State University Extension provides information on insect control using insecticidal soap. You can purchase it or make your own: 1 teaspoon of soap (the mildest you can find) per quart of water, sprayed on both sides of the leaves and on growing surfaces.

Season All Season
Date 2007-12-13
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Keywords: Winter gardening, Irrigation

PAL Question:

Can you tell me, what's the deal with watering in winter? I've heard that foundation plants which don't catch the rain under the eaves must be watered even in wintertime. Someone else says that watering anything in winter subjects it to freezing. Now I'm in a quandary. I don't want my plants to freeze to death, nor do I want them to die of dehydration. So what's the answer?

View Answer:

According to Colorado State University Extension, you do need to water if there has not been snow or rain. You should water when the temperature is above freezing and the soil is not frozen. You should water early in the day so that the water can soak in before it gets cold overnight and freezes.

Here in the Puget Sound area we do not have freezing temperatures very often so you should go ahead and water, especially those plants under the eaves.

Season Winter
Date 2007-12-13
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Keywords: Sarcococca, Soil compaction, Soil testing, Katsura

PAL Question:

I have some dying Katsura trees. I created a dry stream to one side of them to redirect water (they don’t like wet roots). The owner has put 1-2 inches compost/soil down for some good nutrition and a few tree stakes into the area. There is also landscape fabric (the gray kind rain can get through) and another inch of bark to stop a horsetail problem that creeps in every year.

I am wondering if the the soil around the tree roots has become compacted by rains and is prohibiting the trees from getting oxygen through their roots. The yellow is not in leaf veins like an iron deficiency usually looks; it is almost as if the plant is getting its chlorophyll drained from inside. No bugs present to my knowledge either. I would like to know both what I might do about the soil and about the trees.

View Answer:

Some solutions to the problem may be to take some dead branches or stems to a Master Gardener clinic and ask them to help you identify what could be happening. You may also want to check that the compost is not closer than 4 inches from the trunk of the trees. If it is, scrape it away. For further evaluation of the soil, take a sample from around the tree and send it to a lab for analysis. Our website has a Soil Testing Information section that includes a list of labs that do soil test analysis. Check the area for drainage by digging a hole and filling it with water or let the rain do it and then see how long it takes to drain away. Perhaps you have a layer of hardpan clay underneath the trees that is blocking the drainage in winter and preventing the water from getting to the roots in summer.

A great resource on Katsura trees (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) is Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia by Michael A. Dirr. The author notes that the tree “requires ample moisture in the early years of establishment.” From the book, Trees and Shrubs for Pacific Northwest Gardens, by John A. Grant and Carol L. Grant, “Katsura trees prefer deep soils and adequate summer moisture.” There is a Katsura planted in the Arboretum on the edge of a pond in soil that is permanently wet and it is doing just fine.

Season All Season
Date 2007-12-13
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Keywords: Rosa, Planting time, Planting

PAL Question:

When should I plant bare root roses?

View Answer:

The Seattle Rose Society suggests planting in March. The roses should be stored in a cool dark place if they cannot be planted right away.

Other recommendations include soaking the roots before planting (8-12 hours), and trimming off damaged or diseased roots. Try to maintain 3-5 canes per plant, and prune back to 3-5 buds per cane.

Dig a hole wide and deep enough to accommodate the roots. Make a cone-shaped mound of soil in the center of the hole to support the plant. Fill the hole 2/3 full of soil and add water to make a slurry--this gets between the roots. Do not tamp the soil. When the water drains, add more soil and repeat the water fill process until you reach the original soil surface (ground level).

Season Winter
Date 2007-12-13
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Keywords: Plant varieties, Fagus, Ornamental trees

PAL Question:

Can you give me a list of purple beech cultivars?

View Answer:

There are several Fagus sylvatica varieties with purple foliage:

'Atropunicea' (copper beech, purple beech) alt. 'Riversii' or 'Purpurea' - 50-60 feet tall, 35-45 feet wide; good in containers
'Dawyck Purple' - columnar to 70 feet tall and 15 feet wide
'Purpurea Pendula' (weeping copper beech) - usu. no more than 10 feet tall and wide; good in containers
'Red Obelisk' - columnar

Source: Western Garden Book, Sunset Publishing Corporation, 7th edition, 2001, p.347.

And from Paghat:
F.sylvatica 'Black Swan' - swan neck growth habit
F.sylvatica 'Rohani'

Season All Season
Date 2006-02-16
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Keywords: Sciadopitys verticillata, Conifers--Propagation

PAL Question:

How can I propagate a Japanese umbrella pine?

View Answer:

Peter Thompson's book, Creative Propagation (Timber Press, 2nd ed., 2005), states that Sciadopitys verticillata can be propagated by seed or by cuttings (the latter method in autumn, early winter, or early spring). Seeds will grow into the form inherited from the parent trees; cuttings vary. On page 153 of his book, Thompson says that the cuttings can be taken from almost any part of the plant, but he recommends using cuttings from the leader shoot in order to get a symmetrical tree with an upright leader.

I also found a discussion of propagation from seed on the forum of University of British Columbia Botanical Garden.

There is information on propagation which comes from the USDA Forest Service National Seed Lab's profile of Sciadopitys verticillata (no longer available online). Here is an excerpt:

"The seeds should be sown in the fall or stratified for sowing in the spring. Umbrella-pine is not easy to grow and is extremely slow-growing when propagated from seed (Halladin 1991). It has a tendency to form several leaders. Field planting has been done with 3+2 and 4+2 stock (Dallimore and Jackson 1967). Umbrella-pine can also be propagated by layers or by cuttings of half-ripened wood in summer (Bailey 1939). A nursery in Oregon propagates solely by cuttings because of faster results; Halladin (1991) describes the technique in detail."

Season All Season
Date 2006-02-16
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Keywords: Plant care, Zamioculcas, Palms

PAL Question:

What are the cultural requirements for Zamioculcas?

View Answer:

Zamioculcas is in the plant family Araceae, and its common name is the Aroid palm. According to the Sunset Western Garden Book (2007), this tropical African perennial which resembles a cycad or a palm will grow slowly to 4-5 feet high by 3-4 feet wide. Grown outdoors, it prefers partial to full shade, but indoors you should provide bright filtered light. It should be placed on a tray of moistened pebbles, and misted occasionally. During active growth, keep the soil evenly moist, and give it balanced fertilizer once a month. During the fall and winter months, do not fertilize, and only water when the top inch of soil becomes dry. In summer, the plant may be moved outside to a shady spot. All parts of this plant are poisonous.

You can find discussion among growers of Zamioculcas zamiifolia (sometimes called "the ZZ plant") on the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden Forum.

Season All Season
Date 2007-12-13
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Keywords: Native plants--Washington, Calocedrus, Quercus

PAL Question:

Is incense cedar native to Washington state? And is the Garry oak native to Kitsap County, Washington?

View Answer:

Although incense cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, grows in Washington State, it is not native. According to the Sunset Western Garden Book (2001), incense cedar is native to south and central Oregon, California, western Nevada, and northern Baja California.

The Washington Native Plant Society does not include Garry oak, Quercus garryana, on their list of plants native to Kitsap County, but this tree will grow there.

A list of plants native to Kitsap County

More information on Garry oak at this link

Both of these links are part of the Washington Native Plant Society website.

Season All Season
Date 2006-12-08
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Keywords: Petroselinum, Biennials, Herbs

PAL Question:

Is Italian parsley a perennial or a biennial?

View Answer:

The Sunset Western Garden Book says that parsley (Petroselinum species) is a biennial grown as an annual.

University of Arkansas Extension provides additional information on growing parsley, including the Italian variety, which is Petroselinum neapolitanum, and curly leaf parsley, Petroselinum crispum.

Season All Season
Date 2007-12-13
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Keywords: Flower arrangement

PAL Question:

What is the right proportion of cut flowers to create a nice arrangement in a vase? Can you give me some other suggestions about flower arranging?

View Answer:

The National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies website lets you look at selections from their journal, online. Fusion Flowers magazine also has information online.

The Miller Library also has many books about flower arranging, two of which I've listed below:
Flower Arranging from the Garden (1989), by Daphne and Sid Love
The Complete Guide to Flower Arranging (1995), by Jane Packer

Season All Season
Date 2007-06-14
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Keywords: Hummingbirds, Gardening to attract birds

PAL Question:

What do hummingbirds eat? I want to attract them to my yard.

View Answer:

According to the Hummingbird Society, hummingbirds primarily eat nectar from flowers. They also eat small insects and spiders as sources of protein. For more information on their needs, see the website of the Hummingbird Society.

The City of Bellingham has a helpful guide to attracting hummingbirds which includes a list of plants which are nectar sources. Rainyside Gardeners also has a list of nectar plants for hummingbirds in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon State University Extension's "Attract Hummingbirds to Your Garden" by J. Olson and N. Allen is also a good starting point.

The Miller Library has many books about creating a hummingbird garden, including a book published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that provides lists and descriptions of plants that attract hummingbirds, arranged by geographic region (Hummingbird Gardens, 2000, edited by Stephen W. Kress).

Season All Season
Date 2007-12-13
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Keywords: Continuing education

PAL Question:

Do you know of any correspondence courses concerning landscape design criticism and critique?

View Answer:

There is a book called North American Horticulture--A Reference Guide, compiled by the American Horticultural Society (second edition, 1992, edited by Thomas M. Barrett). The book includes a chapter on education, including correspondence courses.

Three community colleges in the Puget Sound area offer horticulture degrees, and they might know something about correspondence programs. They are Edmonds Community College Horticulture and South Seattle College Horticulture, and Lake Washington Technical College.

More colleges and universities are offering online courses now. Here are two examples :

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Periodicals

PAL Question:

Are there any gardening magazines with practical information that is specific to the Pacific Northwest?

View Answer:

There are numerous newsletters and small magazines from Northwest organizations like Seattle Tilth, Plant Amnesty, and Washington Park Arboretum. There are relatively few mainstream magazines that only discuss PNW gardening issues. Here are two which are published in British Columbia that you might try:

GardenWise (B.C.)
Gardens West (B.C.)

Feel free to come into the Miller Library and browse our periodicals collection, which includes the newsletters and magazines listed above.

The Miller Library website has many links to online resources, many of which are Pacific Northwest-specific. For example, you can find local organizations and plant societies, as well as websites specific to gardening in our region. Look at the Resources page on our website for booklists and recommended links.

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Chrysanthemum

PAL Question:

I've been trying to contact someone about growing cascading mums in the Pacific NW. I'm wondering if this region is appropriate to start a new hobby for myself. Is there a group (or individual) that you could refer me to?

View Answer:

There is a chapter of the National Chrysanthemum Society in Washington State. This link provides contact information for the WA chapter.

In my research about cascading chrysanthemums, I learned that the major species used is Chrysanthemum x morifolium, also known as Florists Chrysanthemum. According to the Sunset Western Garden Book, this type of chrysanthemum will grow in Sunset zones 2-24; Seattle is zone 5.

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Goats, Blackberries, Weed control--Pacific Northwest

PAL Question:

I am wondering about an environmentally sensitive way to get rid of blackberries. I understand that mowing them consistently for 4 years works, but unfortunately this is not an option because of the terrain. If an herbicide is our only option, can you recommend one that has minimal impact? The area is quite large - a mile long and 20 feet wide.

View Answer:

Invasive.org has produced a document entitled Controlling Himalayan Blackberry in the Pacific Northwest. It includes manual removal, shading, grazing, biological controls, and last-resort herbicide information. (We cannot recommend any specific herbicides, as we are not licensed pesticide handlers.)

The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides has information on nonchemical blackberry control.

For additional information, phone the Master Gardener's DialExtension (King County) at 206-296-3425 (or 800-325-6165, ext.6-3425) and listen to tape #1274 about removing blackberries. However, the solutions given in this tape may apply to smaller areas, rather than the larger stand you mentioned.

An interesting idea that some people are trying locally is the use of goats. This article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer mentions Healing Hooves of Spokane. There is at least one company on Vashon Island which offers this service as well. Another P-I article mentions Rent-a-Ruminant.
This document from Sound Native Plants contains contact information for several such services.

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Sustainable horticulture, Trifolium, Pisum, Vicia, Cover crops, Legumes

PAL Question:

I have two raised garden beds (8 x 12 feet) in my back yard. Recently I read somewhere that having a cover crop during our wet winter months would help decrease the leaching of nutrients and would also help bind nitrogen in the soil. Three suggested cover crops were crimson clover, Australian field peas (did they mean Austrian winter peas?), and vetch. What would you suggest? Are these good recommendations? Which might be the best?

View Answer:

Sustainable Horticulture: Today and Tomorrow (R. Poincelot, 2004, p. 372-377), says, "Cover crops, when managed as green manures, can supply considerable nitrogen for [vegetable] crops."

Legumes, like the pea and vetch you mentioned are good choices for increasing the nitrogen level in soils. (Hairy vetch, Vicia villosa, and Austrian winter pea, Pisum arvense). Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) is almost as efficient at supplying nitrogen to the soil.

Hairy Vetch supplies 33-145 lb of nitrogen per acre/year to soil, Austrian winter pea supplies 53-100 lb/acre/year, and Crimson clover supplies 19-114 lb/acre/year.

Another species you might consider as a cover crop is Fava bean (Vicia faba), which supplies 25-105 lb/acre/year.

Additional information about growing cover crops in the Pacific Northwest can be found on Ed Hume's website.

Territorial Seed Company, in Oregon, sells small quantities of cover crop seed by mail order, including Hairy vetch, Crimson Clover, and Fava Bean.

Season Fall
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Senna, Cassia, Rubus, Bible plants

PAL Question:

I am looking for more information regarding Rubus sanctus, also known as the Burning Bush at Saint Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai. I am interested in this plant because my church group is just finishing up our study of the Book of Exodus. And I thought this plant might make a really nice and symbolic gift. I am beginning to understand that this plant may be rare, or possibly known by another name?

View Answer:

The problem with English common names for plants of the Bible is that you are at several removes from knowing which plant the original Hebrew text describes. There are some sources which state that "burning bush" refers to Rubus sanctus, but it is more likely that it refers to Senna alexandrina. The Hebrew word in Exodus is sneh, which is the same as the Arabic word for the Senna plant.

Plants of the Bible by Michael Zohary (Cambridge University Press, 1982) says that "the plant in question, specifically named 'sneh,'might well have been a real plant in the local flora. As there is no hint in the text that the sneh was a thorny bush, and there are no plants in Sinai or anywhere else that are not consumed when burnt, sneh may be identified linguistically only." He also suggests that the plant may have been Cassia senna, now renamed Senna alexandrina. There is no native Rubus in Sinai, Egypt, or southern Israel, and the bramble in the monastery garden at Santa Caterina is a cultivated specimen, planted by the monks "to strengthen the belief that the 'burning bush' has grown there since the revelation, so completely is sneh equated with brambles in the minds of scholars and Bible lovers.

While Senna alexandrina may be a bit difficult to obtain, there are other species of Senna more widely available. However, if you wish to grow the Rubus you saw (now referred to as Rubus ulmifolius ssp. sanctus) as a keepsake from your trip to the monastery, you should go ahead.

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Taxus brevifolia, Poisonous plants

PAL Question:

Is our native yew tree poisonous?

View Answer:

Taxus brevifolia, Pacific or Western yew, is native here. The Sunset Western Garden Book (2001, p.628) says that Taxus fruit, seeds, and foliage are poisonous if ingested.

Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon (Lone Pine, 2004) says that "Western yew seeds are poisonous and humans should avoid the fleshy 'berries,' although a wide variety of birds consume them and disperse the seeds. The foliage is poisonous to horses and cattle."

The Plants for a Future database has more information at this link.

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Irrigation water quality

PAL Question:

Are there any adverse effects from using fluoridated water in the garden?

View Answer:

I do know that some indoor plants do better with water that is not fluoridated. There are conflicting opinions on the effects of fluoride on human health and the environment (including plants). According to this 2004 article entitled Water fluoridation and the environment by Howard Pollick in the International Journal of Occupational Health (reprinted by the Centers for Disease Control), the fluoride level in residential water (as opposed to industrial runoff) seldom rises above a level of concern for plants.

For an alternate viewpoint, see the Fluoride Action Network's website. Washington Toxics Coalition has a brief article on fluoride in drinking water in their Spring 2007 Alternatives newsletter. (Scroll down to page 8.)

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Geranium, Fertilizers

PAL Question:

What would be the best fertilizer for hardy geraniums and when?

View Answer:

Established hardy geraniums do not need much more than an application of compost in spring. Most commerical fertilizers will provide too much nitrogen, causing weak growth that flops over or needs staking. (Source: The Gardener's Guide to Growing Hardy Geraniums, by Trevor Bath, 1994)

Season All Season
Date 2006-02-26
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Keywords: Plant longevity, Osmanthus

PAL Question:

What is the lifespan of Osmanthus? A client's 20-year-old, 12 ft. tall shrubs were once a hedge that one was unable to see through, but have become a walk-through wall these past couple of years.

View Answer:

According to SelecTree, a database produced by the Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute, most Osmanthus species have a longevity of 50 up to 150 years. A plant's lifespan varies, and urban trees and shrubs tend to be subjected to more interventions in the form of pruning, pollution, damage from construction, and so on. Also, the hedge has undoubtedly become woody with age.

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Berberis, Skimmia, Leucothoe, Fatsia, Euonymus, Elaeagnus, Multipurpose shrubs, Shade-tolerant plants, Osmanthus, Aucuba, Viburnum, Prunus, Camellia, Buxus

PAL Question:

Can you suggest some shade shrubs/low trees that could be used in the bottom quarter of a huge, years-old pile of yardwaste and branches that is now a 20 foot cliff? I have started with some vinca minor in the lower part but could use some ideas of some things to plant that might get 15 feet tall, evergreen, and grow in woods/shade or sun through trees.

View Answer:

The closest list I could find to meet your needs is one of evergreen shrubs that will grow in shade:

Japanese aucuba - Aucuba japonica vars.
common boxwood - Buxus sempervirens
camellia - Camellia sp.
gilt edge silverberry - Elaeagnus x ebbingei 'Gilt Edge'
Euonymus - Euonymus fortunei radicans
Japanese aralia - Fatsia japonica
drooping Leucothoe - Leucothoe fontanesiana
Oregon grape - Mahonia aquifolium
Burmese mahonia - Mahonia lomariifolia
longleaf mahonia - Mahonia nervosa
holly leaf osmanthus - Osmanthus heterophyllus vars.
English laurel - Prunus laurocerasus 'Mount Vernon'
Japanese skimmia - Skimmia japonica
evergreen huckleberry - Vaccinium ovatum
nannyberry - Viburnum lentago

Source: The Pacific Northwest Gardener's Book of Lists, by R. & J. McNeilan, 1997, p. 46-47

Season All Season
Date 2006-07-18
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Keywords: Prunus lusitanica, Growth

PAL Question:

My customer says his Portuguese laurel which is now a 5 foot tree won't be growing any bigger. It is in the shade, but don't these get 15 feet in height?

View Answer:

SelecTree, the website of the Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute, says that Portugal Laurel will do well in sun to partial shade, and may grow up to 35 feet tall, at a rate of two feet a year.

The Sunset Western Garden Book (2001) says that a multi-trunked tree can get as large as 30 feet high and 30 feet wide. Perhaps your customer is expressing wishful thinking, and aspires to grow a shrub rather than a tree. Some people do grow it as a hedge, and clip it frequently to control its size.

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Perennials--Care and maintenance, Iris

PAL Question:

Do I leave my Siberian iris alone through the winter, then cut them back in the spring when new growth starts to show, as I've done in the past, or do I cut them back now? My neighbor has had hers cut back for months now and insists her way is best...

View Answer:

According to the book The Siberian Iris, by Currier McEwen, 1996, you should "allow leaves to remain on the plants as long as they are green and adding energy to the plant through photosynthesis. When they turn brown in the fall, cut them off as low as possible and burn them.* It is risky to add them to the compost pile, as they may carry fungal spores, insect eggs, and other disease agents.

*Or put them in your trash (in a sealed bag).

Season Fall
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Greenhouses

PAL Question:

We are currently making plans to construct a Plant Science Laboratory at our school, a community college in Seattle. The plans are to have a two greenhouses, gutter connected and providing about 1,800 square feet of space. It will be constructed on a 10,000 square feet of property near the school.

I am wondering if there are any publications that discuss the management of an educational greenhouse at the CUH library. Also, are there any newsletters, websites or other materials you are able to recommend?

View Answer:

The bulk of our books on greenhouses focus on either commercial growing or home hobbyist. We have some back issues of the journal GM Pro, also known as Greenhouse Management and Production, which has a commercial focus.

I searched the Garden Literature Index (of journals) and didn't find anything too promising on actual management. I recommend you try talking with some of your colleagues at the local colleges that have horticulture programs:

Edmonds Community College

South Seattle Community College

Lake Washington Technical College

And here is a link to a college in Ontario, Canada - Niagara College - that is doing something similar to what you describe.

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Eriobotrya japonica

PAL Question:

Will loquat trees grow here in the Puget Sound, and which varieties are best?

View Answer:

In his book Trees of Seattle (2006), local author Arthur Lee Jacobson lists a small number of loquats growing in Seattle, all of them young trees. On his website, he at least mentions the potential for fruit if the winter flowers are not killed by frost. The book From Tree to Table: Growing Backyard Fruit Trees in the Pacific Maritime Climate (Barbara Edwards, Skipstone Press, 2011) says that loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) will grow well here as an ornamental tree, but it is extremely rare for it to produce fruit in USDA hardiness zones 8a and 8b (Puget Sound). (In warmer areas--zone 9 and 10--these are some of the recommended varieties: Gold Nugget; Champagne; McBeth; Big Jim.)

The website of California Rare Fruit Growers provides general information on growing loquat.

Season All Season
Date 2013-11-14
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Keywords: Pteridium aquilinum, Perennials--Care and maintenance, Ferns--Washington

PAL Question:

My question has to do with the fall/winter foliage of bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum). A friend trimmed the bracken to the ground. Will the bracken grow back next spring? This led to other questions. Does bracken lose only its leaves in the winter or does the entire plant die off? Does it spread through its roots or spores? Any information you have would be appreciated.

View Answer:

Bracken is deciduous, that is, the fronds die to the ground in winter and then regrow from the rhizomes in the spring. If your friend cut her bracken down to the ground late in the year there would be no problem. Even if it was earlier in the year, the bracken would probably survive. According to the fern books I read, people have tried mowing to remove their bracken with no success. The books also warn that bracken is very invasive and not recommended for small gardens. It spreads by underground rhizomes, maybe by spores as well, and can take over a large space in a very short time.

It might be a good idea to take a look at some pictures either in books or online (just enter the name in Google and select Images above the search box) to make sure this is what your friend has. Any deciduous fern (and even some evergreen ferns) can be cut to the ground in fall, but generally it is better to wait until the new fronds appear in spring to cut out the old fronds of evergreen ferns.

The USDA Plants Database provides further information.

Sources consulted:
The Plantfinder's Guide to Garden Ferns (by Martin Rickard, 2000)
Ferns to Know and Grow (by F. Gordon Foster, 1984)

Season Fall
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Calamagrostis, Melica, Elymus, Bromus, Festuca, Native plants--Care and maintenance, Ornamental grasses, Drought-tolerant plants

PAL Question:

I am looking for a native, drought-tolerant grass for a small garden plot in Seattle. Can you suggest a grass that is 2-3 feet tall and at most 2 feet wide.

View Answer:

Native grasses that will do well in a dry meadow setting and grow 2-3 feet tall are:

Festuca idahoensis, Idaho fescue
Bromus carinatus and Bromus marginatus, brome grasses
Elymus glaucus, wild rye grass
Melica species, onion grasses
Calamagrostis nutkaensis, Pacific reedgrass

Each of these grasses grow in very distinct shapes--I recommend that you look at them before choosing which species to plant. Fescues are popular grasses for gardens because of their fine blades and pretty seed heads. Additionally, the Elymus and Bromus will grow much more quickly than the other species.

You can perform searches on each of these species at the USDA Plants Database by typing the plant name into the Plants Name search box--
this database will give you additional information about the species and some pictures.

The Washington Native Plant Society website has a list of native plant vendors.

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Calathea, House plants

PAL Question:

How do I care for Calathea zebrina?

View Answer:

The webpages (no longer available) of Plant of the Week have information about Calathea zebrina (zebra plant, native to Brazil):
"For the home or greenhouse. Plants reach 3 feet in containers. Leaves emerge from basal rosettes and may reach 2 feet long by 1 foot wide. Calathea zebrina need shade and temperatures above 55°, but they need good light for a good, rich leaf color...use a soil mix consisting of 2 parts peat moss to 1 part loam to 2 parts sand or perlite. Good drainage is necessary or the plant will stagnate, which is a common problem. The plants should be kept moist at all times and leaves should be misted often. Fertilize every 2 weeks during the growing season and once a month during the winter months. Repot as often as necessary to avoid root bound conditions."

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-03
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Keywords: Trachelospermum, Landscaping drain fields, Camellia

PAL Question:

Here is the situation: I have six inches between the cement wall and the septic drain field. I want a green screen between myself and the neighbors on the other side of the short cement wall. What can I grow that will give me a green screen and not invade the septic system pipes? All I can think of is some sort of climbing vine, but I am not familiar with which root systems could be a problem.

View Answer:

You have a real challenge with your situation. Most of the literature says that you should not plant any large shrub or tree within 30 feet of a septic system drain field.

Roots growing into the drain field is a serious concern. They recommend consulting an expert if you do want to plant near a drain field.

Instead, you might consider installing an attractive fence and/or using containers to grow plants in. For example, Camellias can be grown on a trellis from a container. They are evergreen, and will also flower. Another vine-like plant is star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides. It is evergreen with fragrant white flowers.

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Date 2007-04-10
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June 24 2013 12:55:25