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PAL Questions: 828 - Garden Tools: 345 - Recommended Websites: 680

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Keywords: Cornus florida, Trees--Diseases and pests, Master gardeners

PAL Question:

I have a couple of dogwood trees, both are about 40 years old. In the front yard is a pink dogwood approx 25 ft tall and in the backyard a white one, approx 50 ft tall. Each year in the spring for the past few years the leaves have been browning and falling off the white one. Now the pink one is beginning to develop the same symptoms. Is there anything I can do?

View Answer:

Thank you for your question about Dogwoods. There are several possible causes of leaf drop in Dogwoods. Below, please find referral information for the Master Gardeners and two websites that contain information about pests and diseases of Dogwoods and methods used to control them.

To know for sure what is causing leaf drop in your trees, you may wish to consider bringing a bagged sample of the leaves to the Master Gardeners Diagnostic Clinic here at the Center for Urban Horticulture or another of the many Clinic locations. For Clinic locations and hours in your area, please go to the King County Cooperative Extension website and scroll down to the Seattle Clinics section. Here is the web address: http://king.wsu.edu/gardening/PlantClinics.html.

The University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Integrated Pest Management Series on Dogwoods offers an extensive list of pests and diseases that prey on Dogwoods. Go to http://plantdiagnostics.umd.edu/index.cfm and search for "Dogwood." The page includes pictures as well.

You mentioned that the leaves of your trees turn brown and then drop. These symptoms are commonly found when Dogwoods have been attacked by Anthracnose. The Washington State University Cooperative Extension’s "Dogwood Anthracnose" page may be of use in helping you determine whether your trees have this disease.

Hopefully, this information will get you started. If you would like more information or have any other questions, please be sure and let us know.

I hope that your trees recover!

Season Spring
Date 2008-01-31
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Keywords: Whiteflies, Helleborus, Disease-resistant plants

PAL Question:

I have a white fly infestation on Helleborus. Is there any natural control (Rodale recommends tobacco tea) -- anything less labor intensive?

View Answer:

According to The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control, edited by Barbara Ellis (Rodale Press, 1996), whitefly can be controlled in the following ways:
- Catch adults on yellow sticky traps.
- Vacuum adults from leaves.
- Attract parasitic wasps and predatory beetles.
- Spray with insecticidal soap, kinoprene (Enstar) or garlic oil.
- Last resort: spray with pyrethrin.

Season Summer
Date 2006-08-11
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Keywords: Pruning trees, Magnolia

PAL Question:

I have a Magnolia tree that is planted next to our house. This year, there were not very many blooms and the tree is getting rather bushy-looking. When is the best time to prune it and how much can be pruned?

View Answer:

According to the American Horticultural Society's book, Pruning and Training by Christopher Brickell (DK Publishing, 1996), mature Magnolias should not be pruned unless it is essential. Many species will bleed from pruning wounds, and should only be pruned from summer to before midwinter. Summer-blooming Magnolias can be carefully pruned to reduce size by removing selected branches. The book Pruning: A Practical Guide by Peter McHoy (Abbeville Press, 1993) recommends doing this in late fall or early winter.
Below is a link to an interesting discussion on the how's and why's of pruning a Magnolia, from University of British Columbia Botanical Garden's online forum.

Season Summer
Date 2008-01-31
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Keywords: Sawflies, Ribes, Disease-resistant plants, Master gardeners, Fruit--Diseases and pests

PAL Question:

We moved into a new house which has a large currant or gooseberry bush. Now that it has leafed out there are numerous caterpillars eating the leaves. I know they are not tent caterpillars, but I cannot identify them. They are whitish-green with yellow bands across the top and bottom, with many black dots or bumps. The head and first six legs are black. It would be nice to learn more about them.

View Answer:

I cannot make a conclusive pest identification remotely, but there is a possibility these caterpillars are currant sawfly, or imported currantworm. Here is some information about this pest from Colorado State University Extension.

If this pest is the culprit, the book, The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control edited by Barbara Ellis (Rodale Press, 1996) recommends using Pyrethrin spray, spraying into the center of the bush.

For a definitive pest identification, you may want to bring a sample of the pest and its damage to a Master Gardener Clinic. Using the following link, you can locate a Master Gardener Clinic in your part of Washington State.

Season Summer
Date 2008-01-31
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Keywords: Picea, Trees in cities, Trees--Care and maintenance

PAL Question:

We just moved into a new house that has a beautiful 20-foot-tall Colorado blue spruce planted too close to the house. Can it be topped and shaped so it could be left in that spot? If we wanted to remove it and plant it somewhere else could we do that? Or will it just die anyway? What to do?

View Answer:

I would not recommend topping the tree. Since this tree can reach mature heights of 30 to 60 feet or more, it may not be the right tree for the site. Here is a page about Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) from University of Illinois Extension's Selecting Trees For Your Home.

Here is information from a local organization, Plant Amnesty, on why topping trees is not a good solution to your landscaping problem.

This organization has an "Adopt-a-Plant" service, if you think you would like to give the tree away. There are also referral services available from Plant Amnesty if you need the tree removed or moved to another location. You could also contact a certified arborist through the International Society for Arboriculture

I would suggest looking at resources like Great Plant Picks, which lists trees and shrubs which will do well in our area, and includes information on their growth habits and ultimate size at maturity.

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-31
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Keywords: Apples--Diseases and pests, Malus domestica

PAL Question:

I have a question regarding apple trees and the caterpillars. We have a great apple tree, that I have just noticed has the early nest of these crazy caterpillars that we get around here. Can you help me with the most effective way to get rid of these things before they hatch and start eating our tree???? Is spraying ok for the fruit??

View Answer:

It is possible that your apple tree has an infestation of tent caterpillars, but without seeing the pests, I could not say definitively. If this is what you have, the information below from Washington State University Extension should be of use. (click Common Insects & Mites, then Tent Caterpillar)

Also, check out Washington Toxics Coalition's page on managing tent caterpillars. You should be able to prune out the affected part of the tree and dispose of the nest.

Season Summer
Date 2006-12-08
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Keywords: Hardy plants, Alstroemeria

PAL Question:

Is there a list of the more cold hardy Alstroemerias?

View Answer:

Here is some general information on Alstroemeria from North Carolina State University Extension, which indicates they are generally hardy to 23 degrees.

The Royal Horticultural Society's A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, edited by Christopher Brickell (DK PUblishing, 1996) says Alstroemeria aurea and A. ligtu and their hybrids are able to tolerate brief drops in temperature to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Season All Season
Date 2006-12-08
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Keywords: Vegetable gardening, Potatoes

PAL Question:

I would like to know how to grow potatoes; how/where best to plant, type of soil, sun/shade requirements, how to tend them, how much fertilizer, when to harvest. I would really like a step-by-step process.

View Answer:

I recommend the book, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon (Sasquatch Books, 2007, 6th edition).

The author says it is important to maintain loose soil around the forming tubers so they can expand well. He recommends planting when all danger of frost is past. Your main crop should go in between May 15 and June 1. Plant the seeds in rows 4 feet apart, dropping seeds one foot apart in the row. Your soil should be open, fertile, and moist below the growing row, and very loose, airy and dryish above and around the forming tubers. Cover seed just barely with well-tilled fertile soil, and then gradually hill up a mixture of soil, compost, and decaying vegetation over the growing vines. This cover should remain loose until harvest time. The ideal planting spot is where fava beans have overwintered and been tilled in shallowly. At planting time, sprinkle complete organic fertilizer in a foot-wide band down each future row. Broadcast a half-inch layer of compost over the row.

Seed potatoes should be free of viruses, which means you should purchase certified seeds. The best are "single drops," small potatoes of about 2 ounces each.

When vines appear, they begin rapid growth. When they are 4 inches high, hill them up by using a hoe and scraping a little soil up around the vines. Repeat this process weekly for the first 2 months, and by midsummer you will have continuous mounds about one foot high and 18 inches wide. Vines will begin to fall across the mounds. Now just handpull any weeds, and avoid disturbing the soil.

Varieties recommended are Yellow Finns, Nooksack Cascadian, Red Gold, Caribe, and Kennebec.

Here is some additional growing information from University of California at Santa Cruz's Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.

Season Spring
Date 2006-08-11
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Keywords: Shrubs--Care and maintenance, Syringa, Transplanting

PAL Question:

I have a dark purple lilac tree growing on the north side of my home. It does not get a lot of sunlight. I am wondering about replanting it somewhere else in the yard. When can I do this?

View Answer:

Lilacs should be able to tolerate moderate shade, according to The Plant Care Manual by Stefan Buczacki (Crown Publishers, 1993). You can move it to a sunnier location to see if it will thrive there.

The best time to transplant a lilac is before it leafs out (late winter, when it is dormant) but apparently they are somewhat tolerant of being moved at less-than-ideal times. The University of British Columbia Botanical Garden discussion forum also recommends transplanting lilacs in dormancy, and offers links to additional information. Blooming should not be affected, unless your bush is already leafed out and in bud.

Season All Season
Date 2006-08-11
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Keywords: Prunus lusitanica, Soil testing, Soil amendments

PAL Question:

Some of my Prunus lusitanica (Portugal laurel) shrubs are changing the color of the foliage and stems. Normally the leaves should be dark green and the stems are a dark cranberry red. The soil here at the coast is very sandy. I have put composted manure (the type from bags), fertilized them, and added a bit of lime to the soil around the trunk and close to the root zone. I have not seen much of a response. Do you know what is the optimal pH for Prunus lusitanica? I am concerned about these shrubs because I just planted them last summer.

View Answer:

Prunus lusitanica tolerates a wide variety of pH and moisture levels in soils. See California Department of Forestry Selectree webpage about this plant.

According to the webpage of a local Seattle garden writer, the leaves do change color slightly, acquiring a bluish tinge in late fall to winter. She also says that Prunus lusitanica does not like wet feet.

What colors are the leaves turning? You might consider testing the soil, to make sure things are not out of balance. Here is a link to the Miller Library website's links about soil testing.

Is it possible that the bagged manure was still hot, that is, not fully aged? If so, that could cause problems.

You might also bring in photographs or sample leaves to a Master Gardener Clinic for diagnosis. You can locate a Master Gardener Clinic within Washington State at this website.

Season Summer
Date 2006-12-08
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Keywords: Jasminum, House plants

PAL Question:

How can I find out about the best way to care for a jasmine plant indoors. The plant is without a species name and I know there are many types of jasmine. Mine has rather robust leaves, and is an active "entwiner". The flowers are white and about the size of a nickel.

View Answer:

The Houseplant Encyclopedia by Ingrid Jantra (Firefly Books, 1997) says that Jasminum likes a full sun, airy location, and should be taken outdoors in summer. During the winter it prefers temperatures of 46-50 degrees Fahrenheit. In summer, keep the root ball moist, and feed every two weeks. In winter, water just enough to keep the plant from drying out. If it is kept in too warm a spot in winter, it may be susceptible to aphids.

Here is some information from British gardener Alan Titchmarsh:

    Indoor jasmine

  • Flower time up to 6 weeks
  • Which room? east or west window, south in winter
  • Temperature max 15C (60F), min 4C (40F), humid

The house plant jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) bears loose sprays of delightfully fragrant flowers. It is an ideal plant for a cool conservatory or porch which is kept frost free during the winter months. Otherwise, keep it on a well-lit windowsill. Jasmines like a moist atmosphere so mist the leaves regularly and stand the pot on a tray of moist gravel. They are vigorous climbers, so you will need to prune them to keep them small or provide a larger support in subsequent years.

Here is a link to some general information on caring for jasmine plants, from the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Season All Season
Date 2006-08-24
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Keywords: Control of wildlife pests, Thuja plicata

PAL Question:

I have a medium size cedar in my yard. Squirrels have been stripping the bark off - it is reddish and seems to come off fairly easily in flexible strips a few to several inches long. I wonder if I should be concerned about this affecting the health of the tree and if so what I should do to protect it.

View Answer:

It is possible that the bark-stripping may cause lasting damage to your cedar tree. Here is a document on managing squirrel damage from the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. Here is an excerpt:
"The location of bark damage on a tree varies among tree species and is probably related to the ease of bark removal and bark thickness, and hence to the growth characteristics of different species. Basal damage (within 1 m of the ground)is the most common type of damage in beech (Fagus sylvatica). Crown damage frequently occurs in the main canopy of oaks and many conifers, while stem damage usually occurs between the base and canopy in, for example, sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), beech, birch (Betula spp.), larch (Larix spp.), and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). [...] Crown damage affects the growth and appearance of the tree; severe crown damage kills it. Damage to the base and stem is cumulative occurring over a number of years. Wounds tend to callous over, hiding the damage until the tree is felled. Trees girdled by excessive stem or basal damage will die."

There are various methods of discouraging squirrels, but nothing is a fail-safe approach. The book, Outwitting Critters, by Bill Adler, Jr. (HarperPerennial, 1992) suggests dried blood fertilizer, ultrasonic devices, or live-trapping with peanut butter and small fruit as bait.

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife's website has a page which includes suggestions on how to protect trees from squirrels.

Season All Season
Date 2006-08-24
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Keywords: Iberis sempervirens

PAL Question:

I have noticed Candytuft spreading to different places in my yard. Is it considered an invasive or is it okay?

View Answer:

Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) is not normally considered invasive. It may be especially happy with the conditions in your garden, and it should be fine to continue growing it, unless you dislike its proliferation.

Here is an information page about this plant from the Missouri Botanical Garden website. Note that it says: "Stems may root where they touch the ground creating new plants which can be left as is or transplanted to other areas."

Season All Season
Date 2006-08-24
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Keywords: Failure to fruit, Vaccinium, Plum, Prunus

PAL Question:

We have three blueberry bushes of different varieties that have been bearing just fine over the last several years. This year one of them bloomed heavily and looks like it's generating a good crop. The other two only had a few flowers. What could account for this? Is there anything we should be doing to encourage blooming and fruiting?

I am also wondering when we will ever see fruit on the Italian Prune tree I planted several years ago. It was already pretty big when we bought it, and now it is about 2 inches caliper near the base and is about 12 feet tall. Is there anything we can do to encourage some fruit on this? I do not even remember seeing it bloom this year. Could it have something to do with the weather patterns?

View Answer:

One problem might be a lack of bees. This information from Skagit County Master Gardeners offers some other reasons, such as Botrytis blossom blight, and blueberry shock virus.

Here is a page from Oregon State University which has some good general information on growing blueberries .

Is it possible that the blueberries have become dense and twiggy? If they are not pruned, they may become unproductive. The information below is from University of Florida Cooperative Extension:

Pruning mature blueberry plants is largely a matter of cane removal or cane thinning. The objective of pruning mature bushes is to stimulate the proper balance of vegetative and reproductive growth, and limit plant size. Pruning stimulates the development of new canes which are more productive than older canes. A general rule is to remove about 1/4 to 1/5 of the oldest canes each year (usually one to three of the oldest canes). This will result in continuous cane renewal so that no cane is more than three or four years old. Pruning to reduce the number of flower buds may also be required on some southern highbush cultivars which set heavy crops such as 'Misty'. Flowers should always be removed from one and two-year-old plants by pruning or rubbing them off before fruit set occurs. Most pruning is usually done immediately after harvest during the early summer. Removal of some of the flowers buds to adjust the crop load is usually done during the late winter just before growth begins.

As for the Italian prune, a plum tree may not begin to bear until it is 3 to 6 years old.

You may also want to visit a Master Gardener Clinic with your questions. You can locate a Master Gardener Clinic within King County on this website.

Season Spring
Date 2007-04-03
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Keywords: Woody plant cuttings, Propagation, Salix

PAL Question:

I know you can plant willows from cuttings, but what about weeping willow trees? Can they be grown from a cutting (by an amateur)? If so, how?

View Answer:

Following is a suggestion from American Horticultural Society Plant Propagation, ed. by A. Toogood, 1999, p. 89.
"The most reliable method for propagating weeping willow (Salix babylonica) is by cuttings. Hardwood cuttings of vigorous willows may be as long as 6 feet and planted out immediately to mature faster than standard 8 inch cuttings. Take cuttings in late autumn from new, fully hardened wood that does not need to be very woody. Line them out in open ground, pot them, or place them in bundles in a frost-free sandbed to root. Select those in active growth in spring to pot…. Cuttings may also be taken of green or semi-ripe wood. "

Here is additional information from a British nursery called JPR Environmental:
"The best way to propagate weeping willows is first to find a mature tree that you like the look of and then go and ask the owner if you could take a small branch from it in the winter (most are happy to oblige and will tell you about their tree in great detail!).
"Once a source has been identified then look to prepare the ground. Make sure that the site is not near the house and not near any old water pipes etc. - it would be a shame to have to cut it down just when it is getting a good size. A site near water is good, willows like moist soil but do not do well in soil that is waterlogged for long periods. Dig a square pit say 18 inches wide and deep. Break up the soil and add some compost if the soil structure needs it.
"Now is the time to take a cutting. The best time of year is whenever the leaves are off the tree with the optimum being February to early March - so long as there is not a hard frost on the ground. The branch should be between 1 and 2 inches at the base and not more than 6 feet tall. Plant it in the hole that you have made, firming up the soil so that you cannot pull the branch out. If you are in a windy site it may be worth staking the tree and a rabbit guard will protect it from grazing in the first year or so."

Season Fall
Date 2008-01-31
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Keywords: Ficus carica, Fruit ripening

PAL Question:

The house that we purchased and moved into last spring came complete with a gorgeous, huge fig tree. It is currently full of gorgeous, huge figs, all rock-hard. It is planted against a south-facing wall, so it gets lots of reflected heat, but of course that is diminishing by the day.

So two questions:
1) Is there anything we can do to encourage at least a few figs to ripen before it is too late and
2) Is there anything worth doing with under-ripe figs?

View Answer:

I found information originally published in the summer 2009 issue of Edible Toronto about ways to increase the chances of figs ripening on the tree in cooler climates. In an article entitled "Fig Fetishists in Ontario," author Steven Biggs says:
"The real secret to coaxing the fruit to ripen in our climate is to gain a few days of ripening time. Ferreira shows me a couple of trees over which he's draped clear plastic bags. This creates a warm microclimate around the tree, helping it to come out of dormancy more quickly. Once the current year's growth is underway and figs are forming, another trick is to break off the tip of the branch, leaving four leaves on the current year's growth.
What's Ferreira's big secret? Extra virgin olive oil. In the first week of September, he looks for figs that don't seem as if they will ripen be­fore winter, and puts a drop of extra virgin olive oil on the eye. After six or seven days, he repeats the step. While this doesn't work on all of the fruit, he says, it helps some to ripen."

Most sources warn against using unripe figs. Not only would they not be tasty, but according to the Purdue University's New Crop Resource, "the latex of the unripe fruits and of any part of the tree may be severely irritating to the skin [...]It is an occupational hazard not only to fig harvesters and packers but also to workers in food industries, and to those who employ the latex to treat skin diseases."

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-31
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Keywords: Prunus mume, Prunus

PAL Question:

I would like to know how well the following trees will do in the Seattle area ?
(1)Prunus mume var. 'Matsubara Red'
(2)Prunus 'Kiku-shidare-zakura'

View Answer:

Both species you mention should do well in the Seattle area. Prunus 'Kiku-shidare-zakura' is described in Arthur Lee Jacobson's Trees of Seattle (2006). Its other common name is 'Cheal's Weeping Cherry.' The Japanese name means "weeping chrysanthemum cherry." Its form is arching and weeping from the point where it has been top-grafted. According to Jacobson, the tree tends to be gawky and a bit sparse, but the flowers are very double. It is common in Seattle.

Prunus mume is also listed in Jacobson's book. This tree and its cultivars (such as 'Matsubara Red') are less common in Seattle. You might be able to see examples in the Seattle Japanese Garden, the Kubota Garden, or Seattle Chinese Garden.

Because the common name of Prunus mume is Japanese apricot, there is sometimes confusion between Japanese flowering cherries and apricots. Prunus mume does produce fruit, but they are small and "bland to somewhat bitter," and in Japanese cuisine they are preserved in salt and used as a condiment (Umeboshi plum). The more familiar fruiting apricot tree is actually Prunus armeniaca (and its cultivars).

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-31
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Keywords: Salad greens, Edible greens

PAL Question:

Is it safe to boil or steam French frisée lettuce (as one would with spinach and chard)? Does cooking the lettuce this way make it poisonous or inedible?

View Answer:

Frisée lettuce (Cichorium endivia) is not actually a lettuce, as this link from Yuma County (Arizona) Cooperative Extension says, but a leafy green related to endive and chicory. It is sometimes called curly endive, French endive, or escarole. There are at least 18 varieties. Leaves are eaten raw in salads, boiled, steamed, sautéed, braised, or cooked in soups and stews….The mature plants are sometimes blanched before harvesting to reduce the bitter flavor. In Java, they are pickled in brine.
Source: Cornucopia II; A Source Book of Edible Plants, by S. Facciola, 1998, p. 190, 362—363.

Frisée (confusingly called French endive by some) is almost a miniature version of curly endive or perhaps is more like the inner portion or heart of that plant. The outer leaves of frisée are light green to yellow, and the yellowing continues inside and becomes white at the center with a lace-like pattern with a milder taste than that of curly endive.
Source:
http://www.tonytantillo.com/vegetables/chicory.html

Frisée: A great little lettuce that is part of the chicory family. It is lacy and pleasantly bitter. As the lettuce grows, each head is tied up so that the sun does not penetrate the center of the lettuce as it finishes growing. This process blanches the frisée since the plant needs the sun to develop its normal green leaves. The delicate white leaves are considered a delicacy and are the least bitter.
Source:
http://www.cheftalk.com/content/display.cfm?articleid=50&type=article

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-31
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Keywords: Crocosmia, Pruning

PAL Question:

Can Crocosmia be pruned or cut way down? When? The tall leaves are looking ungainly.

View Answer:

According to The Plant Care Manual by Stefan Buczacki (Crown, 1993), you should cut back the foliage as it discolors.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, perennials that produce leaves and flower stems from below the soil level, such as crocosmia and peony, are cut back to soil level.

Season Fall
Date 2008-01-31
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Keywords: Rosa, Pruning

PAL Question:

I would like to know when is the best time of year to prune back (heavily) the roses in my garden. I have read that winter is best, when they are dormant, but I have also read spring is the right time.
Also, with roses that are possibly 20 years old or more, and have very woody stems, is it all right to prune them back to the woody (brown parts)? Or should I not cut back past the green parts?

View Answer:

In the Pacific Northwest, most sources recommend pruning in late fall or early spring. Where to cut depends on the type of roses you have (modern, climbers, shrub, etc.).

The Olympia Rose Society has excellent pruning information at:
http://www.olyrose.org/pruning.htm

You don't mention what type(s) of roses you are hoping to prune, but the June/July 2011 Organic Gardening article by E.J. Hook, former gardener at the Woodland Park Rose Garden, covers basic pruning techniques for the 5 main types of rose.

Season All Season
Date 2008-01-31
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Keywords: Salvia hispanica, Seeds, Quirky

PAL Question:

Chia seeds: what are they, and what are they good for, besides sprouting on clay animals (Chia Pets!)? Lately, I'm seeing them promoted everywhere for their health benefits. Is there any validity to this?

View Answer:

The common name Chia refers to several species of Salvia, and to Hyptis suaveolens. The species that is imported into the United States is usually Salvia hispanica. Purdue University’s New Crops database has information about the uses of chia seeds:
"The seeds of chias have been eaten for centuries by native North Americans, either raw or parched. They are used in sauces and as thickening agents. When soaked in water the seed envelops itself in a copious mucilaginous polysaccharide, excellent for digestion, and together with the grain itself forms a nutritious food. Mixed with orange juice the gel-like seeds make a nutritious breakfast and can help to control excess weight. Users report that a glass full of orange juice with a teaspoon of presoaked seeds leaves one feeling full and without hunger until noon. The plant explorer Edward Palmer wrote (1871): 'In preparing chia for use the seeds are roasted and ground, and the addition of water makes a mucilaginous mass several times the original bulk, sugar to taste is added, and the result is the much prized semi-fluid pinole of Indians and others—to me one of the best and most nutritive foods while traveling over the deserts.'"

The New York Times published an article (11/24/2012) on the current trend for consuming chia seeds as a nutritional supplement (purportedly high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids). More studies are needed to substantiate the health claims, as this information from Columbia University’s "Go Ask Alice" website points out:
"People eat chia seeds for diabetes, high blood pressure, and to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, there is currently no good evidence to support chia consumption for these uses. People have also tried using chia seeds as a weight loss aid, as the high fiber content is thought to suppress appetite and ultimately help with weight loss. There’s not much support for this claim. One study found that eating chia seeds had no effects on body weight, body fat, or changes in appetite over a 12-week period. However, studies have shown that a particular variety of chia seeds, marketed under Salba, can reduce certain risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, clotting factors, and inflammation."

Season All Season
Date 2013-03-23
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Keywords: Pruning shrubs, Shrubs--Care and maintenance, Calluna, Erica

PAL Question:

How do I care now, in the fall, for very well established, huge (in some cases) Callunas? Do they get sheared? If so, how many times a year, and how far back? Also, how do I prune my heaths?

View Answer:

The American Horticultural Society Pruning and Training Manual, ed. by C. Brickell, 1996, p. 183, 193 recommends pruning Calluna (heather) in the same way as Erica cinerea. Prune or trim lightly in early spring, cutting stems back where possible to strong shoots below the spent flower cluster.

Local pruning expert Cass Turnbull of Plant Amnesty says the following about heaths and heathers (Erica and Calluna) in her Guide to Pruning (Sasquatch Books, 2006): "Spring bloomers are sheared shortly after blooming (in the spring). Summer/fall bloomers are also sheared in the early spring (just as new growth starts), so that the attractive seed heads are left in view all winter. An annual light shearing is all that is needed. Don't wait. Do it now before the plants get too old and woody. When cut too far into old brown, barren branches, a plant may not break bud and green back up. If you have inherited a mature yard, it may be necessary to severely prune an old neglected heather. It will either regenerate or die. Probably the latter. An exception is the tree heath, Erica arborea, which (...) responds well to radical renovation."

For further information, consult the following websites of nurseries specializing in these plants:
http://www.heathsandheathers.com/cart1/page6.html
http://www.daytonnursery.com/tips/Heaths%20&%20Heathers.htm

Season Fall
Date 2008-01-31
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Keywords: Ribes, Planting

PAL Question:

I received a gift today, a shrub/plant named Ribes sanguineum 'Inverness White,' and different neighbors have different ideas of where to plant it.

I only have a little shade in my garden. Will it take full sun, or does it need partial shade? How tall and wide will it get?

View Answer:

In my experience, Ribes sanguineum does best in partly sunny (or partly shady) sites, and does not need much water once established. The plant you have is Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum 'Inverness White.' This cultivated variety is described by California Flora Nursery as 6 feet tall and wide, but plant size will vary with garden conditions.

Berkeley Botanical Garden's spring 1999 newsletter features flowering currant selections, including the one you have:
"Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum 'Inverness White' is a proven fast grower with wonderful white flower clusters. As the flowers fade they develop a rosy cast, giving a bicolored effect. The typical form of this variety has pale pink flowers. Roger Raiche found this one on Inverness Ridge in Marin County, and it has since made its way around the state to various gardens, both public and private. This plant was featured, with other new introductions, at a national meeting of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta [...]"

Season All Season
Date 2008-02-07
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Keywords: Aquilegia, Edible wild plants, Poisonous plants, Edible landscaping

PAL Question:

I've been reading up on permaculture and exploring the edibility of common ornamental plants. Several books I've looked at suggest that columbine flowers (Aquilegia canadensis and Aquilegia vulgaris, specifically) are edible. I have my doubts, since columbine is in the family Ranunculaceae, which I would generally consider poisonous. What do you think?

View Answer:

I think you are right to question your sources. Although some species of Aquilegia have ethnobotanical uses as food, you should still proceed with caution. I found information about edible and medicinal uses of Aquilegia formosa. Daniel Moerman's Native American Food Plants, Timber Press, 2010, mentions that the Miwok boiled and ate the early spring greens, and that children of the Hanaksiala tribe sucked nectar from the flowers. In her book Ethnobotany of Western Washington (University of Washington, 1979), Erna Gunther mentions medicinal and edible uses of this species of columbine. The Quileute tribe used the sap to aid in healing wounds, and Chehalis children sucked "honey out of the flowers." However, The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms by Nancy Turner and Patrick von Aderkas (Timber Press, 2009) lists Aquilegia species as toxic:
"Most [members of the Ranunculaceae] contain irritant protoanemonins; columbines contain cyanogenic glycosides."

Columbine is included in University of Vermont Extension's list of "Potentially Harmful Perennials." St. Olaf College's page on wild columbine points out a common confusion between the blossoms of honeysuckle and columbine:
"Young children often mistake Columbine for Honeysuckle, pulling off the flowers and biting the spurs in search of nectar. Though no official records of toxicity have been reported for Columbine, it belongs to a family which contains other toxic species. Caution is advised."

The Plants for a Future database of edible and medicinal plants lists a number of species of columbine. Here is their page on Aquilegia canadensis. I don't find myself convinced by the statement that "the flowers are probably perfectly safe to eat." The entry for Aquilegia vulgaris says that the flowers are "rich in nectar, they are sweet and delightful, they make a very attractive addition to mixed salads and can also be used as a thirst-quenching munch in the garden. The flowers are also used as a tea substitute." It is worth looking at the sources cited at the end of this entry, to decide if you feel they are trustworthy. To summarize, when in doubt, don't eat the columbines (or any other plant whose edibility is debatable)!

Season All Season
Date 2011-12-30
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Keywords: Trillium, Transplanting

PAL Question:

My native trilliums (the beautiful white ones that have now faded to purple) are thriving in my woodland garden. I would like to know when the best time is to dig up a clump to share with a friend.

View Answer:

According to Michael Leigh's Grow Your Own Native Landscape (Olympia, WA: Native Plant Salvage Project, 1999), dividing Trillium is difficult because you must "dig deeply to ensure minimal damage to roots and rhizomes, take special care not to break the stems, and transplants may die back before reappearing the following spring." According to April Pettinger's Native Plants in the Coastal Garden (Whitecap, 2002), "Trilliums do not like to be transplanted, so if you decide to move them to another site, be prepared for them to take several years to flower again." My personal experience suggests that taking as much of the soil around those rhizomes as possible will give the plant the best chance of success, and I think early fall is the best time, although I don't find any source that specifies a time of year. Right after bloom may be fine too, as it is the recommended time for division according to the American Horticultural Society's Plant Propagation (DK Publishing, 1999).

Season All Season
Date 2010-04-21
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Keywords: Genista, Spartium junceum, Cytisus, Noxious weeds--Washington, Allergies

PAL Question:

My question is about Cytisus. People with allergies complain about the Scotch broom that grows wild. Are the other tame varieties like C. x praecox going to be a pollen allergy problem also? I want to plant it as an informal hedge and my customers are worried. I want to tell them there is no comparison in the plants. Am I right?

View Answer:

To answer your second question first, Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) is an invasive European species that has given all brooms a bad name. Spanish broom (Spartium junceum) is also invasive, and is considered a Class A noxious weed in Washington State. There are garden-worthy brooms such as C. x praecox. A staff member here grew one in her previous garden for many years (and loved it). Some species of Genista, such as Genista stenopetala, are reportedly not invasive.

According to the book Allergy-Free Gardening by Thomas Leo Ogren (Ten Speed Press, 2000), Cytisus ranks 5 on the allergy index scale of 1 to 10, but allergy to this plant is uncommon, except in areas where there is a lot of it growing. Spartium junceum rates a 7, while Genista rates a 4, about the same as a begonia or a primrose.

Season All Season
Date 2006-12-08
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Keywords: Acer palmatum, Control of wildlife pests

PAL Question:

The bark on a Coral Bark Maple is peeling away on one side of the trunk...about 1 1/2 to 2 feet long. The tree looks healthy otherwise. Cause? Anything to do?

View Answer:

Trees (maples and others) are attacked by various diseases and pests, but nothing that removes sections of bark on a trunk. Damage might be from larger pests such as raccoons, deer or squirrels. In the city, squirrels often strip bark from trees for their nests. You might want to:

1. Put chicken wire or other protective barrier around the tree. The tree will heal itself as long as the entire trunk is not girdled (that is when bark is stripped all the way around the trunk so moisture and nutrients can't flow).

2. Have an arborist look at the tree for an accurate diagnosis. To locate an arborist in your area, contact Plant Amnesty's referral service or call their Referral Service Coordinator at 206-783-9813 and leave the following information:

Name
General Location (city or town)
Phone Numbers (work, home, cell)
Email (will get the quickest response!)

Season All Season
Date 2006-10-05
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Keywords: Potted plants, Australian plants, Pruning trees, Eucalyptus

PAL Question:

I recently purchased two Eucalyptus gunnii trees and one E. dalrympleana, which are still in their pots. I have them in full sun, facing south. I have been watering them every day - is this appropriate? I know that the gunnii tolerates waterlogged soil.

View Answer:

All Eucalyptus prefer full sun and well-drained soil. They are very drought tolerant when established.
Source: Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, by M. Dirr, 1998, p. 352.

If your plants are in terracotta containers they will need daily water. If they are in non-porous containers you have a bit more leeway, but do not let them dry out while they are young.

Another consideration is whether you plan to grow these trees in containers permanently, or if you are going to be moving them into the garden. If you plan to keep them in pots, bear in mind that these trees will get quite large (70 feet tall by 20 or more feet wide), so you may end up needing to do a lot of pruning from the top as well as root pruning. Sometimes, even when planted out into the garden, urban gardeners with small lots will coppice a tree like Eucalyptus gunnii or E. dalrympleana annually so that it does not overgrow its site, and so that the rounded, juvenile leaves are maintained. See the Royal Horticultural Society's page on eucalyptus pruning for additional details.

If your plan is to move the trees into the garden, it is best to do it when they are relatively young and small, as Eucalyptus generally dislikes root disturbance.

Season All Season
Date 2006-10-05
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Keywords: Schizachyrium, Plant care, Transplanting, Ornamental grasses

PAL Question:

Schizachyrium scoparium seems to me to be difficult to transplant. They die on me when moved. What could I be doing wrong? The time of year? Adequately watered?

View Answer:

According to the Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses, Schizachyrium scoparium requires full sun, prefers good drainage or sloping ground. Does not persist on highly fertile soils or in excessively moist conditions, and suffers if the crowns are crowded by mulch….


Propagate by seed or by division in spring.


Grasses are sensitive to soil level, especially when young. Ideally, the crown of the grass should sit just slightly above the soil surface. Planting too low can rot grasses and planting to high can cause them to dry out and die.


…mulch of all sorts can be an efficient method of controlling weeds and conserving soil moisture. Many species, such as Schizachyrium scoparium, cannot tolerate having mulch pushed up around their crowns, a practice that often promotes rot and disease at the base of the plant.

Source: Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses,” by R. Darke, 1999, pp. 121, 276.

Season All Season
Date 2006-10-05
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Keywords: Silene, Plant identification

PAL Question:

I am having trouble growing Silene (do not know the species). It has magenta flowers with notched petals on two foot stems and hairy basal foliage. I have killed four plants that were planted in four different locations. I am able to keep hundreds of other plants alive in my garden, but not this one! It flowers profusely from mid April through July. Then the leaves start wilting, and before long, it is dead. The only thing I can think of is that it needs superior drainage. Could I be overwatering it?

View Answer:

You may have one of the annual types of Silene, which die after setting seed. It is really hard to know for sure since there are over 500 species. You may be able to identify your Silene in the book Lychnis and Silene in the Garden, by J.L. Jones, 1999.

There are some magenta-colored species of Silene with notched petals (Silene dioica and Silene hookeri for example), as you describe. These are alpine or rock garden plants that prefer well-drained conditions and do not like highly acidic soil. It is certainly possible that you have overwatered or that the soil in which they are planted doesn't drain sharply enough or is too acidic.

Season All Season
Date 2006-10-05
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June 24 2013 12:55:25