Northern Gardening FAQs

Terry L. Yockey

I have answered quite a few gardening questions since I started this webpage--here are a few of the most often asked. If you have a better answer, please email me at webmaster@northerngardening.com. Gardening isn't always an exact science--what works for one doesn't always work for another.

 
   

1. (question) Looking for a good site on identifying perennials. Would like a one-stop site.

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(answer) I've put together a plant guide with over 70 perennials at http://www.northerngardening.com/Plantguide/plantguide.htm and there is also a good site at http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/perennials/perennial_index.html.

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2. (question) Any good new deer deterrents?

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(answer) I've had good luck in the past with the heavy black mesh fencing and milorganite . I now have a very tall (9 foot!) electric fence which has stopped them completely. See my article for other methods of control.

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3.(question) I have a shaded area in front of my house. I would like suggestions on what to plant there. It stays shaded year round.

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(answer) I have an article on shade gardening and I've also collected suggestions for shady situations from some of the extension sites:

Plants for Partial Shade

Ajuga reptans (Bugleweed), Alchemilla mollis (Lady's Mantle), Aquilegia sp. (Columbine), Anemone x hybrida (Japanese Anemone), Asarum sp. (Wild Gingers), Astilbe sp., Convallaria majalis (Lily-of-the-Valley), Bergenia cordifolia (Heartleaf Bergenia), Dodecatheon meadia (Common Shooting Star), Doronicum cordatum (Leopardsbane), Galium odoratum (Sweet Woodruff), Geranium (Cranesbill), Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose), Heuchera sanguinea (Coral Bells ), Hosta sp., Lamium maculatum (Spotted Deadnettle), Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells), Polygonatum biflorum (Small Solomon's Seal), Polygonatum commutatum (Great Solomon's Seal), Pulmonaria angustifolia (Blue Lungwort), Pulmonaria saccharata (Bethlehem Sage), Tradescantia x andersoniana (Virginia Spiderwort), Viola odorata (Sweet Violet)

Plant that Tolerate Full Shade

Adiantum pedatum (Five-finger fern), Asarum (Wild ginger), Athyrium goeringianum (Japanese painted fern), Convallaria majalis (Lilly-of-the-valley), Dryopteris (Wood fern), Epimedium (Barrenwort), Galium odoratum (Sweet woodruff), Hedera helix (English ivy), Pachysandra terminalis (Japanese spurge), Viola odorata (Sweet violet), Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian Bugloss), Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Plumbago), Dicentra sp. (Bleeding Heart), Myosotis sylvatica (Forget-me-nots), Tricyrtis hirta (Toad Lily)

Factsheets on shade gardening:

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4. (question) I cannot get squash to mature, they flower like crazy, get lots of little squash, then when the squash is a couple of inches long they start to rot at the blossom end. I have tried several varieties, both summer and winter squash and have yet to get any big enough to eat. any suggestions would be greatly appreciated as I LOVE squash. We live in lower Michigan and have very sandy soil.

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(answer) Sounds like poor pollination to me. This has become a very common problem with cucumber, squash and other flowering vegetables with the recent shortage of bees. There is a very good factsheet from the U. of Minn. on growing vine crops which gives other common problems. It's at http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/DG0431.html.

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5. (question) Are there any effective methods for controlling slugs other than slugs saloons, beer etc.?

(answer) I wish! Unfortunately, no one has yet to find a reliable slug cure. I'm going to try copper tape next spring, so we'll see how that goes. The theory is that it sets up some kind of electrical charge that the slugs don't like so they won't crawl over it.

There is a good factsheet on slugs at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/html/fs/fs277/.

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6. (question) What is the best NATURAL way to discourage rabbits from eating all my vegetables, herbs, and flowers?

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(answer) I think the best way to keep rabbits from eating your plants is to put up a short wire fence. There are other home remedies such as shaking ground hot pepper or blood meal on your plants. The only problem is that you will have to replace them when it rains. I have found a commercial product named "Plantskydd" that has worked effectively for me. Find out more about it and other products on my rabbit repellents page.

For more suggestions read the fact sheet at
http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/1996/7-12-1996/rabscuttle.html
.

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7. (comment) We have an evergreen hedge that has become to large for the scale we want along the house. My question is how much pruning can they take?. The plants are over 15 years old and stand 45 inches high. The branches are maybe 1 inch around.

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(answer) Always be careful when you prune evergreens. If you prune too much you can end up with holes and bare spots. Here's what the Nebraska Extension Service advises:

Evergreens

Narrow-leaved evergreens require less training and pruning than deciduous plants. But just like a deciduous hedge, adequate density and the correct form is essential. Junipers and yews can be pruned throughout the growing season, although the more severe pruning should be done in early spring. Don't prune back to wood that lacks foliage, especially with Junipers, because new buds will not develop on this wood. For pines, cut only into new growth when new needles are the same size and color as old needles.

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8. (question) I am trying to find out what naturalizing means when referring to bulbs.

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(answer) Naturalizing means planting bulbs in your lawn or places other then the garden. The idea is to make it look as if they sprung up on their own the way they would in "nature."

One way to do this is to take the bulbs and throw them on the ground and then plant them where they fall. That way you won't be tempted to space them too evenly. For more information on spring bulbs, see my article.

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9. (question) My starter seeds are growing well, but every time I water them the next day, mold is all over the soil. I have been scraping it off but, as soon as I water it again it comes back. This has never happened to me before. What do I do? Will this continue after I finally plant the plants into the ground?

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(answer) MOLD on the surface of the soil is probably a saprophytic fungus, not a plant parasitic fungus. So no need for alarm. Sterilized soil is without any beneficial microbes so it is easily surface-colonized by fungi floating around in the air. You probably don't even need to scrape it off, it won't hurt the plants (unless it forms a hard crust which blocks water infiltration). Once the plants are transplanted into garden soil which contains a balance of beneficial microbes, this surface fungus will disappear. ( Jody Fetzer, IPM Specialist ).

For more tips on starting seeds, see my article.

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10. (question) I am buying a hobby farm and I have a question for you... The owner is leaving me about 7 very big plastic (clay look) planting containers. Five of the containers sit on the south side of the pool and they look very nice there. The previous owner says he had problems growing flowers there last year and he suspected the pots got too hot. Is this true? What precautions should I take before I plant in those pots? I would like to have some nice flowers, since the spot is viewed from nearly every room in the house.

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(answer) Without seeing the containers it's hard to say what may have gone wrong with the previous owner's plantings. One thing to check is that there are holes for drainage in the bottom.

Another problem might have been that it is a hot dry place and she or he didn't water them often enough.

Make sure you clean them out well with a scrubbing brush and 5 percent bleach solution and rinse well before you plant this season.

I have an article that might help.

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11. (question) How much should you prune a very mature clematis plant?

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(answer) It depends on what type of clematis you have (there are 3 groups). If it is all tangled in the center I would trim it back using the pruning guide at
http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~ohioline/hyg-fact/1000/1247.html.

Clematis are heavy feeders so make sure you use plenty of compost as mulch this spring and it should be just fine.

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12. (question) What can you grow under pine and spruce?

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(answer) I've had good luck under my pine growing the ground cover, sweet woodruff (Asperula odorata).

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13. (question) I bought my house in July of last year and didn't have time to get a "real" garden in, What would you start with in a new garden?

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(answer) Some of my favorite low maintenance perennials are Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' (black-eyed Susan), 'Autumn Joy' sedum, monarda (bee balm) and, of course, daylilies. If you plant some spring-flowering bulbs this fall you should have color all season.

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14. (question) I am a novice gardener. Last year I planted a lot of perennials. What exactly do I do with the garden in the Spring? There are some wilted looking plants. Do I pull these? Also, is there a danger of hurting upcoming plants if I cultivate the soil?

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(answer) Don't try to work, cultivate, or walk on your gardens until they dry or you will disturb the structure of the soil. As far as the plants, most perennials should be cut down to the ground in the fall (see my article on fall cleanup).

Be very careful when cutting them in the spring because there will be new shoots coming up and you may damage them. You will have to cut the old stems from last season off--don't pull--cut with pruners. Make sure you clean all the old leaves and debris off your gardens so they won't harbor disease.

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15. (question) I am new at this gardening adventure. I am very interested in starting a garden indoors early, and transferring it outside when the winter permits, however; I need more assistance in when do I transplant?

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When to move plants outside changes every season. Here in Minnesota the rule of thumb is Memorial Day. Call your local extension service to find when the appropriate time to set plants out is in your area. If you aren't sure where the closest office is, try my Extension Service Page.

Victory Seeds also has an excellent table with last frost dates for any part of the county at http://www.victoryseeds.com/frost/.

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16. (question) Live in northern Ontario--zone 4-5. Would like to plan a circular, raised bed for vegetables. Is it best just to load top soil to the depth required or should the selected spot be worked prior to adding top soil?

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(answer) Found this factsheet on raised bed gardening at the Missouri Univ. site, but the info is pretty universal--even for our cold climate:

To take full advantage of the deep rooting potential with raised beds, the base soil should be worked up by rototilling or hand digging before bringing in additional soil. Many gardeners double dig beds.

The whole factsheet can be found at http://muextension.missouri.edu/xplor/agguides/hort/g06985.htm.

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17. (question) I am looking on the internet for information on a shrub or hedge type of plant that will work well in our climate. The catch is it will be planted near some Black Walnut trees. The previous owner of my home planted some type of shrub that did not do well, and we had to pull them up.

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(answer) Some you might try are arborvitae, forsythia, amur maple, and viburnums. I found lists of other plants that should "survive" under black walnut at:

http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-193.pdf

http://www.extension.umn.edu/projects/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/h407blkwal-tox.html

http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1148.html

http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/nursery/430-021/430-021.html

http://www.msue.msu.edu/msue/imp/modop/00001916.html

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18. (question) I am desperately trying to find help with planning the planting on my septic mound system. I've tried wildflowers but weeds have taken over.

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(answer)

Weeds are definitely a problem when you establish a wildflower or prairie planting. I've found that many homeowners are led to believe that all you do is put the planting in, and it will take care of itself from there. Not so. From day one you need to be proactive and keep all the weeds removed.  I have gone out to several prairie plantings and found that they were almost all weeds and very few of the good native plants were still surviving. At that point, I advise either going with a regular grass lawn or killing everything and starting the garden over. If you do decide to start over, you need to educate yourself on how the prairie or wildflower plants look when young. That way you know which small plants are weeds and which are desirables. For more information on how to replant your wildflower garden, I have an article at http://www.northerngardening.com/wildflower1.htm

You are right about being careful what you plant over your septic mound. There is a great factsheet at http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/DG6986.html that gives detailed instructions on how to plant as well as which plants are appropriate. You might also consult a master gardener and/or your local extension office. To find the closest office, please visit my extension page.

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