Fabulous Flowers Q&A

Q: How deep should I plant my bulbs?

A: That depends on what you're planting. As I discuss in my Year-Round Bloomers book, small bulbs like crocus, muscari, and scilla will do just fine if planted 3 inches deep. On the other hand, tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils need a bit more room, and should be buried 6 inches deep. After planting, sprinkle a little bonemeal over your bulb bed to help your bulbs get off to a flying start.

Q: Should I remove the dying leaves after my daffodils and tulips fade?

A: Absolutely not! Go ahead and remove the flower stems after the flowers fade, but leave the leaves alone. The bulbs need the leaves to develop strength and energy for next year's flowers. So leave them on as long as possible. You might try rubberbanding them in place, or planting daylilies around them to hide the dying foliage.

Q: I have a beautiful fern that's been growing great for years, but lately its leaves are turning brown. What am I doing wrong?

A: Your fern is probably suffering from scorch, which occurs when the soil dries out, if it just gets too darn hot, or the fern's exposed to a lot of windy weather. Your best bet is to keep your fern in a moist, shady area that is protected from strong winds. Be sure to water it frequently and deeply to keep the soil from drying out.

Q: How can I protect my geraniums from the cold winter ahead?

A: My Grandma Putt's solution was to jerk 'em out of the soil when they turned brown after the first frost. Then she wrapped each one in a double layer of newspaper, and put them in her cold cellar until March. (If you have a damp basement, I suggest hanging them upside down, and spacing them well apart to allow air to circulate. Otherwise, they may rot.) In the middle of March, she unwrapped them, cut off a third of the roots and two-thirds of the tops, and repotted them in clay pots. She gave them a light feeding, and slowly brought them back to life. For more of my Grandma Putt's gardening tips, check out Old-Time Gardening Wisdom.

Q: How can I treat hollyhock rust?

A: First thing, you'll want to destroy all the infected leaves that you see. Then you'll need to treat the plant with sulfur. To prevent rust from breaking out in the future, be sure not to get the leaves wet when you water them. Hollyhocks also need room to breathe, so if they're getting too crowded, divide some of the clumps to allow air to circulate.

Q: All of the leaves on my hostas are getting brown edges. What's causing this, and what can I do?

A: Hostas get brown edges when their roots get too dry or they are in an exposed location. They do best when they are kept out of a lot of direct sun or wind. Whenever the weather gets dry, be sure to give 'em lots of water.

Q: For some reason this year my peonies are not blooming. Is there something wrong with them?

A: If the peonies have been in the ground for many years, I suspect they might need to be lifted. The "eye" of the roots shouldn't be planted any more than 1-2 inches below the soil. If they're deeper than this, (which can happen over time) then they won't bloom. Lift and replant them to the proper depth in the fall. Another possibility is that some of the trees in the area have grown since the peonies were put in, causing them to sit in the shade all day long. They need full sun (afternoon shade in the south). Feed them with a balanced fertilizer such as 8-8-8 and bonemeal after they would normally flower and again in the fall. This should do the trick.

Q: What should I do to protect my roses from the freezing temperatures this winter?

A: Most roses are fairly hardy, but they still need a bit of protection to do well. To start with, you need to make sure you clean up all the leaves and debris under your roses and dispose of it. After the first killing frost, but before the ground freezes, pile up 8” to 10” of soil around the canes. Then pile hay, straw, or leaf mulch over the mounded canes, and add a half-cup of crushed mothballs per bushel of mulch. Mix it all up well, mound over the canes, and then throw a few shovelfuls of soil on it to hold it all in place. You can find lots of other tips for keepin' those roses healthy and beautiful in my Year-Round Bloomers book.

Q: My roses have big, beautiful blooms. When should I prune them so that they look just as good next year?

A: It will depend on the type of roses that you have. My book, Flower Power!, gives information on when and how to prune the different types such as climbers, ramblers, bush, or tree roses. For regular bush type roses, you'll want to do your pruning in the early spring in order to get good growing shoots. When the buds begin to swell in the spring, prune back any dead or diseased wood. Stop when you hit healthy green wood and an outward facing bud. Then you'll want to sterilize all of the cuts you made with a mixture of 2 tbsp. of ammonia and 2 tbsp. of dishwashing liquid per quart of water. Once the pruning is done, lay a few tea bags on the soil under each bush. The tannic acid in the tea bags gives the roses a little acidic pick-me-up.

Q: How do I get rid of black spot on my roses?

A: The first thing you need to do is cut off and destroy all of the infected leaves. You don't want any trace of the disease hanging around. Then, when you first start to see the spots appear, apply a fungicide that is safe for use on roses, and is labeled to treat black spot. This should heal your roses, and help prevent future outbreaks.

For a homemade control, spray them with a mixture of 1 tbsp. of baking soda, 1 tbsp. of light vegetable oil, and 1 tbsp. of dishwashing liquid in 1 gallon of water. If all is lost, and you can't save your plant, next time, try buying a black spot resistant rose. Your local nursery should be able to point you in the right direction as far as which roses grow best in your state.

Q: When is the best time to separate and divide my perennials?

A: I devoted a section to this subject in my book Perfect Perennials, along with my Steps to Division Success to walk you through it. The best time to divide perennials is when they're not actively growing. For most, this means early to midfall, although there are exceptions. The temperatures are cooler, and a gentler sun allows divided plants to recover quickly. For this reason, it is also important to start digging in late afternoon, after the hot morning sun has cooled down. To avoid having to redo all of your perennial beds at the same time, plan on dividing only a few at a time. This way, you'll always have beds in bloom.

For an extra special "perk-me-up," saturate the area with my Perennial Perk-Up Tonic: 1 can of beer, 1 cup of ammonia, 1/2 cup of dishwashing liquid, and 1/2 cup of corn syrup in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer after planting.

Q: How often should I water my annuals?

A: If the weather is hot, sunny, or windy, water the plants at least once a day; twice a day is even better, so long as the soil is dry to the touch. Do this until the plants have adjusted to their new surroundings, for about a week. After that, water thoroughly to a depth of 6 to 8 inches, once a week in cool weather, and every three or four days during the hot summer months. Never let your plants wilt; it will seriously weaken them.

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