QUESTION: Is it true that you can treat sodium (Na)
damaged soil with calcium (Ca) products such as calcium
carbonate (CaCO3)? Would a product that consisted of 80%
(CaCO3), 16% corn starch, and 4% Ca (NO3) be harmful for
treating a sodium (Na) damaged soil? Would the corn starch
in this product create any potential problems in a sandy
loam soil for vegetation?
ANSWER: Usually we use a neutral calcium source
in an attempt to counter act the sodium. In this way the
soil pH will not be altered. The most common source of calcium
used is gypsum or calcium sulfate. If calcium carbonate
(CaCO3) is used the pH will probably be raised by the carbonate
as it will take hydrogen ions out of solution. The cornstarch
would not cause a problem.
QUESTION: I would like to know if English ivy can
be rooted in water?
ANSWER:Yes, English Ivy can be rooted in water.
If the water starts to look bad, you should change it for
QUESTION: Have you ever heard of a Silver Dollar
flower? Its' seeds come in an oval "angel-wing"
type container and the seed itself is round and brown.
ANSWER: The plant you refer to as silver dollar
plant is probably the Money Plant (Lunaria annua). Its round,
flat seed pods are used in dried flower arrangements.
QUESTION:: What is the best way to start clover
seeds (with the white flowers)?
ANSWER See this Michigan State University web site
on cover crops for information on white clover:
QUESTION: What is the least amount of sun a tomato
can get in order for it to produce amply-at least, produce
some green tomatoes?
ANSWER: See this PLANTanswers web site for information
on tomatoes. This is what it says about sunlight:
Tomatoes and fruiting plants MUST HAVE 8 to 10 hours of
direct sunlight DAILY or fruit production WILL BE DIMINISHED
QUESTION: Can I top and shape a tree, which is presently
15 feet, so that it has a more rounded appearance? It is
close to my house and I would like to control its growth
but I don't want to damage it either.
ANSWER: Try not to TOP the tree though. Rather,
cut it back to a major limb which is growing laterally or
spreading. In this way growth will be forced into the limb
you leave at the angle you leave it. Still, when you make
a cut over 1 inch in diameter, the tree will compensate
with sprouts at the cut back point. Hence, to maintain the
growth the way you want, you will have to rub these shoots
off when they are small or you will have to cut them out
later. The more you work with the tree, the more successful
you will be. However, as long as the tree is healthy and
growing well, you will not hurt the tree by cutting on it.
QUESTION: I have been told there is
a way to break down the caliche in the soil. Is this possible?
I thought caliche is like clay, how can it be broken down
for a plant's better use?
ANSWER: The most important thing to do to improve
the quality of your soil in this area is the addition of
organic material in the form of compost. See this PLANTanswers
web site on soil preparation:
QUESTION: I have two crape myrtles
they are about are about 6 to 8 feet apart. One is growing
slender and tall the other has spread out much wider. I
have been in the home for only 2 years and they were already
here. Any suggestions on how to make both grow wide?
ANSWER: It is likely that you have two different
crape myrtle cultivars and regardless what you do, their
growth habits will probably be different. Crape myrtles
are quite forgiving when it comes to pruning and you could
cut the tall slender one back to the ground and it would
probably put up several shoots which you could tip prune
to get them to branch out. However, it may better to just
replace it with one with the same growth habit as the other.
Your favorite nursery can advise you on which to buy. Also
see this PLANTanswers web site that is a very good article
on pruning. It includes specific instructions on pruning
QUESTION:Our crape myrtles are in a
rock garden with climbing roses and a few other plants.
The rock garden has become infested with weeds. Is there
any thing that I can put on the rocks that will kill the
weeds and not damage the crape myrtles and roses?
ANSWER: In reference to weed control, you can use
one of the glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup or Finale
to control the weeds. It will not harm your ornamentals
so long as you do not get it on the foliage of the roses
or crape myrtles.
QUESTION: Are there any sources of
gum tree (Eucalypt) seeds or seedlings? I would assume that
some of the species native to the higher elevation areas
of the eastern Victoria and southern New South Wales states
of Australia would tolerate our hot summers and occasional
winter freezes. Any hints of varieties and sources?
ANSWER: Sometimes Eucalyptus trees are found for
sale in local nurseries. However they are not among the
recommended trees for any part of Texas. Planting one in
our area would be a gamble at best. If you can find one
in an Austin area nursery ask the nursery manager if he
will guarantee its survival and growth.
See this PLANTanswers web site for recommended trees for
QUESTION: : We have a young Ginkgo
biloba tree that was given to us last year. It is still
in a pot, but we want to plant it in the ground. Can you
ANSWER: The Ginkgo biloba, while not on the recommended
list of trees for South Central Texas, will grow here if
there is sufficiently deep soil. This is what Michael A.
Dirr in his book Manual of Woody Landscape Plants has to
say about the ginkgo: "prefers sandy, deep, moderately
moist soil but grows in almost any situation; full sun;
very pH adaptable; prune in spring; air-pollutant tolerant;
a durable tree for difficult landscape situations; displays
good soil salt tolerance.
Slow to medium growth rate, probably 10 to 15 feet over
a 10 to 12 year period."
See this Aggie web site for more information on the ginkgo:
QUESTION: : I would like to know the
best times to fertilize my lawn, and the best type of fertilizer
for me to use. I have St. Augustine grass, commonly known
as carpet grass.
ANSWER: St Augustine lawns should be fertilized
twice per year. The first fertilization is done in the spring
after you have cut green growing grass twice with a fertilizer
that contains slow-release nitrogen and has a 4-1-2 ratio.
The one most commonly sold has the numbers 19-5-9. It is
packaged under many different brands. Unless you wait until
you have cut your grass twice, you will be feeding the winter
weeds and not the grass. However, your grass should be actively
growing now and you can go ahead and apply the fertilizer.
If it doesn't rain on it soon after application, it must
be watered in to be effective.
The second fertilization is done in the fall between October
1 and November 1. This application is with a 'winterizer'
fertilizer with a 3-1-2 ratio. Again there are many available.
The common ones are 18-6-12 and 15-5-10.
This PLANTanswers web site provides links to many turfgrass
QUESTION: : I am working on my lawn
and need some advice. I want to put in a lawn that then
kids can play in, i.e. green and "soft". What
is the best grass to use? My lawn area is unshaded, about
.5 acre size. I have heard that Bermuda is/would be the
best for me. What are the fertilizer and watering requirements?
ANSWER: Bermuda would certainly be the most economical
way to go. It can be established by seed at a fraction of
the cost of sod. It is also a very wear-resistant turf as
evidenced by the many sport fields that are bermuda. It
is drought tolerant in that it will not die if it is deprived
of water for a significant period of time. It will go dormant,
turn brown and green back up when it does get water. Like
all other turfgrasses, bermuda will require about 1 inch
of water per week from rainfall or irrigation to look good.
It should be fertilized at least twice per year and preferably
3 times - in the spring after you have mowed the growing
green grass twice, a light fertilization in mid-summer and
the third application about mid-October. At this PLANTanswers
web site you will find links to many articles on turfgrass:
This is the one on bermuda:
QUESTION: : We were told that mushroom
compost is ideal for a flower garden and would make it much
more lush. Is this true and would this be better than peat
moss and manure mixed in with the earth. Would the mushroom
compost also be beneficial for vegetables? We grow everything
-- potatoes, squash, asparagus, tomatoes, etc.
ANSWER: I do not know that mushroom compost is going
to give you a better product than the peat/manure mix you
mention. However, it is a fine product for use as a soil
amendment or as mulch around your plants. However some caution
must be observed due to the high salt content of mushroom
See this Oregon State University web site on mushroom compost:
QUESTION: : What can you tell me about
Packman broccoli? I'm most interested in maturity days from
ANSWER: You should expect to be able to harvest
your broccoli in approximately 60 days after transplanting.
See this PLANTanswers web site for frequently asked questions
QUESTION: : I recently went to the
garden and dug out my parsnips after leaving them over the
winter. I was told they would taste better if left over
the winter. Someone told me, however, that if the parsnips
started to grow green leaves again, they would be poisonous
and unfit to eat. Can you tell me if this is true?
ANSWER: See this Michigan State University web site
on growing parsnips:
As you will see, it says that second season parsnips will
be woody, but not poisonous.
QUESTION: : I was wondering if you
could tell me where I might purchase plant-growth hormones.
I am particularly interested in gibberellins.
ANSWER: Commercial gibberellins are made by Abbott
Laboratories in Illinois. I do not have a specific contact,
but they probably can be found on the web. Small quantities
of gibberellins (at relatively high prices) can be obtained
from Sigma Chemical Company in St. Louis (800-325-5832)--they
also likely have information on the web.
Pro-Gibb can be purchased from the following locations:
Estes Incorp., Wichita Falls, TX 817-766-0164
Wilbur Ellis, Edinburg, TX, 210-383-4901
BWI, Texarkana, TX, 903-838-8561
QUESTION: :I was given some poppy seeds
by a friend. All I know are that they are large flowers
yellow to orange in color. I don't know exactly when to
plant and where. I live in Connecticut. When and where should
I put them?
ANSWER: I do not know what poppy you have and there
are many varieties. However, most are annuals that are planted
in early spring for spring and summer bloom. All poppies
should be planted in a sunny site. I would advise you to
contact your friend from whom you received the seed and
ask her how and when she plants them.
QUESTION: I have a white chalky substance
on my roses and crape myrtles. What is it and how do I control
ANSWER: Powdery Mildew (fungus - Erysiphe lagerstroemiae):
Powdery mildew is very common on crape myrtle. It is particularly
active in the spring and fall months. White-to-grayish moldy
growth develops on leaves and new shoots. Dust or spray
with a recommended fungicide at first appearance of mildew.
Dallas red is an old variety with good mildew resistance.
Check on availability of newer varieties with mildew resistance.
Powdery Mildew (fungus - Sphaerotheca pannosa var. rosae):
A white powdery growth occurs on leaves, buds and twigs
causing them to be distorted and dwarfed. Young, tender
growth is most susceptible. The disease is more likely to
occur during cool, dry conditions and can spread rapidly
since a complete life cycle can occur in 72 hours. Thousands
of spores are produced on a single plant with each having
the ability to cause disease. Varieties differ in their
susceptibility. Use an appropriate fungicide during times
when disease pressure is high.
The powdery mildew can be combated on both of these plants
by the application of a fungicide that your favorite nurseryman
can recommend. However, since they are quite susceptible,
frequent spraying may be required to maintain control.
QUESTION: I was recommended an Over-The-Top
Fertilome product that was created to eliminate crabgrass.
I was wondering if this product will also eliminate quack
grass, and if it is dangerous to use around ornamental plants.
The active ingredient in the product is monosodium acid
ANSWER: There are "over-the-top" herbicides
sold under many trade names. Most contain the active ingredient
fluzifop. They are safe to use around the ornamental plants
listed on their labels and will control most of the grassy
weeds. You will have to go to the place where the herbicide
you mention is sold and read the label carefully. The actual
product name is Over-the-Top and is a grass-selective herbicide
that kills grasses only.
QUESTION: Can you tell me how to propagate
a bald cypress from a seed pod?
ANSWER: This is what Jill Nokes in her book How
to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest says about
propagating the Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) from seed:
"Propagation of bald cypress is achieved primarily
by seeds rather than cuttings. Germination is delayed by
a dormant embryo. Seeds may be sown outdoors in the fall
or stratified for 60 days at 41 degrees F. Germination is
also sometimes inhibited by the resinous coating of the
seeds, which prevents imbibitions of water. Before sowing
or stratification, remove the resin by soaking the seeds
or unshattered cones in a one percent lye solution with
water or in hot water just under the boiling point.
Sow the seeds in a deep seed flat or well-worked bed containing
loose sandy soil with a high percentage of organic matter.
Peat moss and perlite are suitable for indoor sowing. Plant
the seeds 1/4 to ½ inch deep and keep the seedbed
continuously moist. Germination usually takes place in 40
to 90 days but may be as short as 15 days (USDA 1974). Partial
shading of the seedlings is recommended. Seedlings must
not be allowed to dry out."
QUESTION: I have ivy growing in my
yard, up my house and fence. It is uncontrollable. Pulling
it up does not help because it just grows back faster and
longer. I need help on trying to kill it.
ANSWER: English Ivy is very difficult to kill as
you have already discovered. Dig as much of the root out
as possible and treat young sprouts with a 2X concentration
(mix twice as much of the product as the label instructs)
of a glyphosate herbicide such as Roundup or Kleanup. Keep
spraying the new sprouts until the root system in the soil
QUESTION: Recently I noticed fungus
gnats in some of my houseplants. I have been watering every
week to every other week because the air in our house is
so dry with the heater on and stuff. They were the worst
on two Dracaenas I have, each in 4" pots. I have heard
that you can spray the plants with vinegar to get rid of
the gnats. Is that true? Also, how often should I be watering?
ANSWER: I do not know about the vinegar. It is good
for many household chores but I cannot recommend it for
fungus gnats. In fact, I have heard that it can be used
to kill plants and you would not want to do that. At this
Aggie web site you will find an article about the most common
Check the answer to a previous query on the same subject
that can be found at this PLANTanswers web site:
QUESTION: How can I get my African
Violets to bloom?
ANSWER:The most essential thing for blooms is bright,
indirect light. At this URL you will find a good article
on African Violets:
This is what it says: "African violets aren't just
violet. And they're not found only in Africa.
They make excellent houseplants that are popular with gardeners
throughout the world. Since their introduction to home gardeners
in the 1940's, African violets have become one of the most
cherished and widely grown indoor plants. Their popularity
stems from their numerous merits, not the least of which
are their abundant flowers and beautiful foliage.
African violets are also tough and durable. They are available
in a wide range of colors and forms. Like munching on potato
chips, growing African violets can become habit-forming.
For the true lover of African violets, starting with just
1 or 2 plants can lead to a lifelong hobby.
Growing African violets can be fun and rewarding. But even
though they are relatively easy to grow, pay special attention
to their cultural requirements.
Light. Of all the requirements for success with African
violets, adequate light is probably the most important.
They prefer indirect sunlight most of the day, but since
most homes do not possess enough natural light to support
proper growth, supplemental light is usually required.
A simple way to measure light intensity is to hold your
hand about 4 inches above the plant. If you see a light
shadow, the plant is probably receiving adequate light.
However, if the leaf stalks become elongated and plants
fail to bloom, increase the amount of tight the plant receives.
African violets enjoy a minimum of 10 to 12 hours of light
each day, so supplemental light will probably be needed
for best results in most homes.
Growing media. Avid African violet growers with many plants
usually mix their own soil using a variety of ingredients.
Containers. A variety of containers can be used for your
violets. Plastic pots are lightweight, inexpensive and widely
Watering. African violets should be watered when the top
layer of soil feels dry. Water plants from above by pouring
water under the leaves near the inside wall of the pot.
Allow the water to run around and down until water comes
out the drainage hole below the bottom of the container.
Other watering techniques include the popular "wick"
method and the use of specially designed water-holding containers.
Temperature. The temperature of the average home is well
suited to growing most African violets. Try to maintain
a daytime temperature of at least 65 to 70 degrees F. in
the winter. Warmer than that is fine in the summer.
Fertilizer. There are several fertilizers on the market
made especially for African violets.
Repotting. Plants require occasional repotting.
QUESTION: This year the grass burrs
have over taken my yard. We have had a few out near the
barn, but this year they have over taken the whole yard.
What can we do, or is it to late?
ANSWER: A wet spring causes a lot of weed seed to
germinate. At this PLANTanswers web site you will find more
than you ever wanted to know about controlling grass burrs: