Gardening Question of the Day

I dug up a raised garden bed that had oriental and Asiatic lily bulbs and bearded iris growing there for three years. Can I use this bed for vegetables now?

There won't be a negative residual effect in the soil from these toxic plants. Unlike the chemical substance secreted by walnuts (juglans species), the compounds in the rhizomes and bulbs of iris and lilies do not leak into the soil around the plants. Enjoy your vegetable garden - and remember that foliage of tomato and potato plants are also poisonous.

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Last 7 Days

What is xeriscaping?

It is a type of landscape that uses plants with low water needs. It is a method most commonly used in areas where water shortages are common. Drought-resistant plants and low maintenance grasses, those requiring water only every 2 to 3 weeks, are used, in addition to caretaking with drip irrigation, soil improvements, and heavy mulching. Anything that allows for better water absorption and retention is part of the exeriscape technique. The term comes from the Greek word xeros, meaning dry.

What exactly was a Victory Garden during World War II?

To help the war effort, citizens were asked by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Claude R. Wickard to plant vegetables wherever they could find a plot of land to do so. By 1945, the year the war ended, an estimated 20 million victory gardens had sprouted in sidewalk boulevards, town squares, and odd parcels of land in the cities and out in the country. These gardens were producing 40 percent of the vegetables grown in the United States at that time. The term "victory garden" originated in a book of that title from England, published in 1603. During World War I, U.S. patriots planted what became known as "liberty gardens" as well.

Can painting the inside of my house harm any of my houseplants?

It's probably a good idea to cover your plants or, even better, move them to another room when you are doing heavy-duty painting. Sensitive plants such as weeping figs or dieffenbachias can be harmed by the fumes if you're using paint that contains mercury. If you move your plants, keep them in another room for several days until the paint fumes are gone.

Does it make any difference if your potatoes bloom or if the buds just fall off?

Typically potato vines begin to blossom at the same time as the underground tubers begin to form, and that is our signal to steal a few new potatoes from the edges of the patch. However, not every potato vine blooms, and there is usually no difference in yield. It is normal for some flower buds to fall off. Other buds will open, be visited by bees or other pollinating insects, then close up and fall off. Is it possible that some of the buds you see falling are actually spent flowers? That's just a thought. At any rate, whether or not your potato vines bloom is not an indicator of a problem. As long as you are getting a satisfactory harvest, it's nothing to worry about (unless you are hoping to produce potato seed).

When and how should I fertilize rhubarb?

Rhubarb is a heavy feeder. Mix compost, rotted manure, or anything high in organic matter into the soil when planting. But don't add a chemical fertilizer when planting rhubarb or during the first year of growth, as direct contact with nitrates can kill the roots. In future springs, apply a light sprinkling of a high-nitrogen fertilizer (25-3-3 or 10-6-4) when the ground is thawing or has just thawed, so that the fertilizer will go into the ground and not harm the roots.

I've had little luck trying to grow an avocado plant from the pit. What's the best method?

Try this: Remove the pit from the avocado and wrap it in a moist paper towel. (You may have better luck if you use a pit that has not been refrigerated.) Put the paper towel and pit into a plastic bag and seal it. Keep the bag in a warm place and check it every few days. If the towel dries out, remoisten it. When roots appear, place the pit into a pot with potting soil.

My tomatoes have deep brown indentations on their tops, as well as some large and some very small yellow spots. Some of my plants turned brown and died back, producing only one or two small tomatoes. What went wrong?

The brown spots are most likely caused by a fungus called alternaria. Next year, look for plants that are resistant to this fungus. If you spray your tomatoes, use a spray without lime, such as maneb, zineb, captan, or chlorothalonil (ask your local garden center where to obtain these). You also might be applying too much manure or overwatering your plants. The yellow blotches are probably tomato spotted wilt, a virus that affects the leaves of the plants as well and is extremely difficult to control. The only way to get rid of this is to remove the diseased plants. You may want to check with your local Cooperative Extension Service office to find out which types of tomatoes are best suited for your growing area.

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