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Fun feature: Ask-a-Gardener

By Melody Rose (melodyAugust 14, 2010
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Gardening is both art and science, with some luck and skill thrown in for good measure. A big part of what attracts people to Dave's Garden has always been our forums, where gardeners ask and answer questions for one another. Occasionally we come across a question that we find particularly interesting or intriguing. We hope you find these questions (and answers, penned by our admins and writers) helpful as you grow your gardening knowledge!

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If you have a question you'd like us to consider, you may pose it in the Ask-a-Gardener forum.  If your question is chosen for this feature, you can be sure you've helped others with the same question.

 Question # 1

Imagekc8tbq asks about Rose of Sharon: "I got a cutting off the neighbors tree and put it in water so it would grow roots, it has been in water since about the middle of July. It has bloomed, but there are no roots, I put a miracle grow stick in it and it looks like it is dying. Yesterday I put a little bit of miracle grow liquid in it. Should I give up on it, or what should I do? It also has white spots on the stem too.'

Sally G. miller, (sallyg) answers:

While some shrub cuttings can root very easily in water, it doesn't sound like your Rose of Sharon cutting has succeeded. It must had had a flower bud in place before you cut it. And I understand your wish to feed the struggling cutting. Unfortunately I think the fertilizer in the water encouraged bacteria to grow, clog the stem and kill the cutting.

This link
http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8702.html
will take you to a publication from NC State University with guidelines for propagating many trees and shrubs. There is a lot more information there than you may want to try to interpret, but there is a sketch that will give you an idea of what you'll do. . I'll oversimplify thie instructions and just give you a plan here for your Rose of Sharon.
Take several fresh cuttings about six inches long. Look for and cut off any fat flower buds on the tips. Remove lower leaves until you have 3 or 4 leaves on the stem. Then pot those cuttings in moist, good quality potting mix and cover the pot and cuttings with a loose bag or clear plastic lid. The lid will keep moisture contained around the leaves of the cuttings. Place the pot in a brightly lit place but not in the sun. Then try to leave it alone. As long as the leaves are green and healthy looking, and you see a very small amount of condensation inside the cover at times, the cuttings are getting their best chance. Wait at least 3 weeks before testing the cuttings. Test them by removing the bag and gently pulling up on a cutting. If it resists being pulled out, you've got roots! When the cuttings have rooted, you can remove the bag, water them, use gentle fertilizer and gradually give more sun.
You may wish to save the time and effort of cuttings and just ask the neighbor if you can look for a baby Rose of Sharon under the parent bush. This shrub usually has plenty of seedlings sprouted up under it. If all the mature bushes are the same color the seedlings will likely be the same. If there is more than one color, your seedling is unpredictable.

 Question # 2

Imagemableruth asks: I have a Lilac growing - or not growing - under a very shady tree. With out moving it, the plant will never have a chance to grow , and I will never be able to move it. My question is, would be possible to use grow lights outside? Are grow lights the same thing as any other lights? Any recomendations will be appreciated. Thank you.

Sally G. Miller, (sallyg) answers:

Your idea of using grow lights outside is certainly ambitious, but I'm afraid it's impractical. "Grow" lights have a slightly different light spectrum, but regular flouresecent lights work very well for seedlings and small plants inside; I have used them for years. However, when growing seedlings with fuorescent lights, I keep the actual light fixture within inches of the tops of the plants. Much further away, and the light dissipates so much that the seedlings don't thrive. I can't begin to imagine how one would be able to arrange enough grow lights around a lilac bush outside to make a difference in its growth. I also can't imagine paying the electric bill for such an arrangement! I bet it would be a major feat of electricianship to power up such a beast safely, too.

Pruning the shade tree may give the lilac a chance. Can you remove some of the lower limbs, or do other pruning to let more light in to the lilac? I'm also assuming you don't prune the lilac itself anytime other than immediately after its normal bloom time. Pruning a lilac in late summer, fall or winter could remove flower buds for the following year.

If trimming the tree doesn't help, then bite the bullet, remove the lilac, and buy a new one for a sunny spot. But if you have a sentimental attachment to this lilac, see if you can save a chunk, a suckering stem, or some stems to root. I moved a small lilac this spring. The lilac proved resilient even in the face of record heat and drought in my region this year. Good luck!

 

Question #3

 Imagedagasman1 asks about the Caryota gigas palm:  "Hello...I plan on planting this palm from a 15 gallon container over our sewer line about 15 feet away from our house. The sewer line is rather new (about 6 years old) and made of plastic and not clay or steel. I dont believe that there are any leaks from it. Are the roots from these behemoths very invasive and/or should I think of installing this palm elsewhere?"

Geoff Stein, (palmbob) answers:

 Planting a Caryota gigas palm is not really any different than planting any other palm species, only there may be some considerations concerning wind exposure, eventual size (spread, as well as height) and eventual removal logistics.

See this article on planting palms for a start:
http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1085/

Caryotas are relatively fast growing palms and ones in which a moderately aged person could potentially see the entire life of the palm, from beginning to end, in one's lifetime, as they are not that long-lived, either. Unlike most palms, Caryota palms are monocarpic, which means after they flower, they're gone and must be removed. Flowering events cannot easily be predicted and early stress in the life of the palm could make it flower much earlier than normal, and some have had their C gigas palms flower with barely any trunk at all.

Get the largest palm you can afford as this will ensure its survival (seedlings have many more mishaps than do larger palms), up to a point. Palms larger than 15 gal tend to 'stress' severely when planted and can flower soon after.

If in an area with clayey soils or not a lot of sand, dig a hole just larger than the size of the pot and just about as deep. Do NOT amend the soil as this has been shown NOT to help, and possibly slow down acclimation period of the palm in the new soil. Some simply drop the pot into the hole and cover it with mulch. You can do this, but it will slow down the palm a bit. However, if you are unsure of the location of your palm, it will make removing it more likely to end in a living palm (Caryota gigas move very poorly, usually dying without the most painstaking efforts and root pruning months ahead of time). Best to just be sure you are putting it where you want it to stay forever.

Mulch well and water well for the first few months. If planting bare root, it is best to get it fairly well root-bound in a pot first, as this will make it less likely to stress when planting. Rootbinding seems to bother most palms very little, and they even seem to grow better and transplant much better if very root bound (this is NOT true with most other trees). Fertilize only after about 6 months, unless using a diluted water-based fertilizer.

Plant this palm where it will have plenty of room to grow (this palm can get over 100 feet tall, and have a spread of nearly 40 feet). It takes up a LOT of room! Also, Caryota palms are infamous for falling over for no reason, and this palm's wide-spread fronds make it sort of like a sail, though reports of this species fallling over are pretty rare (usually Caryota urens or another taller, skinnier species). Trunk diameter can be up to 2 feet or more, so don't plant it right next to a structure.

Wind is Caryota's enemy, and will shred the leaves, blow over the palm, and possibly stress it badly. This is particularly true of salty sea winds or hot, dry desert winds. To to plant this palm amoung other vegetation or in such an area where there are some wind breaks. Most of these in unprotected areas look very sad and anemic as they mature thanks to wind exposure.

Removal is difficult as Caryotas have some of the hardest wood of all the palms. Even chain saws struggle getting through this wood and likely you will have to pay a professional company a lot of $$ to have this one removed someday. Location near a street is somewhat important as removal by crane can be awkwward if this palm is deep in your back yard where a crane cannot get to.

Best not plant this palm where pets are likely to be as it has very toxic fruits that might be eaten by them (not sure how often dogs are slow enough to not figure this out, though as the fruits are incredibly irritating to chew on- burn the oral mucous membranes). They can also make a large, slippery mess on sidewalks as the fruits rot and the seeds inside act as ballbearings... be sure you have good home-owner's insurance.

Good luck with your new palm... if you still want to plant one.

Remember, if you have a gardening question that you would like to suggest for this feature, post it here. Our writers and admins will handpick a few of your questions and answer them in an upcoming Ask-a-Gardener, one of our Saturday morning features. Other questions may be moved to one of our other forums so your fellow members can help you.

Thanks to Joan for the Lilac image and palmbob for the palm image. These images were used with their permission.


  About Melody Rose  
Melody RoseI come from a long line of Kentuckians who love the Good Earth. I love to learn about every living thing, and love to share what I've learned. Photography is one of my passions, and all of the images in my articles are my own, except where credited.

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