Fun feature: Ask-a-Gardener
Photo by Melody

Fun feature: Ask-a-Gardener

By Melody Rose (melody)April 16, 2011
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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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Question #1

Imagemazer03 asks: Hi everyone, I recently got a braided money plant, its about 35 inches tall, its nice and very healthy. My question is, are there any watering options I should consider? The lady who sold me the money tree told me to not pour the water on top of the soil but instead to immerse the plant in a bucket about 4-5inches deep. So if anyone can advize me it would help out a ton!
Thanks! :D


sallyg answers: Her advice, and this discussion of it, will apply to other potted plants, not just "Money Plant" (Pachira.) Let's figure out why she would tell you to do this. Most of us would water our plants from the top down, just like mother nature does with rain, right? This can lead to problems as we can only see what is happening on the very top of the soil. I have more than once gone about "watering" large plants, only to find out later that the poor thing was bone dry down in the root zone. The water puddles slightly on top, we think we are done and we go away, the water seeps partway down, and the plants' roots never get a good drink. I think this must be the situation the seller anticipated. It doesn't ALWAYS happen that way but it can. Now let's consider her recommendation. Setting the plant in a few inches of water for an hour or two will let the soil soak up water. (We are assuming the pot has drainage holes in the bottom.) You'll find the pot much heavier on the way out of the bucket than it was on the way in! This way you know that the roots are getting moisture. The pot may drip or trickle excess water for a short time too. It's just as important to let it drain of excess and not just let it sit in its own puddling.

In principle, I agree with the seller's advice on watering your large potted plant. You might get tired of moving that heavy pot. In practice, I would probably use a large, deep dish under the pot and add water to it no more than about weekly, and no more than the plant will soak up in an hour. If you have concerns, try gently lifting the plant out of the pot. Often the roots and soil will be massed together and will come out all in one neat ball. Then you can see exactly how the water works are going "down under," and adjust as needed.

Question #2

Imageerzula asks: Hello everybody, This is my first time trying to start plants indoors, I have had a decent germination rate for most of my plants, but the seedlings are not doing so well. About couple days after germination they start to wilt and die. I tried varying amount of light and water, but not seeing a difference. About 60% of all the seedlings do not make it (it also appears the thinner the seedling the worse it does).
Does anyone have any advice how to save my seedlings?
thank you all, erzula

melody answers: It sounds like your seedlings have 'damp-off.' It is a condition usually caused by improper watering. The condition is a catch-all for several types of fungus and I'm afraid, most seedlings infected ultimately die. Don't feel bad, even experienced gardeners will fall victim at times. I've lost seedlings more times that I care to think about myself.  A fungus attacks your seedlings at the soil line and they will wilt, rot off, or become stunted and refuse to thrive. Causes are crowded seedlings, cool conditions and improper watering techniques.When this happens, your best bet is to simply start over, as the plants will always appear sickly. Preventing damp-off starts with giving your seedlings plenty of room, and soil that is slightly damp. Most gardeners tend to kill the seedlings with kindness and water them to death. When a tiny plant only has a bit of a root the width of a sewing thread, it cannot possibly take in much water. Your soil should feel slightly damp, never soggy. Water from the bottom and pour off any standing water after 15 minutes. For more advice, here is a great article written by critterologist that will help you learn to pervent the condition.

Question #3

Imagemommamia77 asks: About 2 years ago I purchased some daffodils from a lady in Tennessee. Since I live in Kentucky, not that far away, I figured they would be okay with the transition between the two states. Anyway, I purchased and replanted the bulbs (with the green part). Now, 2 years later they still do not bloom. They green grows in clumps as they are supposed to but I have only had about 10 of the 400 bulbs actually make a bloom each year. Any suggestions?

sallyg answers: You're right; daffodils should perform just as well for you as they did for the previous owner. You need to fertilize. Daffodils, and other bulbs, store energy in that bulb. They need to have enough fertility and sunlight in the current year to make enough energy to store it over the winter and bloom the following year. Right now you can not do anything to make them bloom this year. The buds did not form. You can use a liquid fertilizer now to try and help the bulbs along. Just use one good treatment at this time then stop. Your bulbs have several weeks in which to use the food now but will die down no matter what as their natural cycle dictates. Always let the daffodil foliage remain green as long as it wants to and don't cut it of until it withers and yellows. When they have somewhat or completely died back, you can dig them up. Then loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole. Mix a good fertilizer "bulb food" into the soil, and compost if you have it. (Bone meal is an old standby amendment for bulb planting as it adds a dose of phosphorous, but it has very little of the other nutrients needed.) Good fertile soil under the bulb is the daffodils best source of energy. Then replant the bulbs at least six inches apart each way. If they are not crowded and have enough fertility, daffodils can make one bloom stem for each bulb every year.

melody adds: Your daffodil bulbs might be planted too deep. That is a common problem when transplanting them. I'd do as Sally suggests and replant, paying close attention to the depth. I had this same problem as a young gardener when I transplanted some daffodils located at an old home place. They produced foliage, but never bloomed. I was advised to dig them back up and plant them at a shallower depth. That worked for me.

Question#4

ImageSabrinaNTX asks: We haven't had rain here in QUITE a while. In fact, its been a month and a half since any precipitation, and that was a week-long snow and ice storm. Meanwhile, my natural soil is clay. I have mixed my beds with 1/2 existing soil, and 1/2 of a blend of top soil, soil conditioner, and compost. This past weekend, I planted 10 different beds of direct-sow seeds.
I've been having huge problems figuring out how much to water them to retain the water enough for consistant soil moisture. For example, I have a bed that is approximately 7' by 4'. On Sunday, when I planted it, I watered it 4 gallons. On Monday, it didn't seem HUGELY dry, so I watered it another 4 gallons. 24 hours later, I found it dry and the soil was cracking. I watered it 5 gallons. 24 hours later, it was again dry and cracking.
Each time, I've watered it until I've noticed the water pooling up slightly on top. Apparently, that's just not enough.
Note: I am trying to germinate some nasturtiums and morning glories, so I don't want to take it to the other extreme and overwater them.
There's got to be a decent way of figuring out how much water to give to keep the soil from drying completely out before 24 hours have passed.

sallyg answers: Your first sentence is a big clue (we haven't had rain in quite a while.) Most sources recommend plants getting an inch of water or rain per week. Let's use some math and figure out how much water you added to the garden. I remembered an article here on DG that gave lots of help with conversion factors and garden math. There I found a link, (http://www.irrigationtutorials.com/formulas.htm) and used factors to calculate how many "inches" of water you get with 4 gallons. My result: four gallons gives an inch of water only to about six square feet of area. Your garden is 28 square feet. You need to add about 18 gallons to give an inch of water over 28 square feet. Add to this the effect of the giant dry sponge that is the entire mass of soil under your bed, and we can see why it is not staying moist. Without rain, you'll need 18 gallons each week to maintain the soil moisture. Realistically, you'll need more than that as the surrounding soil continues to suck up that water. And if it makes you feel any better, I picked this question because I have had similar experiences, thinking I have watered well and yet finding the plants dried out.
So even though you see slight pooling when you add four gallons, that is a short term effect. That amount of water will likely move right on through to the subsoil and leaves your seeds high and dry. You'll need to add more water, and maybe consider putting up something to create light shade over the area until the seeds have sprouted.

TexasTam's article "The Dirt On Math," which led me to the link above is here, http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/3029/

Question #5

Imagesherlyn asks: Can I cut back the dead foliage on mums before they start growing this spring?

carrielamont answers: I think it's fine to cut back the foliage around your mums now, but more important is to remember to pinch the growing tips to encourage bushiness and more blooms. You can do this as early as you see new, healthy growth and as often as every two or three weeks.(Do allow the plant a chance to grow, though.) Remember to STOP PINCHING around July 4th so you don't inadvertently pinch off any nascent flowers!

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.

A special thanks to palmbob for the money tree image and to carrielamont for her chrysanthemum image. The others are all mine.


  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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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
MOSS ROSE maggiemudpie 1 17 Apr 18, 2011 3:09 PM
Thanks for daffodil help ! sallyg 1 15 Apr 17, 2011 5:49 AM
Water calculation SallyG steadycam3 0 14 Apr 16, 2011 4:28 PM
This Texan loves the water math... steadycam3 0 14 Apr 16, 2011 3:51 PM
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