Question #1

Imageplacidmoon asks: Hello, I first tried the roundup but then looked on line and looked for nontoxic ways to kill the weeds due to dogs eating the grass. I have a pretty good sized back yard that is just dirt and rocks. Could you tell me of an effective way to get rid of these weeds? I'm in the SW region, high desert region.

carrielamont answers: You don't mention what size your weed patch is. I imagine, though, in the "high desert region," you get a lot of sun, which means you have access to a way of killing weeds organically that doesn't work as well for me, back here in the cool and rainy northeast -- the sun! Those weeds need sunlight to live (whereas my weeds can do with very little) and if you deprive them of their sun, they should shrivel up and die. You can do this in grand style by purchasing "landscape fabric" or "weed barrier." If your weedy area or your budget is smaller you can use sheets of newspaper, wet and weighed down with something so they don't blow away, or a black plastic garbage bag (black will get lethally hot faster) or even heavy, dark mulch spread thickly over the weedy areas. I guess I'm actually confusing this topic further by talking about two different methods as if they were the same. One is solarizing, or using the heat of the sun to kill stuff, usually through a layer of plastic (try a roll of clear, heavy plastic, if you can find one). The other is just smothering them, depriving them of all nutrients, air, water, light, etc., by crushing them, whether with landscape fabric or thick layers of newspaper or cardboard. I used the cartons my roofers discarded after taking the roof tiles out. Melody says she gets cardboard boxes at auto body shops that new hoods are delivered in! Or an appliance store! Back to our story, it will help if you can mow the weeds down before you use whichever technique you've decided on. DON'T do any digging or tilling because you'll stir up more weed seeds. You want those weed seeds to stay hidden so the mulch, newspaper or cardboard can degrade into a healthier top layer of soil.

Question #2

Imagealdirtyhands asks: What is the proper way to wash Liatris spicata seeds for storage for next planting season???

Melody answers: This is an excellent question and quite relevant for this time of year. Many gardeners are wondering how to properly save seeds from their garden plants. The first thing to remember: moisture is your enemy, so you don't want to wash your seeds. Since you specifically asked about Liatris spicata, I took a picture of my own plants. The image beside this answer shows you what things will look like when they are ready. You'll see the green stems, but there will be little fuzzy, dry hairs appearing when the seeds are mature. A seed will be attached to the base of each little fuzz tuft. You'll see a few seeds beside the stems in the image. They will be black or dark brown and for want of a better description, they look like a small mouse dropping. If your seeds look like this, they are ready to harvest. You can simply shred them off the stalks, let them dry in a bowl or container for a few days, and pop the lid on it. If you'd like to clean the seeds further, and most folks who trade seeds do, you can gently rub them in a fine mesh sieve. This lets the chaff and fuzz drop through the screen and the seeds are left behind. Store your seeds in baggies or envelopes and in an area where the temperature remains fairly constant.

Question #3

ImageI need help! I see from reading these comments I probably planted the WRONG type rose for my arbor gate...It is 3 years old and was doing beautifully until this year! It is growing absolutely WILD, I have to keep tying back long stems that hang down blocking the entrance..3-4 feet long!. They are getting very thick and I was afraid cutting them would kill the plant. Should I be cutting this to "train it, or move it and buy something else for the arbor? If I need to trim/cut it, when? Retired 5 years ago and started gardening, still learning!!

carrielamont answers: The notes in PlantFiles about Rosa banksiae, or 'Lady Banks' say "prune early; blooms on new wood." And I can tell you as a general practice, you can cut just about anything back by a quarter to a third and be doing it a favor. So yes, prune your lovely rose. I was about to tell you about the special rose pruning gloves they have to protect your arms, but Lady Banks is supposed to be thornless. (We don't have her up here in zone 6.) Training Lady Banks may be a losing battle -- I hear Sir Banks couldn't get anywhere with her either. But absolutely cut her back where she is in your way. It's YOUR arbor, not hers! Remember that.

The "blooms on new wood" part is the part you might want to pay attention to. It's as if those lusciously fragrant rose blossoms are tucked inside the newest canes, or branches, of your rose. So when you prune, prune off the older canes. Cut off what looks dead, diseased, or growing in the wrong direction (that last is part of the training). Be careful of the newest growing tips; that's where this year's blooms are hiding. Best of luck to you!

Question #4

Imagemainegardengal asks: I have 6 beautiful Honorine Jobert windflowers growing in my garden. I keep reading that these plants need winter protection for my zone but it never says what winter protection means. (I live in zone 5 a, southern Maine). What does that mean? Thanks!

Melody answers: The term ‘winter protection' means to give your plant just a little help to survive a harsh winter. With just a few preparations, you can conceivably increase the climate area where a plant is growing as much as a couple of zones. I have some scarlet milkweed that I'm going to try and over-winter in the ground, so we're in the same boat. First of all, protect your plants from harsh wind. It could mean putting a tomato cage over it and wrapping in burlap. If your plants can be cut back, as mine can, cut them back to a few inches above the ground and mound mulch over the stems. A few inches of mulch and maybe a large bucket covering that would insulate the roots enough to survive the winter. Make sure your bucket has a couple of small holes cut in the sides to keep heat from building up and causing your plant to break dormancy. When the worst of the winter is over, remove the bucket and pull the mulch back so your plants can wake up. If you are contemplating something new that is marginal in your area, planting it on the south side of your home gives winter protection. The house blocks the worst of the wind and holds a bit of heat from the sun. Any kind of windbreak or structure that holds heat, affects the micro-climate around a plant and the area remains a few degrees warmer.

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 big thanks to 'Kell' for graciously granting us permission to use her image of the Lady Banks rose.