Question #1

Imagehorseinround1974 asks: Hello,We moved into our new home this summer, and our only re-decorating involved tearing out some of the landscaping and planting our own stuff. My mother is an avid gardener and I am a beginner, and we're now very worried about the many new trees we planted shortly after moving in. We're just coming out of a weather event that Pacific Northwesterners commonly refer to as a "silver thaw". Our previously beautiful cherry tree lined street now looks like more of a war zone. Is there anything we should or could be doing to prevent further damage to the plants in our yard?

Melody answers: I feel your pain and can completely understand. Here in Kentucky, we don't have much snow, but ice is always an issue. An ice storm can devastate a garden. There's not much you can do, but carefully shape the tree and remove the broken branches. A good, clean cut is less likely to develop disease. Jagged, broken branches are unsightly; they invite insects and fungal infections. If you're not comfortable with properly pruning your trees, consult a trained arborist. Consider a tree's ability to withstand weather events when choosing new ones for your home. Some varieties are better choices. Take note of the trees in your neighborhood and consider planting the ones that seem to survive the storms relatively unscathed. Those of us who live with ice tend to have battle scars in our gardens.

Question #2

Imagesow_sow asks: Unlike annuals, herbaceous perennials usually don't flower their first season when grown from seed. If such plants are propagated from cuttings, instead of from seed, would they still not flower their first year?

carrielamont answers: Well, actually, some perennials ARE able to flower the first year, particularly if started early using the winter sowing method or in a cold frame, but let's not quibble about that, because your REAL question is: if herbaceous perennials are propagated from cuttings, will they flower the first year? And my answer to that is probably. Think of forced forsythia blossoms. There's a cutting which blooms without even rooting (although often it will root in the vase). You're probably thinking of something less woody, but basically, once the tissue has differentiated into which part is up and which down, it will usually flower. Check out this article about forcing flowering branches to bloom.

Question #3

Imagehamp2468 asks: The Datura plant. Is it safe to have this plant around my dogs? Will they eat it?

Sallyg answers: Datura for the garden are usually D. inoxia or D. metel. Both have beautiful blooms that pump out a fantastic sweet, tropical perfume. And yes, both contain toxic substances, mainly in their seeds or seed pods. But is there any reason why your dog would be tempted to actually eat those? I doubt it. Some of the pods are sort of spiky and others look more like little, green "brains." I've grown both a yellow and a purple Datura for several years and have never seen my dog or cats display the slightest interest in eating any part of the plant. And the same is true for a number of other common garden plants that have some level of toxicity in some parts. They're not dangerous unless you ingest them. We simply look at them or smell them. I think of it this way: I have pesticides in my house, but I keep them on a designated shelf, not in the refrigerator or anywhere that edible food is stored. My plants are considered inedible unless I have specifically identified them as "To be eaten." I don't give much thought at all as to what is contained in those plants that I do not know as "Safe to eat." Nor would I experiment with eating unknown plants.
Please take a moment, if you have any remaining concerns, to read this thoughtful article by Geoff Stein on the subject of plant toxicities, "Toxic Plants: What Does That Really Mean?" One last note: Do be aware that working with your Datura plants and bare hands may mean that some toxins get on your skin. From skin, they can get to your eyes, mouth, or nose. Be sure to wash your hands, or better yet, wear gloves. It really is a good idea for gardeners to wear gloves at all times. For reference:

Question #4

Imagesoonertoo asks: I have planted several may night salvia and they all died. I do not over water them. Please help.

carrielamont answers: I see you are a Florida gardener, which to me says whether or not YOU are watering your salvia, they are receiving water, even if just through the high groundwater levels in the area. (Milton, MA, has an unusually high water table, so I know about plants that like it dry and get it wet anyway.) What I have done with some success--for salvias, for instance--is to build a little hill out of dirt mixed with perlite, in effect to make a tiny, fast-draining micro-zone in my waterlogged backyard. That's my only suggestion. I had to plant salvias for years to find the individual plants that were hardy enough to come back, although I don't imagine that's your problem! Now agastaches, for instance, I CANNOT get to grow where I am.

Question #5

ImageGordoOG asks: What I thought was a shrubby Grevillea of some sort, turns out to be a Grevillea robusta - silky oak. I have been pruning it for 3 years (doh!) A neighbor just told me what it is, so was wondering if it will eventually turn into a tree despite my pruning. The plants (have quite a few) have multiple stems - and are doing quite well (Australia - Central Tablelands) Much appreciate any advise and what I can do so they can develop into the wonderful trees they should be - I hope they can forgive my ignorance.

Melody answers: I've never grown a silky oak, but am familiar with training shrubby crape myrtles into trees, so I'm assuming that it is a similar process. All trees benefit from shaping and training, so you should be able to retrain your silky oak into a tree form. It will take some patience, but you can start by selecting the strongest and most upright of the multiple trunks and removing the others. Prune side branches from the ground, leaving the ones on top that give your tree a pleasing shape. Each growing season shape and prune your tree to transform it from the shrub to the desired shape. This will be a project that will take several seasons, but you should end up with your tree.

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 member 'growin' for his images of the silky oak and the May Night salvia. hamp2468 and horsinround1974 provided their own images, the Silky Scarlet milkweed image is my own.