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Ask Gardening123 - March 2001

by Jason Adams

Each month Gardening123 will publish questions from users here in the “Ask Gardening123” section and answer them. These questions can pertain to gardening or they can be technical questions about the site. If you have a question you would like answered please email it to

I want to find out more information about the drought status of my state. Where should I look?

Most states have drought status websites, particularly if that area is in, or has recently experienced, a drought. These sites usually contain status information, drought ordinances, and tips on how to conserve water. For national drought information, check out the United States Geological Survey’s Drought Watch website.


What are some tips for retaining moisture around my plants?
There are a few tricks you can use to help retain moisture in your garden. First, put down a three to five inch deep layer of fine-textured mulch, such as shredded hardwood or pine straw. This will help retain moisture lost by the soil. You can also use newspapers to accomplish this. Gently remove the mulch from around your plant, being careful not to disturb the surface roots. Put a layer of three to four sheets of newspaper on the soil surface, wet it, and then replace the mulch. Also refrain from fertilizing during dry periods because fertilizers have chemicals in them that can further pull moisture from the plant.


Why should I have my soil tested?
Healthy, well-fed plants are better able to withstand drought, diseases, insects, and also better able to compete with weeds. One of the most important things you can do as a gardener is have your soil tested on a regular basis. A soil test provides information on soil pH (acidity or alkalinity) and soil fertility. When soil pH is too acid or too alkaline, nutrients that may be in your soil may not be readily available to your plants. Information gathered by performing a soil test and associated recommendations will enable you to add the proper soil amendments to correct any soil pH problems and provide proper nutrients needed for healthy plant growth.


My daffodils often fail to bloom. What am I doing wrong?
There could be a number of reasons why your daffodils aren’t blooming this season and most stem from things that happened the year before. The first could be insufficient sunlight. Daffodils need six to eight hours of full sun daily before they will bloom. Daffodils also need a certain amount of cold weather before they will break their dormancy. Warm, mild winters throw off the daffodil’s natural cycle, causing it to remain dormant longer than normal. Foliage from the proceeding year that was removed too soon or damaged may also keep plants from blooming. Allow leaves to dry and turn brown completely before removing them. Last, but not least, is overcrowding. Be sure that your daffodil bulbs are planted at least 3-8 inches apart.


How much sun should my rose bushes get?
Roses love sun and prefer to get a full day’s worth if possible. Give your roses at least six hours of direct sun a day. Morning sun is especially important because it dries the leaves and helps prevent diseases like blackspot.


When is the best time to divide hardy ferns, and is there a particular type of fertilizer I should use on them to promote growth?
Hardy ferns should be divided in early spring, just before the plants come out of dormancy. Most ferns do not need a lot of fertilizer, but from time to time a little bit of controlled-release fertilizer in the early spring probably wouldn't hurt. Good organic mulch also helps.


When is the best time to plant ivy and can you give me some tips?
Ivy should be planted in the spring in a shady location that can provide fairly moist, rich soil. Space plants about a foot apart for quick coverage of an area. Be careful not to plant too close to stone or brick walls as the aerial rootlets can cause damage to the mortar.


What are some of the problems I can expect with my new white pine?
Iron chlorosis may be a problem in high pH soils and will result in yellow needles. To correct the problem, try spraying liquid iron on the needles and on the soil surrounding the plant. An application of aluminum sulfate or lime-sulfur to the soil may also help to lower its pH level. If you are planting a white pine in an area that you know has alkaline soil, try adding a handful of soil sulfur. You may also want to add a 50/50 ratio of peat moss to your soil and mix it well. Another problem is the white pine weevil. This pest kills the young top of the tree, often resulting in a crooked trunk. In the spring, when buds begin to swell, spray the tops of trees with an insecticide that will control the weevils. Prune out and destroy any infested twigs or branches.


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