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Ask Gardening123 - June 2001

by Gardening123 Staff

Each month Gardening123 publishes questions from users here in the “Ask Gardening123” section and answers 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 did not prune back my roses and they have become tall and the blooms are not very large. Is it possible for me to prune them back now?


You should only prune your roses lightly at this time of year. Just remove the spent flowering stems back to the first fully developed leaf (five full leaflets). Keep the bushes well mulched and fertilzed through midsummer. Around August 15, remove as much as 1/3 the height of the bush and thin out weak or spindly growth. Then apply a good mulch or topdressing of compost and enjoy the fall flowers. Major pruning (removing as much as 1/2 of the bushes and throroughly thinning out weak canes) can be undertaken next Valentine's day, but not before. If your plants are old-fashioned varieties or shrub roses (not grafted), severe pruning is not recommended at any time.


I bought some Rootone rooting hormone. What can I use for the "rooting medium" as described on the label of the product? It says to put the cutting into the powdered hormone and then place it into a rooting medium. Can peat moss be used as a rooting medium?


There are all kinds of things that you can use as rooting medium. Peat moss will work or you can buy special rooting medium that is made for rooting plants (or starting seeds). The most important thing is to use a sterile mix that will drain well. A common mistake made by many people is keeping cuttings so wet that they rot. While they need to stay moist, the roots should not be left in soggy, wet medium.


I received a dendrobium orchid as an Easter gift from my daughter. It has finished blooming and the stalk that held the flowers has turned yellow with only a little green remaining. Can you provide any information about the care of this orchid? It is in a pot with very little soil and is held in place by a wedge of a fibrous woody material. Should I repot it with proper soil for an orchid?


Your questions are not uncommon for a person with a new orchid. Trying to figure out exactly how to care for its needs is usually enough to deter most people from buying them in the first place. Orchids have been bred to be houseplants, so their care and maintenance is easier than you might imagine.

First, the flower stem dying back is a natural process. In the case of a Dendrobium, you should remove it after it is completely dead. When the stem is dead, it will look like a brown stick, and due to lack of nourishment from the plant, it will shrivel a bit. The stem will die from the tip back to the plant over the course of two to four weeks. Once the entire stem has turned brown, use a pair of sharp scissors to remove it. Generally, you should leave about 1/2" of the stem or enough so that it is not removed directly at the plant, and there is not obvious dead growth showing.

In general, orchids need to be planted in bark chips. In an attempt to cut down the cost of orchid crops, some growers will use other, less desirable media like foam peanuts, wool, or even clay pot pieces. While these do work temparaily, they are not meant for long-term orchid growth. Your orchid sounds much the same.

Since it has stopped blooming, now would be a good time to repot. Repotting is extremely stressful for any plant, and orchids are no exception. When you repot, take care not to damage the roots too much. They are fragile and will break easily. To help with this, set the plant in water (pot and all) for about an hour or two. This will allow the roots to take in water, and they will be more flexible.

Dendrobiums tend to be top-heavy plants. I would recommend one of the following:

1) A clay pot - This will add base weight, and some of these pots are fairly attractive for display. One concern with clay pots is that the roots tend to adhere to the clay more than plastic.

2) A plastic pot - The roots tend not to stick as tightly to plastic making it easier to repot later. However, some of these pots are relatively light. You might get some lava rock to mix in with your media or clay pot shards to put at the bottom of the pot to add weight.

3) A plastic pot inside a clay pot - Buy a nice clay pot and find a cheap plastic pot that will fit inside it. Plant the orchid in the plastic pot and set the plastic pot inside the clay pot. You may need to get a fastener to secure the two pots together.

When you repot, chose a pot about an inch larger than the current one. This is not always an easy task considering most pots are sold in even sizes (i.e. 2", 4", 6", etc.) Try to loosen the root ball a little with your fingers. When an orchid has been in a pot too long, the roots form a dense mat around the edge of the pot. Loosening the root ball enables new roots to extend beyond the current root ball after repotting. This will enable the roots to spread for plant stability and to encourage growth.

The bark chips come in a variety of sizes and textures. Most chips come as mixes of bark, moss, charcoal, lava rock, perlite, and other materials. I usually pick a fine to moderately coarse mix. These generally hold more water than the coarse mixes. A dendrobium is quicker to stabilize itself in a fine mix. I have actually had the plant fall over (in the pot) in a coarse mix just after repotting. I will sometimes add peat moss to the mix to aid in water retention. Keep in mind that a little bit goes a long way. Too much water in the mix and around the roots will cause root rot, and the mix will break down more quickly.

Dendrobiums are good starter orchids. They are easy to grow, and they bounce back after neglect. Dendrobiums like water and should not be allowed to dry out entirely. If you use peat moss, water once per week, otherwise two to three times per week is sufficient. An occasional soaking never hurts. With Dendrobiums, I have found that the normal humidity in my house (about 60%+) works fine. If the humidity in your house is less, you might consider misting on a weekly basis (daily if that proves insufficient). You can apply fertilizer biweekly during the growing season and monthly during the winter months.

With a little TLC, your orchid will grow, thrive and provide months of blooms at a time. The most important thing to remember is that you do not have to constantly worry about your orchid to make it grow. A little water and a bit of light (not too intense) will make it happy.


I would like to know some more information on a rose called "Sir Thomas Lipton". I have just purchased a house and that is what's on the name tag of the rose in the yard, however, I cannot find it in any of my rose books. Thanks!


"Sir Thomas Lipton" is a famous Rugosa rose with semi-double, pure white flowers that bloom from early spring through late fall. The fragrance is heavy and exceptionally fine and the foliage remains a clean, unblemished green. Because it is a double flower, Sir Thomas usually foregoes forming the large tomato-red hips typical of Rugosas, but otherwise shares the famed hardiness, beautiful orange-red fall color, and tough constitution of this group of shrub roses native to the seacoasts of Japan and Korea. The mature bushes may reach 4 to 5 feet, but can be kept comfortably at 3 feet with annual pruning. If your rose has been grafted and the graft is set above the soil line, it will probably remain a solitary bush, but if the rose is on its own roots or if the graft is set below the soil line suckers may form, allowing the plant to spread. This is an ideal way to grow this rose if it is to be used as a hedge.



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