April "In The Grow" - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

April “In The Grow”

Q. I bought five new rose bushes last spring and planted them in front of my front porch. The area had been well mulched, and the usual clay soil was greatly broken up several years ago when junipers were planted there. The junipers became diseased and died in many places, so we took them out. We thought we shouldn’t plant anything there right away, so we left the area undisturbed for a year.

I planted five roses bushes last spring. None survived. We sprayed the bugs and dusted, fertilized and watered. I was very disappointed. What did I do wrong? My husband says he’s going to plant riots of petunias there this year. Will those die, too? The soil is not very good, but it is well drained.
— Donna Cunagin, Lawrenceburg, Ind.

A. Just about anything could have killed the roses and junipers, so we need to do some detective work to get to the bottom of it. As a starting point, I suspect the soil. Start by calling your county Extension office and asking for a list of soil testing service providers. Then send a sample off to one of the recommended labs. The results will guide you.

Copious quantities of organic matter are probably in order. Just breaking up clay will not create a good home for plant growth. Clay is clay! Composted leaves, grass clippings, manure, or peat are some types of organic matter that improve the soil. Work them into the soil, and, remember, the roots of any new plants will grow beyond the hole in which they’re planted.

Junipers, roses and petunias all benefit from full sun. Make sure you’re choosing appropriate plants for the area. I’d lean toward daylilies as a test crop in this area because they’re so tough and durable. Finally, make sure the plants truly get enough water. The only way to check this is to actually feel the soil. Push the mulch aside, stick your finger in the ground and check for moisture. Holding a hose over them for a minute every week may feel like watering, but the water must be allowed to trickle down and saturate the area. Water slowly and deeply.

There are other possibilities, including disease, insects, some sort of contamination of the soil, or mechanical damage, etc., but this is a good place to begin.

Q. For the past several years, I have had trouble growing radishes. I have changed the location in the garden, altered the fertilization and tried about everything else, but nothing works. The tops of the plants are healthy, but the radish itself does not produce. There are no problems with the other root crops.
— Charles Keiper, Walkerton, Ind.

A. Radishes may produce poorly developed roots for several reasons. Seedlings that are not thinned in early spring don’t develop the normal enlarged root since they are competing for space, water and nutrition. Radishes are a cool-season crop. They prefer spring and fall temperatures for proper development; plant earlier in the season or later in the fall, so that they mature in cool weather.

The soil brings up another possibility. Rich, organic soils or heavy fertilization can promote foliage growth at the expense of the roots. Try raising the radishes in a raised bed, in different soil, in full sun and thin to one inch apart. Keep your eyes open for other symptoms, since club root or root maggots could be other possibilities.

Q. We live in a rural area and have deer around all the time. In December when so much of the food deer usually eat was covered by snow, the deer came right up to our house and devoured landscaping plants that were above the snow level. Now we have very strange-looking plants! Our holly, rhododendron, azalea and yews have leaves on the lower parts of the plants and only stick-like projections above. Will the leaves or needles grow back on these plants? Should they be pruned as soon as possible? How severely should they be pruned? Thanks!
— Lynn Ramsbey, Argos Ind.

A. They’re already pruned! To varying degrees, some regrowth will occur, depending upon their overall health going into the winter, and the care they receive this growing season. By all means, cut damaged and broken branches back to healthy parts of each branch. Make each pruning cut diagonally across the branch, just above a bud. More severe pruning is not necessary unless the plant form is completely ruined. I would do some moderate pruning and see how well they fill in this year. Fertilize, water and baby those plants through the growing season.

Q. Carelessness caused several of my plants to be broken off at the ground this winter: my 15-inch hydrangeas, 10-inch burning bush, 24-inch yuccas and some broken branches off my rhododendrons. Do you think there is any hope for these plants to return, or will I have to buy new ones? Thanks!
— Rae Reichert, Peru, Ind.

A. The hydrangeas certainly may come up from ground level. If the crown of the yucca was not damaged, it ,too, may return. Prune off the broken rhododendron branches, and it should recover. It’s almost impossible to kill a burning bush but depending upon where the shrub was broken, it may or may not return. They’ll all be set back a bit by the damage they’ve incurred. Wait and see what returns this spring, then provide proper mulch, water and fertilizer throughout the year.

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