December “In The Grow”

It seems Indiana gardeners were spending their time preparing for the holidays rather than reflecting on recent garden woes. That means I get a month off! Here are some often-asked questions that I have run before.

Q. I didn’t get my spring bulbs planted this fall. Is it too late?

A. Your best bet is to plant them as soon as possible. If the soil is not frozen, plant them immediately. When the ground freezes, mulch the area to prevent them from being heaved or pushed out of the soil from alternate freezing and thawing. Bulbs require a chilling period, so if you wait until spring to plant them, they may live and produce foliage but will not flower until the following spring.

Q. I can’t keep my cat from eating my houseplants. I’ve read that some plants are poisonous. Which ones are dangerous? Is there something I can grow for him to munch on?

A. Many plants are poisonous if specific parts of the plant are eaten in sufficient quantity. Some plants are particularly dangerous, including dumbcane, oleander, philodendron and mistletoe. Outdoors, watch out for morning glory, lily of the valley, rhubarb, tomato vines and mushrooms.

Cats don’t need vegetation in their diet. They’re carnivorous, but we all know curiosity killed the cat, and some cats like to nibble on foliage. Try to break the habit by squirting your cat with a toy water gun when he shows interest in the plant, or simply remove the plant from his reach. Your local pet supply store or veterinarian can recommend safe plants for your cat to nibble. There are safe “kitty grass” products on the market, but if your cat is like mine, he prefers the forbidden houseplant over the most expensive kitty grass available. As a cat owner, I choose not to provide a home for these toxic houseplants.

Q. I want to plant a garden in my new backyard, but there is a black walnut tree less than 50 feet away. I know that can be a problem. Will cabbage and onions be OK? Also, will it affect flowers such as yarrow, lilies, iris, roses and zinnias?

A. Cabbage, eggplant, pepper, potato and tomato plants all are sensitive to juglone, the chemical given off by walnuts. Lima beans, snap beans, beets, corn, onions and parsnips are more tolerant of the chemical. Of course, the concentration of juglone in the garden will affect the sensitivity. Keep sensitive plants at least 50 feet away from walnut trees. Siberian and German iris will survive near black walnuts, but I’m unsure about the success of roses and zinnias. Experiment with a small number of plants. Toxicity shows up in the form of yellow foliage, wilting and eventual death. Many other flowers do well near walnuts, including astilbe, cranesbill, daylily, some hosta and shasta daisy. Add annual color with tuberous begonias, violets and pot marigolds.


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