Question and Answer - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

Question and Answer

Q. I am hoping that you can help me understand why our poppy flowers never fully bloom. We moved to this house at Lake Bruce 6 years ago, and the poppies were already here. Each year there are numerous buds that never open fully. They just seem to mold and wither. What can the problem be? Thanks so much for your advice as I am envious when I see others in this area have beautiful poppy blooms each year.

A. Papaver orientalis, commonly called Oriental Poppy, is an herbaceous perennial that thrives in full sun and moist but well-drained soil. Since your poppies are producing plenty of flower buds, but not opening fully, I would suspect Botrytis blight (also known as gray mold). This fungus is favored by cool, rainy weather that lasts several days or longer. If plants are up close to a building or in a crowded flowerbed, the decreased air circulation increases the opportunity for infection to occur. Injured plants (wind, hail, rabbits, frost, etc.) are also more susceptible.

Consider digging the poppies and relocating to a bed that can give them better air circulation and good soil drainage. Avoid mulching too deeply as that also encourages wet conditions, and also avoid watering late in the day, which allows foliage to remain wet overnight. Good sanitation will help decrease future infections. Remove affected blooms and foliage as soon as they are noticed and discard or burn. When the poppies die down in the fall, remove all of the plant debris to reduce the potential for the fungus to overwinter. If the problems continue, fungicide sprays may help, if applied to early growth in spring before the onset of cool, rainy weather. Repeat after rain, and continue good sanitation practices. Ask your local garden center for a fungicide product that is labeled for controlling Botrytis on garden ornamentals.

Q. Animals ate my fall cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage plants. How can I stop them next growing season?

A. Depending on the particular critter(s) involved, fencing is likely to be the most reliable method of deterring animal pests. Rabbits, of course, are the most frequent vandals in the vegetable garden, especially when foliage is what is being eaten. Constructing a metal mesh or poultry netting fence about 2.5-3 feet high should help. Of course, there are many gadgets, repellents, and other methods touted by many a gardener, but a fence gets my vote. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services at Purdue University has a terrific Web site at with helpful information on identifying animal pest culprits and reducing their damage.

Q. I read your recent article on the growth of unwanted suckers, after some ash trees were cut down. I recently cut down a sweet gum tree and a golden chain tree. Three suckers came up from the golden chain and numerous suckers from the sweet gum, following the root systems. I would like to save two from the golden chain and perhaps three from the sweet gum. Will these mature into acceptable trees? If so, how should I cultivate them? I would prefer they remain in their present location.

A. Great question! It is not uncommon for tree roots to sprout suckers (vigorous shoots) when the main trunk is cut down. It is possible to cultivate a new specimen tree this way, assuming that the original tree was not cut down due to disease or other health issues. And you may find that these plants will have a tendency to sucker for quite a few years, requiring considerable more maintenance than a nursery-grown plant.

Regular pruning in the early years will be needed to create an attractive specimen. Select the most vigorous upright sucker, and remove all of the others as close to the ground as possible. More suckers are likely to form, and you’ll need to keep after these throughout the growing season. As the new tree continues to grow, during the first few years you will want to remove the lowest side branches as more branches form higher up. Additional removal of side branches may be needed to keep the tree in balance, but only as needed. General pruning guidelines can be found in Purdue Extension Bulletin HO-4, Pruning Ornamental Trees And Shrubs

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