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

Question and Answer


Question and Answer

Q. Two years ago, we lost a lilac bush that was over 90 years old. At the time, there were shoots of small lilacs coming up from the ground around the old bush. We took out the dead bush but left the shoots. Will these shoots ever bloom? They haven’t in all the years they have been there. If they aren’t going to bloom, I’d like to remove them.

A. The shoots are likely root suckers, which are young shoots arising from adventitious buds on the roots of the original plant. These should be able to bloom once they get mature enough – could be three or more years. Keep in mind that lilacs produce their flower buds the previous summer, so you don’t want to prune these shoots until late spring after normal flowering time.

Q. Is it all right to put cedar chips on garden plants and flowers?

A. Although rumors abound, there is no scientific evidence to support the myth that cedar mulch is toxic to plants. Organic mulch, including cedar chips, can be very helpful in conserving soil moisture and discouraging weed growth. Several different forms of bark are sold as mulch. Cedar is slower to decompose than hardwood bark, so perhaps it is a better choice for perennial flowers and shrub beds but not as desirable for vegetable gardens or annual flower beds that are going to be tilled and planted each year. Any bark mulch can present some toxicity issues if anaerobic decomposition occurs while stored in deep piles before applying to young growing plants. The fact that cedar is naturally rot-resistant makes it less likely to undergo decomposition during short-term stockpiling. Hardwood bark is more likely to pose this problem, since it decomposes more quickly.

Q. I really enjoy the column on plants and things each month, and so I thought I’d ask if you can help me. I am looking for a plant called a pregnant onion. I read about it in a magazine and was intrigued by it. Can you help me find someplace that sells it? I would really like to try my hand at growing it. I am also looking for a pepper tree that smells like fresh black pepper.

A. Pregnant onion gets its name from the production of small daughter bulblets at the base of the main bulb, visible because of its position just above the soil. Known botanically as one of the Ornithogalum in the lily family, there are several different species that could bear the common name of pregnant onion. This is the same genus but different species from Star-of-Bethlehem, but you can see the resemblance. If your local houseplant retailer does not have it, they likely can order it for you. There are a few online retailers that would be willing to ship, including J&J Cactus and Succulents ( and Arid Lands Greenhouse ( Don’t let the onion part of the name fool you, though. This plant is toxic if eaten. An excellent photo is at the Huntington Botanical Gardens .

Culinary black pepper is the fruit of the tropical vine Piper nigrum. It can be grown as a houseplant, flowering during the long, bright days of summer. Like the pregnant onion, your local retailer should be able to order it for you. Or check online sources such as Companion Plants (, Glasshouse Works ( and Logee’s (

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