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Planning Retirement Online

Your Gardening Queries - 5


Mary Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?         

With silver bells and cockle shells,                    

And pretty maids all in a row....                     


If only gardening were as simple as that little nursery rhyme. But it isn`t, so we are putting some of the solutions here to problems you have written to us about, so everyone can have the benefit..


Please e-mail me with your garden problems, comments, or ideas for this section of  laterlife.  Click here for previous editions of Gardener`s Diary..



This month`s gardening problems  

Q: Darden asks:  We have a very shady yard, planted with mondo grass in one area but it isn't doing as well, 3 years later, as we'd hoped.  Need advice re: care, feeding and looking for a weedkiller to use that won't hurt the mondo grass. Same for a big moss patch: need advice on care and feeding and weedkiller.

 A:  Without knowing which country you live in, it is hard to recommend a particular weedkiller. I can only advise that you look for one that can be used in flower beds as opposed to weedkillers for lawns which will almost certainly kill the mondo grass. Read instructions on the containers VERY carefully before you buy..Regarding the poor result you are getting with your mondo grass, I have found cultivation requirements (below) and your yard sounds about the right environment. I am assuming that as you have a patch of moss, the area is damp enough for the mondo grass?  Very often plants take several years to become established, then suddenly shoot away..

Mondo grass, also known as monkey grass (Ophiopogon japonicus), is an evergreen, sod-forming perennial. 

Plants are tufted, grasslike and 8 to 16 inches high. The -inch leaves are dark green and fine to medium in texture. They are erect to arching, smooth and grasslike. The flowers are usually white or white tinged with lilac. Flowering and fruiting occur from July through September.

Mondo grass is quite often confused with liriope (Liriope muscari). However, the leaves of mondo grass are more narrow than those of liriope, the smaller flowers are hidden by the leaves, the fruits are blue compared to the black fruits of liriope and mondo grass is less cold hardy.

Mondo grass grows well in ordinary garden soil, requiring minimum attention once established. Plants thrive in filtered sun to full shade and prefer moist soil. The foliage is usually light green when plants are grown in filtered sun. Plants growing in the shade have dark green leaves.

Propagate by dividing large clumps. Be sure to include as many roots as possible and eight to 10 leaves on each section for planting. The plants are easily established and require little effort. The plants do not need heavy feeding. Mondo grass looks attractive year-round. However, the leaves may become ragged by late winter. Shear back the shaggy old leaves in early spring before new growth starts.

A fungal disease known as anthracnose is the most common problem. Remove infected leaves and/or apply a recommended fungicide. 

Q:   Brian Hogan asks: When should one remove the flower heads from Hydrangeas, and when is it safe to prune them and by how much? 

A: Hydrangeas are a vast subject with many varieties and different cultivation methods, so I have found you a website that will tell you all you need to know:

Hydrangeas are gaining popularity once more and have certainly stood the test of time. I love the lacecaps and have a lovely blue one of this type that is growing nicely from a cutting I was given four years ago.. I hope you find the information you need from this website.

Q:  Martin Waller (13) says: Firstly I must say what an interesting site you have for a "budding" gardener of 13 years old, not quite Laterlife yet. I was wondering if you could help - My younger brother brought home from school a sunflower plant in a cup which we transferred into a pot outside. It grew to about 3 feet tall and eventually flowered the head being about 3" across. We have watered it every day so the soil was damp but not wet and checked for bugs etc. Within a couple of days, the petals wilted and dropped of leaving the head with immature seeds and healthy looking leaves on the stem. Do you have any ideas why, and what we should with the plant now, cut the head off or leave it?

A: It is always a pleasure to hear from younger gardeners and I will endeavour to solve the sunflower mystery.. 

I tried growing sunflowers in pots once and they, like yours, didn`t do so well. Yours sounds quite small for a sunflower. They really need to spread their roots and I bet if you were to take it out of it`s pot, you would find it`s roots all cramped up. This will have stunted it`s growth and weakened the flower. Also the hot sun on the roots won`t help.. But there is still time for it to recover if you can plant it in a flower bed somewhere, preferably in a sunny spot. Water it well and give it some plant food... 

I bought a miniature sunflower called "Pacino" about three years ago and have saved the seeds each year since: some for me to sow and some for the birds to eat. 

If you go to the September 2002 edition of my gardening column, then click on September Spotlight and you will see a picture of the sunflowers. Now click on that picture to enlarge it... Great aren`t they?

 If you live in the UK and have a B & Q  DIY store with a garden centre near you, see if they have any of these "Pacino" sunflowers in, as I saw some in my local B&Q just last weekend. Perhaps you could buy one and, like I did, save the seeds.



Q:    Janet Joslin asks:  I wonder if you can recommend a comprehensive A-Z (with colour pictures of the plants) of garden plants?  The one I have of Alan Titchmarsh's is quite an old one and now out of date.

A: The book I have put on here is a new one I have just treated myself to and it`s super... Up to date, comprehensive and beautiful photos of the plants. You cannot get a more reliable source of information about plants and gardening in general than the RHS.. Click on the link below and you will be taken to where you will be able to purchase the book online at, possibly a cheaper price than your local shop..RHS Garden Plants and Flowers:  An A-Z Guide to the Best Plants for Your Garden  


Q:   From Alison Fox: I have a large Eucalyptus tree that is shedding it's bark (all the way up to the very top) Is this normal?


Q: Darryl Goff in Olympia , Washington writes: I just came across your website and I love it! 

I am an avid rose person. I have about 20 rose bushes. Some of them are growing better than others. Is there a good fertilizer that you have found works well for them? Also, any suggestions on how to control aphids and blackspots would be highly appreciated. Next year, I hope to start a vegetable garden, but we have so many rabbits and deer in the area. So, I guess I will have to put up a fence. To keep the deer away from the roses, I have been sprinkling cayanne pepper on the leaves of the roses and it's working wonderful thus far.  Also, if you have any suggestions on how to start  an English garden, that would be great. I would to add flowers to my rose beds. Something that comes back every year! 


A: Thank you for writing to me. I am so pleased you like the site.. I will do my best to answer your questions but please bear in mind that anything I use or recommend may not be available outside the UK where we are situated.. For example on my roses I use "Toprose" and bonemeal as a fertilizer and "Bio" greenfly killer to eliminate the aphids. Could you ask your local garden stockist to recommend the best fertilizers and sprays available in your part of the world for each specific task.. 

With Blackspot you must burn all infected leaves at year end, having sprayed religiously throughout the year with a chemical specifically for the job.. When buying new rose bushes choose only those that are resistant to black spot. 

Did you know the theory with aphids is now to just let nature take it`s course? Apparently humans have interfered too much by killing the aphids with sprays and they have become immune to the chemicals.. It is now thought that the best approach is to let the birds and ladybirds eat the aphids... It may take a few years to restore the balance.     

For your vegetable garden you will indeed need to fence an area off if you have rabbits and deer in the vicinity, but remember rabbits dig, so you will have to bury the wire about 18-24 inches deep..  

An English garden huh? Now there is a fine project... First you will need to find a good gardening book with plenty of illustrations by browsing in your local bookstore or library.. Choose the plants/shrubs/trees that you want and then check out their cultural requirements, which is the big issue for you in Washington. 

If you are looking for perennials, you can experiment without losing too much money if a plants fails..Also perennials are quite forgiving if you have harsh winters as this is their dormant time..  

I have looked for an indication of climate for your part of the world and found this website address which gave me an idea of your weather conditions which seem to be similar to the UK:  

Last year I recommended some gardening websites for gardeners to gather information and ideas.. Have a look for them on the Previous Editions page of my gardening column: you may get some ideas for planting.   

This one I have just found is delightful, have a look:  

I hope this has been of some little use to you Darryl; please get back to me if you are unsure of anything.



Previous editions of your gardening queries:


Edition 1

Edition 2

Edition 3

Edition 4


Please e-mail me with your garden problems, comments, or ideas for this section of  laterlife.



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