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Garden Mailbag: Peach Trees, Impatiens, Butterfly Bush, Landscape Screen, Topsoil, Boxwoods

By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page F03

Spring has arrived and your questions stimulate my curiosity, get me into the garden to check on the status of our plants and want to learn more about what might be ailing yours.

Q My four-year-old peach trees produce an abundant crop every year. However, the fruit never ripens. Why? They get good sun and water. I live in the Frederick County portion of Clarksburg. -- Ed Morgan

Growers know which varieties of peach trees produce the ripest fruit. (Jim Hudelson -- AP)

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AIt sounds as if your peach trees are healthy and not getting enough warm weather to ripen. Peaches are considered a southern crop, but the peach blossom is the state flower of Delaware and there are varieties that grow further north. Try an earlier ripening, disease-resistant variety such as Red Haven, Harrow Diamond or Meader Patio. Ask local growers for the names of the best varieties for your region; there are hundreds.

I have 12 feet of flower boxes across the front of my house that are shaded by a tree. I have tried numerous shade-tolerant plants, including New Guinea impatiens, with little success. The perfect plant would be one that tolerates shade and flowers all summer, but I would be pleased with one that just survived. -- John Crerar

Finding the correct-shade tolerant plants is a process of trial and error. The best flowers for low light are common impatiens, not New Guinea impatiens, and tuberous begonia, in light shade. Plants that grow in shade don't usually have the showiest flowers, but their foliage can offer plenty of color and textural interest. Several foliage plants to try are caladium, coleus, Joseph's coat (Alternanthera), blue daze (Evolvulus pilosus), hakone grass, hosta, peacock ginger (Kaempferia), Japanese painted fern, European ginger (Asarum europaeum), sedge (Carex buchanii or morrowii) and liriope.

In low light, against a house wall, lack of air circulation is the greatest detriment. If foliage doesn't dry and roots aren't drained, plants often succumb to fungal diseases that thrive in chronically moist conditions. Install container plants using a soil-free growing medium -- usually peat moss or pine bark based mixes. Two brands with which I have had success are Pro Mix and Baccto. Fertilize container plants every other watering throughout the growing season, using water-soluble fertilizer such as Peter's Plant Food or Miracle-Gro to boost the ornamental impact of your plants.

Is there a good screening plant that the deer don't eat? -- David Brickley

They generally don't eat Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), most viburnums, and conifers, such as spruce and pine. Deer also stay away from leyland cypress, so it can be installed as a temporary screen, while something with more longevity, such as Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra), fills in. Generically, deer don't like plants with hairy or fuzzy leaves, fragrant foliage and plants with exceptionally thorny foliage, but a hungry deer might taste almost anything.

When is the best time to transplant a butterfly bush? Should I cut it back before moving? It's about six feet tall. -- Tom Vendex

Transplant butterfly bush now, when the soil is not too soggy. Cut it back to 12 to 18 inches in height. It might be leafing out and new growth could wilt during the move. Keep it moist; new growth will begin again, and it will be fine. Place roots on burlap or other fabric to keep the soil on the roots when moving the plant. Transplant to a sunny location.

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