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Adrienne Cook
Adrienne Cook
(The Post)
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Column: Gourmet Gardner
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The Garden Plot
Hosted by Adrienne Cook
Special to the Washington Post

Thursday, Sept. 21, 2000;
11 a.m. EDT

Whether you remember her as the "Backyard Gardener" or know her as the "Gourmet Gardener," Post columnist Adrienne Cook is one of the area's authorities on organic horticulture. Cook will be online to field all questions, concerns and comments regarding gardening.

A self-proclaimed "practical gardener," Cook's love for horticulture stems from her roots, starting with a grandfather who bred day lilies and camellias. An organic gardener, Cook has been putting her heart and soul into the soil for 30 years. In her job as a Post columnist, Cook has been offering "real and simple solutions for basic problems" for the past 20 years. Practicing what she preaches, Cook balances her time between her numerous backyard projects, including a batch of perennials, fruit trees, a cut-flower garden and a burgeoning green house. Currently she is growing apples, cherries, apricots and various berries, but her favorites are the veggies: peas, tomatoes and herbs.

Over the years Cook has contributed her green-thumb knowledge to several publications, including Organic Gardening, Good Housekeeping, Southern Accents and Fine Gardening.

Read today's discussion below.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Detroit, MI: Dear Ms. Cook,
I'm reclaiming a city lot by turning part of it into a (red) raspberry patch. I have to amend the fill soil. Is there something special I should use? Can you suggest a particular type of raspberry? Would it be better to plant now or wait until spring?

Adrienne Cook: What a lovely idea! Preparing soil for raspberries is important because you hope they will be there for many years to come. If there is a lot of debris in the fill soil, you will be pulling this out over the lifetime of your raspberries since such debris -- rocks, stones, wire, chunks of concrete, etc. -- is heaved upward during winter freezes, to reappear each spring until it is all removed. Adding plenty of compost and organic matter will do two things. First it will provide nutrients for the raspberry plants; second it creates drainage when rain is heavy while acting as a sponge when water is scarce. Just as important, organic matter will create a more loamy, easily worked soil, making debris removal much easier. Don't stint on the compost -- the more the better. For my own raspberries, I haul in enough compost and organic matter -- finely ground wood mulch, shredded leaves, animal bedding from a local horse farm, etc. -- to raise the soil level six inches. I till this in if I have a tiller (I don't own one) or I fork it in by hand, which I actually prefer, since I get to know the soil better that way. Each year, I add another four or six inches of organic matter, in the form of mulch -- I like straw, leaves and grass clippings -- and additional compost each fall as part of preparing for winter. You can plant raspberries in the fall or spring, but I'm guessing you'll have better luck finding plants in the spring. In any case, now is the time to be concentrating on getting the soil ready, and that might be as much as you'll be able to handle before winter. Varieties: Heritage is a great red raspberry; I love Fall Gold, a yellow raspberry very sweet. Both these varieties are widely available at garden centers in the spring and through all-purpose garden catalogues anytime. Enjoy!

McLean, VA: A new house is being built behind ours. Can you suggest an evergreen tree that can be transplanted at a relatively large size and continue to grow quickly? Would Virginia cedar do the trick? We've had mixed results with Leyland cypresses on the other side of our property. Thanks!

Adrienne Cook: Virginia cedar is a good choice. Arborvitae is a favorite of mine and an excellent screen. A little more formal in appearance than the Virginia red cedar; more versatile, I think, in terms of a landscaping element.

DC: Hi Adrienne,
I've got a problem. My yard is literally infested with those vicious Asian tiger mosquitoes. I have like no blood left. I have to light mosquito coils, citronella candles, and douse myself in lemongrass oil just to do some work in the yard. I've heard that the larvae overwinter. My concern (alright, fear) is that I'll have to deal with this again next summer. Do you have any suggestions? I'll try anything! Thanks in advance.

Adrienne Cook: You and about 1 million others! There's been a lot written about this problem in the paper. Typical advice is the usual -- get rid of standing water, etc. I honestly don't know if larvae overwinter. The typical mosquito would not, simply because they need water to survive -- not ice. If the tiger mosquito has evolved so that the larvae can live in ice, then I guess that's your answer. I'd check with the D.C. Extension Service (they used to be located on 13th and Military, don't know if they're still there). In any event, they should be listed under DC government or UDC, which they are affiliated with. It's their job to track these issues and get info to the public. My last thought: Get a bat house!

Annandale, VA: Good morning, Adrienne!

My question: is now a good time to plant trees? I have two Kwanzaan cherries that need to go in the ground. Also, what kind of soil amending do I need to do (soil is typical VA clay), and what kind of staking up, watering, fertilizer, etc.? Thanks for your help!

Adrienne Cook: Plant them as soon as you can. Nothing harms trees more than not being planted, so, if you've got the trees, get them in! If you haven't actually purchased them yet, the best time to plant is the fall, followed by winter, followed by spring; summer is the worst, although not necessarily impossible; it just takes more care if you plant in the summer. When planting trees, the most important aspect -- more important than fertilizer -- is getting the hole large enough. This is where a lot of people fail with trees. The roots of the tree need to be spread out -- splayed, even -- and in contact with soil. So make that whole wide -- not necessarily deep, but plenty wide. I always put a layer of compost at the bottom of the hole and then add compost in with the soil that I put back over the roots. This is not necessary either, but it's not a bad idea. Fertilizing is absolutely not necessary. People fertile trees to get them to grow faster; it's kind of like putting them on speed -- doesn't do them any good long-term and makes them vulnerable to stress. When you fill the hole in again, be sure that the soil level is at the same level as the tree was in before. You'll be able to tell because the bark changes in color and texture at the soil line. Use a tree guard around the base to protect the trunk from mice and lawn mowers. Check it regularly to make sure you don't get any insect nests building up in it -- tree guards are a favorite haunt of a number of wasp species. Water the tree well when it's first planted -- I fill the hole with water before I put the tree in and let the water seep in, then again after the tree is in. Water each week we don't have rain or snow. This will have to be done for about five years, when the tree is fully established and able to fend for itself. If you mulch the tree, be sure you put the mulch over the entire hole that you made, not just around the base, even to the outside radius of the tree. And don't mound the mulch up around the trunk, either -- another big mistake. Instead, make the mulch area concave so that it captures water rather than shedding it.

Columbia MD: Our sage plant in a pot was doing very well for a while this summer, then suddenly the leaves began turning brown and dry, some glistening colorless goo was showing up on other leaves, and little holes were being made also. We picked off the affected leaves and repotted into a bigger pot, and in the process, discovered and removed two caterpillar/worm-like things in the soil. No more goo, but there were still little holes and browning on the leaves, and we noticed tiny little bugs about the lower stems of the plant, so we tried washing the plant off. Can you suggest what else we might do to help the plant?

Adrienne Cook: From your description, I'm guessing at least one of your problems -- colorless goo, holes in leaves and worm-like critters are clues -- is slugs. The steps you took are excellent. Sage is generally a very tough plant and can tolerate insect attacks and stress. Try insecticidal soap on the tinny little bugs -- could those be aphids? These are very small, come in green, white and black, depending on the species. Insecticidal soap is available at hardware stores and garden centers. It is mixed with water in a sprayer, so pick up an ordinary spryer, like you'd use for any liquid household cleaner -- like a Windex bottle. Leave the plant outdoors during the winter, incidentally. It will survive and come back beautifully next spring.

Springfield, VA: Hi Adrienne,

I love my neighbor's garden in the spring when all the crocus come out in the yard. I want to plant crocus on my yard also, but I'm afraid to dig in my lawn as my grass is very thick. I don't know what is the right way to plant these bulbs. Is it too late for my lawn ? and will my grass come back after all the diggings ? I bought over 200 bulbs. Thanks for your help.

Adrienne Cook: Very simple, and your neighbor knows, that's why it looks so good! Use a pointed digging tool to make holes in your lawn -- just little ones, each big enough to take one crocus bulb. Go about six inches deep, but very narrow so as to not disturb the grass. Drop in a teaspoon of bulb food -- I like Bulb Booster, but anything that's formulated for bulbs will do, or bonemeal if you don't have a dog that will sniff it out and dig it up. Then drop in the bulb and press the earth back around the hole. Do all your holes at once so you can see where you are planting. Larger ones will accommodate one or two bulbs. Once you've filled them in and pressed the grass back over the disturbance you won't be able to tell anything was done until your lovely spring surprise when they all come up. They will multiply and naturalize over many years -- I have some that have been in the ground 40 years!

Alexandria VA: I am hoping to have an indoor herb garden this winter...are there any place I could readup on the right way to do this? Any advice on what herbs work best? Dos or Don'ts? Thanks!

Adrienne Cook: You'll need lots of light -- that's probably the most important, since everything else is fairly easy to control. To grow really well, most herbs need 16-20 hours of artificial light per day. I leave them under lights 24/7. Good choices include cilantro, which is quick to grow and works well indoors if it's kept clipped back to about six inches all the time; parsley, which also handles the cold and can be left outside much of the winter -- bring it in for brief periods when the weather gets intense; basil, which loves warmth and light and actually does pretty well in a southern window with not too much more than natural light; rosemary, which tolerates the dry, heated air typical of most houses in the winter. Avoid sage, tarragon, oregano; thyme is a wonderful evergreen in our area, staying outside, loving it, and remaining green all winter.

Westminster, MD: Adrienne,

I am relatively new to gardening. This year I planted Mr. Lincoln, JFK and Peace rose bushes in my garden. They were gorgeous!!
What can I do to protect them this winter? Should I prune them later this fall or next spring? Any suggestions you could give me would be great. I hope to enjoy these beauties for years to come.


Adrienne Cook: If they need pruning, definitely do it in the fall. Prune for shape and to stimulate canes to grow form the ground up; remove dead and diseased canes. Mulch the roses with compost -- the late great rose lover Henry Mitchell used to say that nothing does a rose bush more good than a bucket of horse manure a couple of times a year. Generally, roses need little more protection than that, unless they are planted in a windy, unprotected spot. Then it's a good idea to put a large cage over each one and fill it with straw, or tie a straw-filled burlap wrap around it. But this is an extreme measure required only under extreme conditions. Most of the DC area, for example, would not need to do this; a garden in an urban or even suburban environment probably would not need to have protection for roses, certainly in Zones 6 & 7.

DC: Two questions, please:
We have a beautiful bay plant in a pot on the deck. Can we leave it outside over the winter, or should it come in.
Any tips for a poinsettia that is doing very well in front of a north-facing window, and has lots of leaves. Will it bloom?

Adrienne Cook: Bay is half-hardy, which means it will survive a mild winter, but not a severe one. Well, it probably will survive, but it will be killed back to the ground and will start again from the bottom up. To keep it on track, it is best protected in the winter. An unheated greenhouse or cold frame will do the trick. If you don't have either of these, bring it in as soon as winter gets serious -- late December, maybe. If at all possible, keep it in a place where it doesn't get warm but it does have plenty of light. This also may be impossible; if you must compromise, light is more important than the temperature, but in either case, keep it away from any direct source of heat. Get the bay plant back outdoors as soon as you can -- March, if possible. Two months inside will be better to keep it growing than risking having it killed back during that same period.

Springfield, VA: Thanks for your answer on my crocus question. Here is another one, can I do the same thing for Tulip, Daffodils bulbs ? or they're too large for the yard.

Adrienne Cook: Yes, but the holes will have to be bigger, so the disturbance to the lawn will be evident. Most daffodils will naturalize, but some are better at it than others, so go for a variety that is known for this quality; such information will be part of its description on the label. Tulips are trickier -- only a small percentage of tulips naturalize and these are generally short-stemmed, ground-hugging and come in red or yellow only. They're called Kaufmanniana, or species tulips. They are often difficult to find, but are certainly available at garden centers. The tall tulips known as Darwin bloom well for a single year only. After that, they come back sporadically, eventually not blooming at all. These really need to be in flower beds, where they can be replaced each year. Tulip and daffodil holes need to be dug at least a foot deep, so larger tool will be required than the simple hole-digger that you'd use for crocuses. Crocci?

DC: I have a small city backyard that was horrible when I moved in back in May. I replaced the soil with topsoil and planted stuff (mainly annuals) just to have it green for this summer/fall, including three roses.

Over the winter I plan to build up a planting bed and plan out "real" plantings, such as a Japanese Maple in one corner and other perennials. Can I move the roses during the winter, or will that shock them? One of them is currently where I want to build up a retaining wall/bed. Thanks.

Adrienne Cook: No; your rose should do fine if you move it in the next few weeks. I'd do it before the end of the year. Prune it back by about a third or so, to where it's manageable to handle. Get the soil prepared in the new area before you dig it -- add compost, organic matter, bagged manure, etc. Mulch the rose once it is in its new place.

Hamilton VA: Please allow me a sales pitch for a great show this weekend.
Sat & Sun the American Dahlia Society is holding it's National Show - the Doubletree in Arlington(Pentagon City).
There will be examples of all types of dahlias from 12" giants to perfect little poms the size of ping pong balls.
Flowers from England & Wales as well as the US east coast and Canada.
The show is free and runs Sat 2 - 6 PM and Sunday 9AM - 4PM

Adrienne Cook: Done! And I'll be there! On that note, I'm signing off. Thanks again for all the great questions. Next Thursday, same time, same place, it's Adrian Higgins who knows a lot about perennials and shrubs.

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