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Charles Fenyvesi
Charles Fenyvesi
(The Post)
Garden Plot Archive
Column: Gourmet Gardner
Column: Ornamental Gardner
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The Washington Post Garden Book is available on borders.com

The Garden Plot
Hosted by Charles Fenyvesi
Washington Post Writer

Thursday, Oct. 5, 2000; 11 a.m. ET

Charles Fenyvesi will be here to field your questions and comments concerning ornamental gardening and horticulture.

Gardeners can do more than grow bulbs and stems. As the Post's "Ornamental Gardener" columnist, Charles Fenyvesi believes they can also harvest beauty. On Thursdays at 11 a.m. ET, Fenyvesi answers your questions about the flowers, vegetables and fruit that brighten your backyard.

Gardening was a source of joy for Fenyvesi even at the age of 5, when he started planting runner beans in wartime Budapest. He has spent the past 10 years on seven and a half acres in rural Maryland, raising goats and expanding the plots around his house dedicated to flowers, vegetables, berries, and fruit and nut trees. Fenyvesi is inordinately fond of spring-flowering bulbs and ornamental grasses, hazelnut bushes and garlic chives, wood poppies in the shade and black-eyed Susans in full sun.

You can catch Fenyvesi's column on Thursdays in the Home Section, or read "Trees for Shade and Shelter, for Memory and Magic," his book of botanical ruminations published in 1991 by St. Martin's Press.

The transcript follows.

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.

Bethesda, MD: Hi,
My husband planted a leyland cypress in a spot that is shady in the summer. I read that it needs sun. Will it be able to survive where it is or should I make the bonehead dig it up?

Charles Fenyvesi: Leyland cypress does need at least 4 hours of sun, preferably in the morning or late afternoon. Or it should get at least a few hours of full sun and then some dappled sun. It will not do well in full shade. The best time to transplant is between now and the end of the month.

Rosemary Woman: I wrote a few weeks ago about rampant rosemary and you suggested cutting it back to just above where the brown needles started. I gave it a trim-job and it looks...worse! They're still too big and now they aren't even very green.

It's making it very difficult to prepare the rest of the garden for winter. Some of the branches are two feet long and falling over. Should I hack it all the way to the ground and just see what happens next spring?

Charles Fenyvesi: Sorry to hear about your rosemary. Yes, cut it down. Or, you could put it in a pot and take it indoors late this month. When you take it out, you could check if there isn't something eating its roots. By the way, it should get at least 6 hours of sun indoors, and it needs a sunny windowsill inside.

Springfield, VA: Good morning,

My front yard gets some morning sun but is in full shade by 11 am or so. I would love to plant some bulbs but I am not clear which ones do well (if any) in limited sun.

Thank you.

Charles Fenyvesi: Morning sun until 11 is good. Iris reticulata, anemones (aka Grecian windflowers), squills and daffodils should do well.

Alexandria, VA: I have tried to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, basil the past few years in my patio area, but they have just been ravaged by pests as soon as they've got more than a few leaves. Those I recognize are whiteflies and aphids, but I think there are others as well. I tried to treat w/ insecticidal soap, but could not keep up with them, the infestation has been so great. I have only had gardens before in the suburbs of NJ and CT, where there were pests, but not in the incredible numbers seen here.

My questions: Is there something about this area that differs? Is it the fact that I'm in a more urban area? The reduced sun-hours of a patio?

What can I do next year?

Charles Fenyvesi: Your news is bad. It sounds like a major infestation. As someone who can't live without basil, I would go as far as shrouding basil in mosquito netting. Try growing onions, leeks and chives, parsley and carrots.

Alexandria VA: At what point should I be looking to bring my herbs inside? Looks like it could be in the 40s this weekend...

Charles Fenyvesi: If the temperature threatens to drop under 40, bring them indoors. But 40 they can still take. But take your basil indoors this weekend.

Alexandria, VA: Hello Charles! I am going to attempt to plant my first bulbs this fall for next spring. I think I am going to go with tulip and crocus bulbs, but would be open to your suggestion. In talking with a gardener friend, she suggested digging a hole (I am going to put the bulbs in the front yard near small bushes) and dropping about 10 or so bulbs in, and then covering it up. She said this would help the bulbs grow in small bunches. However, this seems a little rudimentary to me. Does this seem like a good method to you? Thanks!

Charles Fenyvesi: You are starting a new life! I would prepare the ground a foot deep, add compost or some other organic matter, and follow instructions as to depth and distance. Don't just dump them in a hole, spread them out. Daffodils are as beautiful as they are indestructible - I won't start without them. But just look at a catalog or a book on bulbs and see what moves you. Maybe it's one of the so-called minor bulbs. Ornamental onions are glorious, for instance.

Adamstown, MD: We have around 10 trees - don't know what type - in an area in our backyard. We want to do some landscaping around them... We were thinking of putting a wall of castle rock (three high, approximately 4 inches high each - 12 inches together). Once we put the castle rock all around we were going to raise the bed. We've been told if we add soil around the trees, they might die. The trees range from 4 inches to 2 feet in diameter. We'd probably only need to add 3 inches of soil around the base of the trees, but more like 10 inches around 3 feet out from the trees.

Do tree roots need to breathe?

Thanks for answering our long question!!

Charles Fenyvesi: DO NOT BURY TREE ROOTS. They will rot. Do not dump soil against the trunk for the same reason. Roots must breathe.

Alexandria (Fairfax): I recently put down grass seed in my previously bare and weedy yard and covered it with a light layer of straw as instructed by the Washington Post Garden Book. As a novice gardener, I was delighted that the yard is now tinged pleasantly green and the grass seems to be coming up well. The grass seed went in Sept. 23, by the way. My only question is this: when should I rake up the straw? We might very well need to do a second application of seed on the bare spots or spots the dog got to, so should the straw remain? And is there a way to rake up the straw without ripping up my new grass? Any help would be appreciated.

Charles Fenyvesi: Leave the straw where it is. It will decompose, enriching the soil. Oddly enough, the straw discourages most birds who would otherwise make a meal out of your grass seeds. Add the new seeds where they are needed, and dump more straw on top.

Germantown Maryland: I just bought some double tulips for next spring. If I plant them in a container, is it OK to plant the bulbs close together and, can I leave the bulbs in the container for the following year. Or should I take them out of the container? Thanks, Pam

Charles Fenyvesi: Give each bulb a little room to breathe. Follow the instructions that came with the tulips, as different tulips have different demands as to how far to set them apart. But leave them in the container - I hope it's wide and deep and the soil is choice topsoil - so they can come up in the spring. Whether they will come up spring after spring again depends on the particular variety. Some behave like perennials, others are annuals.

Brooklyn, NY: Please help for next year! I have flowering morning glories and moonflowers, but every year I can't seem to correct the problem of the leaves yellowing and then dying long before the vine has stopped flowering. Do I need more fertilizer, compost, or what? Also, the leaves become limp in mid day, even if I've watered the plants that morning.

Charles Fenyvesi: As for yellowing and dying leaves: You may have some deficiency in the soil. Have it tested so you know what needs to be added. But wilting in the midday sun is to be expected - but they should come back and live in the evening.

DC: This past Summer, my roses were completely infected with black spot. I've read where this was a result of how wet it was in the area. Is there anything I could be doing now to prevent it from happening again. what should I do next Spring?

Charles Fenyvesi: I am sorry to inform you that roses are not meant for our climate. They must be chemically treated for blackspot at regular intervals - but the chemicals could not help this past summer. Everybody with roses had blackspot.

Bethesda: Do evergreen plants take advantage of the sun during the winter, or are they dormant even thought the leaves are still there?

Charles Fenyvesi: Yes, evergreens take advantage of the winter sun. They are not completely dormant.

Falls Church, Virginia: We are having a fairly substantial plant installation done this fall. It is currently scheduled for the end of November. It is mostly shrubs, but also some small trees and some perennials. Is this too late in the year or are there any concerns I should have about such a late date?

Charles Fenyvesi: I would ask the nursery to plant a little earlier. Make sure that you have replacement guarantee for the trees and shrubs.

Adamstown, MD: Thanks for answering my question about the tree roots. Could we add mulch instead? Will that still cause the tree base/roots to rot?


Charles Fenyvesi: Mulch may still rot the roots. Some people add pebbles and rocks but I never tried it.

Springfield, VA: I know paperwhite narcissus is good for forcing indoor bloom, but can I use other type of daffodils ? (BTW, do narcissus and daffodils come from the same family of plants ?)


Charles Fenyvesi: Narcissus and daffodils are the same. Paperwhite narcissus was bred for forcing. Other daffodils/narcissi may also be forced into indoor bloom, but that's not guaranteed. It may or may not happen.

Annandale, VA: Hi Charles,

What is the best way to store bulbs ? I want to plant some bulbs in my back yard, knowing that next year we will expand the kitchen.
Should I wait until next year to plant them ? (I already bought the bulbs).

Thanks for your help.

Charles Fenyvesi: The best way to store bulbs is to put them in the ground. That's where they belong. Don't wait.

Westchester County, NY: My house is on an acre. In the way back of my plot is an 80x100 area that until this spring was a big old bramble (wild roses, vines, raspberries, poison ivy, you name it). I had it cleared out and have mowed it down twice since then. The area includes sunny and shady spots. My lawn serivce suggests spraying the area with Round Up then covering it with 30 cubic yards of topsoil (this works out to about 1.5 inches)and then grass seed.

Can you suggest a less chemical and less expensive way to get rid of the weeds and grow a lawn back there?


Charles Fenyvesi: People say Roundup has no side effects. I hesitate to use it. You could cover the ground with the kind of garden textile that lets the water seep through but blocks weed growth, and then dump the topsoil on top. Or, mow down the brambles, cover the area with thick plastic which will block sunlight and rain, and help decompose the brambles over winter, and dump the topsoil in the spring.

Chevy Chase, MD: Hello, I have a white azalea bush in my front yard that did not flower this spring but is flowering right now, lots of open flowers and even more buds! Why is it doing this? Thanks

Charles Fenyvesi: A fall-blooming azalea should be seen as a sign from above. Welcome it. It happens rarely but it is not a miracle.

Alexandria: I'm the opposite of the bulb person whose yard only gets morning sun. My west-facing front yard is dominated by a big tree that makes it pretty shady. The flower bed gets sun in the late afternoon. Is there any hope for bulbs there?

Charles Fenyvesi: Yes, try planting bulbs, especially if your big tree loses its leaves during winter. Daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs can get by on 4 hours of sunlight in the spring. Summer doesn't really count. By that time the foliage of springflowering bulbs is gone.

W, DC: Should bulbs be left in the ground from year to year, or dug up?

Charles Fenyvesi: Dahlia and canna bulbs should be dug up, but bulbs of daffodils, tulips, lilies, hyacinths - the list is long - should be left in the ground all winter. It's not cruel - they need the winter.

Alexandria: My neighbor has a great looking Wandering Jew plant that appears to have, through birds or wind or whatever, sprouted on a patch of fertile soil in my back yard. I'd like to transfer it to a pot, but when I tried to transplant it, I found the ivy-like roots hard to keep in order. I did take some cuttings and put them in water as I do for my ivy. Will this work? Can I hope that the cuttings will sprout roots and then I can replant in a container?

Charles Fenyvesi: The Wandering Jew is a fine, persistent plant. Even if it lost some of its roots, it ought to recover quickly and reward you with a good indoors performance this winter. If you try to grow it from cuttings - no roots - make sure you keep the soil moist and do not put it in the sun.

Alex, VA: When is the time for bulb planting?

What about last year's bulbs--do they need to be dug up and replanted? Anything else to help them? I still have daffodils, tulips, crocuses, day lilies, and another type with a flowery spike.

Charles Fenyvesi: Just leave those spring-flowering bulbs in the ground. They will come up in the spring. They do not need to be coddled. They are tough, and they need the freeze of winter. They sleep better that way.

Falls Church, VA: A followup on late fall planting, thanks. If they can't do it earlier, should we push it off to early spring. Thanks again.

Charles Fenyvesi: I would postpone mass planting until early spring - if they really can't do it this month. What if we have early frosts?

Fairfax: Hi Charles,

Thanks for taking my question. I think I have a chipmunk in my front yard. It has made a big hole in the front stoop and I think it goes under the house. IS this a big problem? I would hate to think I have to kill this creature.


Charles Fenyvesi: Chipmunks are not destructive to plants. They may dig up an occasional bulb - mine have not done that - but nothing worse. I'd leave them alone.

Severn, MD: We planted a holly bush sprig earlier this summer. It has grown well, but now we have a 4'holly stalk. Is there a trick to get it to branch out or is this something that will come with time?

Charles Fenyvesi: If you prune back the ambitious upright stems, the holly will take the hint and spread out horizontally. But I'd wait until spring to do that. If you prune now, the new growth may not have time to harden and could be killed by frost.

Northern Virginia: I have a forsythia that has grown wild. How do I tame and shape it? Is this a good time to do it?

Charles Fenyvesi: Forsythia goes wild. You tame it by cutting it back, again and again. You could start now.

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