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Adrienne Cook
Adrienne Cook
(The Post)
Garden Plot Archive
Column: Gourmet Gardner
Column: Ornamental Gardner
Home & Garden Section
Garden & Patio Section
The Washington Post Garden Book is available on borders.com

The Garden Plot
Hosted by Adrienne Cook
Special to the Washington Post

Thursday, Oct. 12, 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.


Springfield, VA: Adrienne,

I just received a shipment of bulbs from Breck's. I've never ordered bulbs before, always just getting them at the local hardware store. But where is the best place to get bulbs? Mail order? A local retailer?
Also, would planting bulbs this weekend be too early?

Thanks so much!

Adrienne Cook : Either way is great. Brecks is an excellent mail-order place. The main thing you look for is quality bulbs -- retail or mail-order. They should be large and solid; moldy or soft or under-sized bulbs won't do at all. They should be uniform in size. The only ones that vary in size are daffodils; tall, large-flowered varieties grow from larger bulbs; smaller ones form smaller bulbs. Plant them as soon as you get them! The sooner they go in the better their root systems will develop. All bulbs ought to be in by November. However, if you don't get them inthe ground by then and they are still good (haven't rotted or dried out) get them in the ground before the end f the year and you should still get a little show next year -- better ones in ensuing years.

Temple Hills, MD: I inherited several azalea and rhododendron (sp) bushes when I purchased my house. What do I need to do to prepare them for winter?

Adrienne Cook : Nothing at all! These are some of the best, most carefree plants you can have. If they grow too large, prune them back adter they have bloomed. Apart from that, just enjoy them.

Alexandria, VA: Perhaps this is a silly question, but how do you judge what qualifies as full sun vs. partial sun vs. full shade? Also, if the criteria is a set number of hours, how can one figure that out if the area is not full shade or sun? Thanks!

Adrienne Cook : Not silly at all. There's an adage: Morning sun is shade, afternoon sun is sun. Most perennials, annuals and vegetables require full sun -- six hours per day. Partial shade is anything less than that. Light shade is both partial sun and light shade; it is the kind of dappled shade that appears under a tree with a fairly light canopy, such as beech or aspen or even a fruit tree. To determine what kind of sun you have in your yard, measure the tree canopy -- physically -- from "drip line" to "drip line" of each tree. The drip line is the outside radius of the tree over your head. Areas outside this drip line will be in full sun, assuming they are not shadowed by a building. You also should be able to determine the trajectory of the sun in your yard by knowing which way the house faces and then tracing the arc of the sun from sunrise ot sun down. That will tell you where the morning sun is, where the afternoon sun is.

DC: This may be more of a pet question than a garden question, but here it goes....

The small backyard is starting to smell like a puppy toilet. I pick up her poop right away, but I think it's the urine that stinks. Do you know of something that I can sprinkle on mulch to keep the smell down? The pup goes in the same spot every time.


Adrienne Cook : Lime. It will kill the odor and help balance the soil in that area. Get garden lime, or dolominic limestone. Avoid industrial lime or any other type.

Arlington, Va: I've just put in a flagstone walk in a very shady area beside my house where I have been unable to grow grass. I have about 10 sq feet of just dirt that needs some sort of ground cover. What can I expect to grow there in the shade in this cool fall weather. I'd like some sort of ground ivy or do you think sod would take?

Adrienne Cook : Vinca, also called periwinkle, is tough, tolerates shade well and looks pretty in the srping with blue or rose (depending on the variety) flowers. It also won't take over like ivy can. For scent, try creeping thyme, which also will grow in shade. Vinca grows faster.

Small Apartment in Arlington: I would really like to grow flowering plants in my apt., but realize that for the most part this ain't going to happen. However, I've come across some nice forcing vases over the past year, and would really like to try this. How do I do it? I don't want Hyacninths - my apt is too small to handle the frangrance. What else works well? Do I have to freeze the bulbs first? How high do I put the water? How often should I change the water? If I want flowers in January, when should I start them? Do they need much light?


Adrienne Cook : Most bulbs will have some scent. Paperwhite narcissus, for example, is lovely and very easy to grow under low light conditions and in a small apartment. However, it has a powerful scent too. Look for tulip and crocus bulbs that have been pre-chilled for forcing. Some garden centers carry them. White Flower Farms catalogue has them if you want to go mail-order. You can find them on the Internet. Frankly, hyacinth and paperwhites are the easiest; tulips, crocusses and other types of small narcissi, all of which have very mild scent, are much more difficult. Regardless of which you choose to grow, they bloom about three to four weeks after they have been started in water.

washington dc: are acorns edible?

Adrienne Cook : The deer sure think so! Seriously, though, Native Americans used to make flour out of acorns. I haven't tried it myself but it is do-able!

Lusby, MD: Adrienne, I would like to reseed my lawn this weekend. I have several patchy areas. Can I put lime, fertilizer, and seed down together? Should I cover them with straw? Is there a particular brand of grass seed that you recommend? I have several large oak trees and some areas are shady while others are sunny. Should I mix sun and shade seed? Thanks!

Adrienne Cook : Yes to the first two questions. I don't have a specific grass that I recommend. Just be sure that you get a mix; avoid sowing a single variety. Use a shade mixture for the shady spots and a sun mixture for the sunny places.

Washington DC: Adrienne - We have just removed a very large silver maple and ground down its trunk and extensive above-ground roots. What remains is lots of rotted root grindings and dirt. Does this qualify as useable mulch? Also, we are unsure whether to leave this mound to settle ... will it be any good for grass or ground cover, or should we get rid of it and add topsoil? Thanks.

Adrienne Cook : I'm not totally picturing this. The answer to the first question is definitely yes. Wood chips of any kind -- fresh or rotting -- qulaify as mulch. The mound? Is this a mound of wood chips? Why not spread them around as mulch and get the "mound" down to ground level. If the mound is the remaining stump, then, yes, you'll have to wait a while, but eventually it will deteriorate and become part of the ground too. You can speed up the process by putting fertilizer on the stump; this accelerates decomposition.

Bethesda, MD: I'm searching for the right material to provide a natural privacy screen between my house and my neighbors'. The property line, however, is a mere 8' from the side of my house. Leylands Cypress? Bamboo? I want it thick and high! Any suggestions?

Adrienne Cook : Depends on what you like. Personally, I think that Leyland cypress are over-used. Bamboo is gorgeous but it can become a headache unless you MAKE SURE you don't plant an invasive variety. I like arborvitae; they are beautiful to look at, don't take over and, frankly add much more value to the landscape than either of the other two suggestions.

Burke, VA: I've been told that the reason my tomatoes weren't so good this year is that I plant them in the same place year after year. Is this true? How can I fix this problem (other than moving them--I have a small garden plot, and tomatoes are all I plant).

Adrienne Cook : Depends on what "the problem" was. It's true that it's smart to move tomatoes -- and rotate other veggies too -- to prevent soil-borne diseases. However, a lot of folks had "problems" with their tomatoes this year, mostly that they produced poorly becuase we never got a really hot summer, which is what those tomatoes love.

Acorns!: FYI- Acorns are indeed edible, but it is very very important to blanch the insides in boiling water and then let them sun dry in order to leech out a chemical that can cause people considerable gastric irritation. Deer have a stomach enzyme that can digest this chemical, but alas, humans do not.

Adrienne Cook : From someone who knows more than I do!

Alexandria, Va.: Several weeks ago the birds starting pulling out the grass. We discovered we had grubs in the lawn as well as the flower bed. we spread a granular grub killer on the lawn and scrathced a little in the garden. We have not seen bird damage since then. Is it alright to fertilize the lawn after the grub treatment. When should we fertilize?

Adrienne Cook : Now.

Alexandria, VA: I have a huge fig bush in my side yard. This thing is about 8' tall and 7' wide. I've never done much to take care of it. One year I think I mulched it; another year I might have fertilized it. It's starting to take over the whole yard. Can I prune this baby? If so, when and how? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Adrienne Cook : Prune away. Figs can indeed take over and get huge. Does it have fruit on it now? Wait until winter. Prune it back before spring. You can actually cut it back to the ground without hurting it. Just be aware that new shoots will come up from the ground, just as they have been doing right along to get it as big as it is now. Keep those loppers handy.

Glover Park: Re flowering plants for indoors -- you forgot one beautiful easy bulb -- Amaryllis. Easy to find, particularly toward holidays -- often at grocery stores. Other possibilities: African violets, and possibly if you have sunny window: hibiscus.
I once had pot bound hibiscus in big East facing window that I watered and fertilized every a.m. They bloomed continuously and were the envy of my office.

Adrienne Cook : Wow. Good point. Amaryllis are fabulous and so easy. African violets like East windows and don't over-water. They also benefit from regular fertilizer. Peter's seems to do the trick; you can get it at the supermarket or garden center.

acornbread: http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/keninga/acorn.htm

Above is a link about edible acorns. Make sure to boil well to remove the tannic acid!

Adrienne Cook : More on acorns

Falls Church, VA: Adrienne,

Please let the other poster know that you should not fertilize and lime at the same time!

Do a soil test, then lime, then fertilize. If your soil is too acidic/akaline, the uptake of nutrients is hindered and off goes nitrogen/phosporus into our watershed! Lime also interferes with nutrient uptake if applied at the same time.

Arlington's Ag Extension office has TONS of information on this and it's free!

Adrienne Cook : I agree on the soil sample. However, now is the time to be dealing with lawn issues and the soil sample might delay things. But, of course, getting one done is exceedingly important. Two things further: Almost every lawn in this area can use more lime. Period. I haven't yet seen the lawn that is too alkaline here. Second, if you use a slow-release fertilizer, which is what you should be using now anyway, liming at the same time won't prevent the uptake of nutrients. Make it easy on yourself. But do get info from the Extension Service too. That's what they are there for.

Southern Maryland: Hi, I have 2 questions. The first is regarding my vegetable garden. I had alot of grass growing in my garden this year, perhaps from using straw to protect my plants from the cold. Now that everything in the garden is dead, I'd like to know what I can do, if anything, to prevent the grass from coming back next year.

My second question is regarding starting a "cut flowers" garden. What are some flowers that you suggest for starting such a garden? I have mauve and green accents in my home and would like colors that would go with the decor...I'm going to plant some spring bulbs but was wondering if there are other types of flowers I could plant now.

Thanks for your help!

Adrienne Cook : I love straw as a mulch, except for it's biggest drawback, which is grass seeds germinating. I just pull the grass as it comes up. I'm guessing that if you have as much a a problem as you say, the mulch may have not been thick enough to quell grass coming up under it or seed coming from elsewher to germinate there. However, if you want to abandon straw, try leaf mold -- shredded, decomposing leaves. These won't have grass seed in them.

Cut flowers include so many varieties. You should check out a book on the subject from the libary. One of the best is by Hardie Newton, who lives in VA but talks about the whole region. Easy to grow annuals in your colors include cosmos, cleome, purple fountain grass, dahlias, salvia. Perennials, which you can plant now include phlox, shasta daisies, day lilies -- find those that work in with your color scheme -- tulips, other ornamental grasses, asters, roses.

That's all folks. Thanks for the stimulating chat. Enjoy the acorns.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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