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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. 26, 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.

Below is today's transcript.

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.

New York, N.Y.: I have a potted "butterfly bush" that I was thinking of planting in my flowerbed. Is it safe to do that now, or should I wait for the spring?

Adrienne Cook: Plant it now! Butterfly bush (buddleii) is a hardy perennila shrub. Depending on what variety you have, it can grow to 10 feet tall and as big around. however, it benefits mightily from sever pruning, which not only keeps it bushier and more manageable, but actually stimulates blooming. If it's still quite small now, you probably do not need to prune it before putting it in the ground. However, if it is difficult to manage because of size, cut it back by one-third to two-thirds. Dig a healthy hole in the ground and add compost, Be sure the root system has plenty of room to expand; cover roots firmly and add a layer of mulch -- shredded leaves are good -- around the base of the transplanted buddleii. Locate it in a sunny spot where it has room to get large. Keep it pruned to whatever size you prefer. If you don't care how big it gets, prune it each fall after it blooms, taking off about one-third of the bush just to keep it looking good.

Falls Church, VA: My (Marglobe) tomato plants just gave me 20 beautiful little gems this past weekend: but I fear it was the last of this year's harvest. There are about 10 more little green tomatoes on the plants, and about 20 blossoms (!), but all the foliage and stems are brown and dead looking. Can you tell me when I should pull them out: my husband is getting tired of looking at them, as we've never grown tomatoes this year. (I have to say, we were pleasantly surprised: only problem was an early bought with blossom-end rot, which we rectified with a lime spray.)

Adrienne Cook: Don't count on any more ripening. Tomatoes need warm nights to ripen and they'll only get that indoors. Solid green tomatoes that have not yet begun to turn get mealy as they ripen indoors and are better used as "fried green tomatoes." Green ones that have slight color in them should ripen over the next week to 10 days indoors. they won't be as good as the vine-ripend ones, but better than throwing them out. Pull your vines up as soon as you can and add them to the compost pile. Collect any tomatoes that have fallen on the ground or the seeds will sprout next year and become a nuisance.

Annapolis, Md: The unseasonable weather has evidently affected one of my rhododenrons, which has several blooms just about to pop open. Will this hurt the plant? What about next spring's flowering?

Adrienne Cook: Shouldn't. Also shouldn't effect next year's bloom, since those buds haven't even set yet. What you're seeing is the tail end of this season's flowering. Enjoy.

It's so foggy out, I can't tell! : In early spring, I put a nice potted lavender out on my balcony, expecting it to flourish and reward me with flowers. Well, it's got lots of foliage, but no flowers. Is there anything I can use the sprigs of lavender for before it dies outside? I'm not planning on bringing it indoors for the winter. Does it have a chance to survive outside? Thanks!

Adrienne Cook: Probably a new cutting. The only lavender that blooms the first year it is in the ground is the "annual" variety Lady, which is really a perennial like all lavenders but does bloom when still a juvenile. Your lavender should reward you with lots of blooming next spring. Use sprigs to flavor grilled meats; you can also make a potpuris out of the leaves, which have a lavender smell tho not as strong as the beautiful flowers. it is hardy and does not need special care. I have a large pot filled that overflows with lavender each year and it's been outdoors for at least five years. I do cut back winter-killed foliage each spring.

bethesda: What evergreen tree or shrub would you recommend which will grow at least 10 feet tall in a shady spot.

Adrienne Cook: Rhododendron.

Arlington VA: Hi there!

I just moved into a townhouse with no yard but a little plot of land in front of the house. Where we are positioned, there is very little (if any) sunlight that reaches there. I am not a huge fan of shrubs and wondered if there were any flowers I could get that would grow with hardly any sunlight.

I'm also a beginner gardener.

Thank you!!!

Adrienne Cook: A good, easy flower that grows in the shade nad is ideal for a beginning gardener is the impatien. It comes in a range of colors. Buy plants in the spring and place them a foot apart in soil that has been spiked with compost. Impatiens are inexpensive annuals that bloom lavishly all summer, peaking in Septmeber with a spectacular show. They die in the winter. After you have doen these a couple of years and build your confidence, check out a book on shade gardening and try your hand at some perennials. You didn't say if this is summer shade only or if its all year. Bulbs do well in the shade if the ground gets sunlight in early spring -- daffodils, crocus, tulips.

Annandale, VA: Adrienne,

As a gardener who has finally come to terms with the fact that my shady yard will not sustain many of the plants I love, I have decided to donate a small group of peonies to a friend of mine with a less solar-challenged environment. My question: since I have not yet pruned my peonies down and can reasonably identify their roots, is now a good time to transplant them? I already have a small azalea to put in their place, which I would like to set before the first frosts. Thanks for your advice. Love your on-line discussions!

Adrienne Cook: Yes you can. Be sure you get a large root ball around your lifted-up peonies. Even if they don't bloom well in the shade, they do grow well regardless and the roots will be extensive, depending on how long they've been in the ground. Tell your friend not to expect much in the way of flowers from the peonies for two or three years. Peonies do not like to be moved; they show this by taking their own sweet time to bloom after being relocated. Enjoy the azalea!

Wheaton, MD: I have a climbing rose bush, nothing special, just the root stock that i allowed to grow after the graft failed, that is getting leggy. The old stems are geting very thick and woody, the young stems have leaves only at the ends. It has a trellis to climb on, but most of the bush has grown taller than the trellis. It looks forlorn. Should I trim it back now, if so how much? Or should I wait? It did not survive the summer well.

Adrienne Cook: Prune it back severely and feed it lavishly with composted manure, which you can buy bagged, or, better yet, horse manure, which you can get from a stable (bring your onw bag & shovel). I prune my red climbing rose back each fall to about 24 inches and in the spring giant new canes rise up to cover the trellis and they are loaded with flowers. Get rid of all the old dead canes completely and the new canes to 24-36 inches tall.

lavender person, again: thanks for the advice, i'm so excited to hear that it'll survive the winter! another question - will rosemary survive outside too? i've enjoyed over the summer and would love to have if during the cold months.

Adrienne Cook: If it is in a well-protected location, like against the house, and if your garden is urban or suburban. Up here in the country and at the top of a (small) mountain (el. 700 ft) my rosemary makes it only about half the time; I replace it about every other year.

Upper Marlboro, MD: After a good start my roses (pink Simplicity and red Don Juan) ended up massively infected with black spot this past summer. Over the winter I will clean up all debris and replace the mulch around the plants. I am also going to spray a dormant oil. What can I do during the next growing season to keep black spot in check - other than spraying Funginex?
Thank you!

Adrienne Cook: Not much. I usually cut back any roses that infected with black spot. I do this immediately; they rebloom well in September, usually minus the black spot.

Chevy Chase, Md: Recently, voles have begun to attack the lawn in our back yard. We have not (yet) found any evidence of burrows. Any advice on how to deter them before they do real damage to the garden?

Adrienne Cook: Not really. Voles seem to come in waves -- you'll get a lot and then they dissappear. Check with the Mont. Co. Extension Service to see if they've gotten other reports on these in your area. Get a cat. Or a Jack Russell.

D.C.: Hi Adrienne,

Thanks for this opportunity! I am a first-time homeowner. What are the top three things to worry about in the garden during each season?


Adrienne Cook: Well, let's see. In the spring I worry that I won't get everything planted before summer; in the summer, I worry that I won't get everything picked before winter; in the fall, I worry that I won't get everything cleaned up before winter. Oh! You mean, like bugs & stuff? Well, of the three main seasons, the least buggy one is spring, unless, like last spring, you get slugs the size of rattlesnakes. Summer is by far the worst for bugs: Caterpillars, Japanese beetles, bean beetles, etc. You also have to worry about weeds, which take over practically overnight; and watering, which is usually a much bigger deal than this past summer. In the fall, the big task is getting the garden ready for next spring. All of which is to say that gardening is an ever-worrying, ever-rewarding hobby! One more thing: My best garden ever was my first. Go for it.

Mt. Rainier: For the shade gardener, there are tons of wonderful plants that will thrive. Lenten rose, hostas (some even have terrific flowers as well as neat foliage), astilbe, columbine. Tons more, my mind deserts me!

Adrienne Cook: Absolutely; but a beginning gardener may want to ease gently into these and other wonderful shade plants.

Ashburn, VA: Crepe Myrtle in trouble! My crepe myrtle started to shed its bark- now a good majority of the main trunks are a reddish color and smooth. The tree was full of little blossoms which never fully opened. Maybe about 10% opened and the rest are turning black and falling off the tree. I believe the tree is about 4 -5 years old and it is about 9 feet tall (maybe a bit more). I water it.. sprinkled some Oscomite fertilizer about 6 months ago, but have not doen much since. Does it need a special fertilizer? Help, I am afraid it is dying. Do you think a pest is killing it? What should I use to spray it. Looks like I have an abundance of little spiders (kinda reddish too).. Please help save my tree....

Adrienne Cook: Wow. Actually, you've asked several questions, and they are not necessarily connected. First, the bark. that's coloration is normal; don't worry about it (I think). If it really looks like it's doing something it shouldn't, get in touch with the Loudoun County Extension Service master gardenrs and they can advise you further. On the black blooms, I'm guessing again, but that could well be the heavy rains we had in August, which turned everyhting to mush. As to the spider mites, that's something you can -- and should -- do something about. Spray all leaves with insecticidal soap, available at places like Home Depot and Lowes. Repeat the sprayings every couple of days until you have killed the spider mites off fully. They can overwinter, so be sure to get comtrol of this problem now, as they will weaken the tree if they become an infestation. Don't worry about fertilizing. Crape myrtles really don't need it. Prune the tree so that it has three or four main big trunks which are permitted to grow and leaf out.

Alexandria, Va: Good Morning, When is it time to fertilize the lawn? When do you lime? Thank you.

Adrienne Cook: When it needs them. Seriously, though. Get a soil sample done before you apply either one. Alexandria has an extension service, where they'll do soil samples for less than $10. it's worth it. Then follow the recomendations. You can fertilize and lime any time of the year, but the best time is fall and winter, not spring. Use a slow-release fertilzer to reduce the need for mowing and watering in the summer.

Tomato land: What should I do with tomatos still on the vine? They are very green and not looking like they'll ripen. Should I put them in the window? In a paper bag? In a blender!?


Adrienne Cook: Pick them and fry them up. Some will ripen. Place them in a basket with an apple. They won't taste as good as the vine-ripened ones. You might decide to cook them up and use them for sauce.

Bethesda: Hi. I have 2 questions.
1. I just ordered some hostas mail order. Is it too late to plant perennials now? I'm fearing I wasted my money!

2. Looking ahead, I have never grown sweet peas before, but have been drooling over some heirloom catalogues with descriptions of the wonderful scent. It says I should direct sow the seeds when it is still cold. Does that mean February? or should I wait til I start seeing the daffodils blloming before I spread the seeds. Also, I have never really had success with direct sowing. Do you have any tips?

Adrienne Cook: No, no, you haven't wasted your money. Plant away, they'll do great. On sweetpeas. Well, to tell the truth, I have been growing them with MIXED results for years. I have tried them direct sowed, started indoors and then planted outside, fall, spring, etc., etc., etc. They are a CHALLENGE, I warn you. The catalogues make them sound great, I know. You need really cool weather to succeed, plus TLC, and plenty of it. The best I've had was this year, with our cool summer and long spring. I started them in my greenhouse in February and planted them in containers in Arpil; they clambered up a bamboo support and I had good (not great) blooms for about six weeks until late June. Then they died back. Sometimes, I have noticed, they come back in September. These did not. Frankly, I'm not sure they are worth all the fuss. But I am persistent and will continue trying them. They also need very rich soil and plenty of moisture.

Alexandria, Virginia: I have some obedient plants I need to move. I don't think they're getting enough sun. They grew this summer but hardly bloomed. Is it better to do that now or in the spring? Also, should I cut them back before winter or let them die back naturally? They're almost three feet tall and sort of scraggly. Thanks.

Adrienne Cook: Cut them back and move them now; relocate them where they get sun and are not too crowded. Cut them back after they bloom next summer and you'll get a second bloom in October. Gotta go now; thanks for all the great questions! next Thursday, same time, same place, different host -- my colleague Adrian Higgins. Ask him about English gardens, since he's a transplanted Brit!

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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