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Charles Fenyvesi
Charles Fenyvesi
(The Post)
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Column: Ornamental Gardner
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The Garden Plot
Hosted by Charles Fenyvesi
Washington Post Writer

Thursday, Nov. 9, 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.

Alexandria, VA: Hi there!

Thanks for all the helpful advice on this site. My question is this: I took cuttings of a variegated hydrangea
from a friend of mine, and they're doing quite well. I have them in 5-inch pots, and plan to leave them out
over the winter. They're in a sheltered spot, but should I also sink the pots - or can I just leave them as is?

Charles Fenyvesi: I would not leave the hydrangea in a pot; the plant would be exposed to extra cold and wind from the side. However it would be insulated in the good earth. I would either take the pot inside or plant the cutting in the ground (I assume it has taken root already.)

Mont. Co., MD: Is it too late to plant Rhododendrons? If it's not, when will it be too late? I planted 6
last spring: 2 didn't make it through the rainy summer while the other 4 did really well. Should I wait until
spring to replace the 2? Thanks!

Charles Fenyvesi: If the rhododendron is fully rooted in a pot you may still plant it as long as the ground is not frozen. But if you are supercautious, you could keep it inside for the winter and plant it outside in April. I am sorry to hear about your loss of two plants last summer. I have not been successful with rhodos myself, I confess.

Stafford Virginia: Good morning. I recently moved in to a new house that has several large peonies, and I am not sure how to winter them over. Should I cut them back?

And on another note, I was given a butterfly bush for a housewarming gift, which I planted before knowing just how large they can grow! Can I transplant it now or should I wait until spring? Thank you so much!

Charles Fenyvesi: Leave the peonies alone, and do not transplant them. They like to be left alone. And I'd transplant the butterfly bush in the spring. Give it a location with plenty of sun, and do not forget to cut all branches close to the ground. Check the variety because some of them get very large. Give it space. It's a wonderful plant. Whoever gave it to you as a gift must be a thoughtful friend.

St. Louis, MO: Dear Charles: I have several ink berry (Ilex glabra) shrubs that look very leggy growing
in a place with partial sun. How do I prune them to encourage greater bushiness? Thanks.

Charles Fenyvesi: Prune the ilexes in the spring if you want it to spread out. Cut out what is puny and leave the most promising branches. If you prune it now, it may develop some growths that will be killed during winter. Transplant it if you can - in the spring, not now.

Bethesda, MD: We just had an inground pool installed and the yard is a mess, grass destroyed. Is it too
late to plant grass seed? What should we do until spring to prevent erosion?

Charles Fenyvesi: You could put down some turf though it is more expensive than seeds. I don't think the seeds will sprout in this cold weather. You could also cover the area with straw and put landscape fabric on top.

Kesnington, MD: Good morning. What do you think of a Laburnum or Oxydendrum (sp?) as boulevard trees?

Charles Fenyvesi: Laburnum is wonderful, spectacular but may not live long, needs highly organic soil and a protected spot. Oxydendrum is one of the best flowering trees, good on dry soil, with good drainage and somewhat acid soil (which is what you probably have).

Alexandria, VA: Good Morning, Our Christmas Cactus is full of buds. The plant spent the summer on the porch. Brought it in last week and it should flower any day. The pot has weathered on the porch and I would like to put it in a prettier pot. Can it be repotted at this time? Thank you

Charles Fenyvesi: I'd wait until after the cactus flowered. Generally speaking it is not a good idea to disturb a plant while blooming. Perhaps you could wait with that pretty pot.

Alexandria, VA: I have a pot of rosemary that spent the summer outside and I brought it in a few days ago. It looks healthy but I'm wondering if rosemary will survive the winter indoors. What can I do to keep it going until spring? Thanks.

Charles Fenyvesi: I am sorry to say that your rosemary may or may not survive the dry weather indoors. Cut it back now, and spray it with water often. If the weather is good, put it outside for a few hours.

Chevy Chase, MD: My landscape plan calls for mainly groundcover (pacysandra & liriope) in my yard. 1. can I still plant the liriope or is it too late this year? 2. what would be a good substitute for the pacysandra in my full shade yard with acidic soil (under a flowering magnolia)?

Charles Fenyvesi: Liriope is so tough that it can almost anything. As for pachysandra substitution, try sweet woodruff. It has nicely dissected foliage and pretty white flowers. You could use a small sprig of it in white wine. As a ground cover it spreads fast.

Clifton, Va.: I have Nellie Stevens Hollies that have long branches that I would like to cut off in order to maintain a globular shape through the winter.

Can I cut them off once the weather turns cold, or must I wait till spring?

Charles Fenyvesi: You could cut it on a crisp winter day when it is not so cold as to make the branches brittle. Make the cut clean. If you cut it in the spring, you may encourage additional growth that you do not want, I think.

Charlottesville, VA: Before it gets too much colder and precipitous, are there any bulbs I should be buying to plant for spring bloom in my shade garden? Also, do I need to cut back my hostas, rhododendron, hydrangeas at any point this winter? Finally, there is a neighbors maple tree dropping leaves all over my garden. I have been raking faithfully but losing a lot of mulch in the process. Should I re-mulch before winter sets in?

Charles Fenyvesi: You can still plant spring-flowering bulbs, especially tulips and daffodils. Leave the other plants alone, except for the hydrangeas which you prune down to the ground or just prune the puny branches. Mulch those areas where you have perennials and use the dead maple leaves for your compost pile. Your efforts to clean up the leaves should have a higher purpose: soil improvement.

Alexandria, VA: Hi,

I just bought a house (last week!) with a great area for a compost pile. I will be getting a dog in the Spring----can I include doggy doo in the compost heap??


Charles Fenyvesi: Most experts say no to doggie do. There may be things in it that are not good for the rest of the pile.

Washington DC: I have a Valencia orange tree indoors that has developed aphids. I brought it outside & sprayed it with a solution recommended by my neighborhood nursery. Is there anything else I should be doing? The tiny oranges the tree produced last Spring/Summer were so fragrant & tart that I really want to save this tree!

Charles Fenyvesi: You did the right thing but you may want to give the tree a spray shower in the bathtub to knock off the aphids. Congratulations for keeping an orange tree. It's not an easy matter.

Crofton, MD: I have a small (25'x30') back garden which has recently been destroyed by a sewer line replacement project. My only tree, a magnolia, had to be removed. As the magnolia roots were the cause of the problem, I really don't want another medium to large tree. However, I need a very small tree or large bush to replace it. I am looking for something which would be about 12' to 20' high when mature and no more than 6' in diameter. The area is shady with sandy soil. What would you suggest?

Charles Fenyvesi: I am sorry to hear about your loss of a magnolia. I did not know that a magnolia can be that troublesome. I agree: don't get another large tree. How about Lagerstroemia indica, better known as summer lilac - its flowers suggest the spring-blooming lilac and it blooms beautifully in the summer. There are many varieties, in different bloom colors and some with very interesting exfoliating bark.

Alexandria, Va: Your bio says you raise goats. Why? My grandma had a goat. Pretty pugnacious beast if you ask me. Just curious.

Charles Fenyvesi: Yes, I do raise goats (and sheep) but I prefer the goats and the milk they give and the cheese we make out of it. They also eat poison ivy, so I can recycle that terrible plant.

Charlottesville, VA: Good morning! We have several nice-sized rhododendrons around our house, and one of them is budding and getting ready to bloom! Does this mean that we can forget blooms in the spring on this bush? It normally has quite a nice display.


Charles Fenyvesi: This second bloom is an afterthought or maybe the plant is just overdoing it. There is nothing you can do to discourage the plant. The odds are that it will have flowers in the spring, though perhaps not as much as last year. Still, enjoy the bloom now.

Alexandria, VA: Would it disturb the roots of established dogwood trees to plant shade perennials within the drip line?

Charles Fenyvesi: Dogwood trees have shallow roots. I'd plant only very shallow rooted perennials there, for instance sweet woodruff or Japanese roof iris, and not hostas, for instance.

Alexandria VA: Planted several types of perennials last spring and this fall. The squirrels are tearing the garden up and I have seen several voles in the early morning and late afternoon. The squirrels are also chewing up the newly seeded lawn.

Any suggestions?

Charles Fenyvesi: Squirrels and voles are notoriously difficult to get rid of. But perhaps a dog will discourage the former. The only other thing I can think of is to plant perennials in a cage made out of hardware cloth, but that is very cumbersome. I wish I could help you with better suggestions.

Alexandria, VA: What time of the year do you lime the lawn?

Charles Fenyvesi: you can apply lime at any time. But check if your soil has really gotten too acidic. Ideally, your pH should be between 6.2 and 6.8. Lime is not a fertilizer but an agent that makes fertilizers work better. So you should apply lime (if needed) before you apply nitrogen, potash and phosphorus.

rockville: regarding your response as to what can be safely planted underneath a dogwood: would a small azalea be ok? thanks

Charles Fenyvesi: A small azalea is fine, as long as you do not disturb the roots of the dogwood.

Alexandria, VA: Does your advice about planting sweet woodruff and Japanese roof iris under dogwoods apply to Japanese maples? Someone has told me the tree in my front yard is a Japanese maple. When I went to plant some torenia there this spring it seemed like I was yanking up a lot of small roots. I'd like to plant a perennial underneath it next spring. Also, Japanese roof iris - does this plant have another name? I'm not familiar with it. Thanks for your help.

Charles Fenyvesi: Yes, sweet woodruff and Japanese roof iris can be planted under Japanese maples too. I have been told that the roof iris, which comes from Japan, used to be planted on thatched roofs. It's about 10 inches tall, and mine are all white. Iris tectorum Maximowicz is its botanical name.

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