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Charles Fenyvesi
Charles Fenyvesi
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The Garden Plot
Hosted by Charles Fenyvesi
Special to the Washington Post

Thursday, April 5, 2001; 11 a.m. EDT

Charles Fenyvesi is online 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, Fenyvesi believes they can also harvest beauty. On Thursdays at 11 a.m. EDT, 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.

Silver Spring, Md.: Good morning. I planted a cimicifuga simplex plant that I received through a mail order catalogue right before those low temperatures in the mid-20s hit two weeks ago. All of the tender top growth died. My question is will it grow new foliage or did the cold totally kill it? Thanks.

Charles Fenyvesi: I hope the roots of your cimicifuga - a fine plant but finicky at times - are still alive. But you won't know that for a week or two.

Alexandria, Va.: I have had a caladium inside for two and a half years. Christmas 1999 (while I was away) most of the stems/leaves became limp, and I removed them, but it came back healthy. Christmas 2000 it died back again but has yet to recover. Is this part of caladium's natural cycle? Is there something I can do to encourage its rebirth?

Charles Fenyvesi: Caladium is always thirsty. It is a big question whether it will come back from its roots after wilting and withering. Put it on a sunny windowsill, water it moderately - don't drown it - and wait. But DO NOT put it outside yet. It froze again last night in my locality, and historically we have had freezes as late as April 10. Let's hope for the best. But if your caladium doesn't come back, I suggest that you don't grieve but buy another.

Alexandria, Va.: I recently read that as bulbs were coming up, I should have fertilized them. I didn't. Will my daffodils and crocuses be okay for next year? Is there something I can do now to ensure their future happiness? The daffodils are still blooming, but the crocuses are mostly finished.

Charles Fenyvesi: You can fertilize now, if you wish, or wait until early next spring. Daffodils and crocuses do not really need fertilizers. Digging them up, dividing them and improving their soil with dry horse manure and bonemeal is better for them then chemicals sprinkled on top. You could do that after their blooms are gone. Or in the fall, except that it is always hard to find them once their foliage is gone. Both of them are tough plants, faithfully returning year after year if the soil is not hardpacked clay but improved garden soil.

Woodbridge, Va.: Hi Charles!

I am having a new house built and it should be ready in September or October. They will be laying down sod and I and I was wondering if there is any special care I should take in order to ensure a good strong growth. Secondly, should I do any landscaping then in the fall or just wait for the following spring? I've never had a yard. Thanks!

Charles Fenyvesi: I am against procrastination. You should dig up the soil and plant your garden next September, at the same time that you are having sod put in. Why wait for another year? You should be able to enjoy your garden next spring.

Fairfax, Va.: Mr. Fenyvesi,

Do you have any recommendations for keeping squirrels out of planters? I sprinkled red pepper flakes across the top of my windowboxes and planters last night, but this morning there was a critter hunched on the box munching on one of the newly planted pansies. We have very kindly fed them over the winter, you would think they would give us the courtesy of leaving our plants alone.

Charles Fenyvesi: It's hard to reason with squirrels, especially those you have fed. Caging plants with chicken wire (and pegging the wire so the squirrels won't be able to get in from underneath) is the one safe method I know to keep them out of your planters. Or train your dog(s) to chase squirrels.

Herndon, Va.: Do you have any suggestions for low-maintainence annual flowers that would thrive in NOVA's weather conditions? I want to plant sometime in the few weeks. My yard has both sun and shade.

Charles Fenyvesi: For shade, impatiens and caladiums are wonderful - but do not plant them out before April 10, which should be our last frost date. For sun zinnias, marigolds, petunias and hosts of other annuals will do. Visit a good nursery and buy what appeals to you.

Manassas, Va.: Good Morning,

Thanks for taking my question. Actually two questions.

I have an archway that leads from my patio to my backyard. Currently, I have a trumpet vine growing on it (planted last year, didn't do much, but I have faith). I would like to plant another flowering perennial vine that would complement, not compete, with the trumpet vine. My goal is to have blooms from early spring to first frost. What would you suggest?

When you leave the patio, the first thing you see in my backyard is a 50-gallon black cast iron caldron suspended by a chain on a tripod. I want to plant something in the caldron that will not detract from my five flower gardens (outdoor rooms) and in-ground pond. My first thought was to plant an elephant ear but since the caldron is in full sun, I don't think that would work. I'm not necessarily looking for anything that blooms; more along the lines of tall graceful foliage. Again, any suggestions?

Again, thank you.

Charles Fenyvesi: Archways are the way to go. Your trumpet vine will take off this year. You may want another trumpet vine, in another color. Or you can put in scarlet bean, an annual that takes off beautifully. A 50 gallon cast iron cauldron is a great addition to a garden. How about trailing geranium? Or nasturtium?

Wheaton, Md.: My front yard is shady with a lot of moss, looks bad and parts have turned muddy. I'd like to kill the moss and get some grass in there. I don't expect it to look like a putting green, but I want it to look decent. How should I start? What do I use to get rid of the moss? After I kill off the moss how long do I have to wait until I plant grass? Thanks.

Charles Fenyvesi: I'd be grateful for the moss. It's hard to establish a lawn in a shady and moist spot. If you really want grass, you have to thin out some branches so the location gets some sun, and you have to dig up the ground and add good topsoil so the ground drains. I think you are better off with moss.

Squirrels!Squirrels!Squirrels!: We don't have a dog and chicken wire will ruin the aesthetics. Do moth balls work? Can they hurt the plants?

Charles Fenyvesi: Moth balls work against moles and voles but squirrels are smart enough to avoid eating them. They may do some damage to plants. I know chicken wire is not beautiful but you can get used to it. Deer don't like chicken wire either.

Arlington, Va.: Could you share some advice about making a backyard bird and butterfly friendly? Also, I'm planning to plant a butterfly bush. When should I do that? If I procrastinate (sorry) will fall be ok?

Charles Fenyvesi: Butterfly bushes (buddleia) really attract butterflies and birds. You should plant them later this month. Get different colors and give them plenty of room. The only thing you need to do for them is to cut back the branches in early spring - all the way back to the ground, if you wish, or 12 inches from the ground.

Vienna, Va.: Speaking of moss - I've tried to grow irish moss a couple of times - with no luck - did not enhance the clay first - do I need to?

Charles Fenyvesi: Irish moss with its iridescent green is as beautiful as the sod of Ireland. But you need to mix the clay with, say, peat moss to make it truly hospitable to moss, and keep it moist for the first few weeks.

Falls Church, Va.: My townhouse faces north, and the front yard is shaded by a Japanese maple. Any suggestions on what type of grass might grow there?

Charles Fenyvesi: There are "shady mixtures" at your nursery or favorite garden center. They will sprout if you plant them this month, but do not expect a lively golfcourse sod.

Takoma Park, Md.: Can I till not-all-the-way decomposed compost into my vegetable garden? I have a few grapefruit peelings that are stubbornly remaining whole. I don't particularly care about how the garden looks because I'll mulch heavily after the plants are established.

Also is it too soon or too late to start the veggies (beans, peas, broccoli) from seed directly in the garden?

I planted borage on the crest of a hill. There is a lot of mulch there from last year...should I clear the mulch before I plant seeds?

One more question and I swear I'll be done - What is the best kind of fig tree to buy that I can plant directly in the ground and have it survive year to year?

Charles Fenyvesi: Yes, you can dig in partially decomposed compost. Everything rots faster under mulch. You can still plant peas and broccoli. I'd wait with the beans until May 1. Your borage may or may not come back. A light spread of mulch consisting of withered leaves will not interfere with vegetables or flowers sprouting. But two inches of matted leaves may. You can always put back the mulch once the plants are up.

Arlington, Va.: Re: butterfly bush. When you say cut it down in "early spring," do you mean do that next year, when it's established, or do it this year right after I plant it? Thanks.

Charles Fenyvesi: I would not cut back a butterfly bush I am planting this year. Let it establish itself. NEXT spring you should cut it back so it flowers more.

squirrels and wasabi: I was throwing a party and had place a bowl of cocoa dusted, chocolate covered almonds on the front porch. a few minutes later a squirrel was munching happily on the almond. I removed the bowl of almonds, and replaced it with crunchy wasabi-covered peas. I don't think it enjoyed the wasabi as much. Ever since, they haven't been coming up to the porch to beg...

Charles Fenyvesi: I think you are too generous to your squirrels. If you feed them, they come to your yard for lunch and dinner all the time.

Charlottesville, Va.: I have recently bought a 10-acre farm, and am eager to start growing things! I've just plowed/tilled a field where I plan to put in a veggie/flower garden. The field has been used for hay for the past few decades (it supported tobacco before then). The dirt looks pretty good and is not the usual hard-packed clay.

I've got my bags of seeds (corn, squash, melons, peas/beans, okra, and zinnias). When is it a safe time to plant?

Charles Fenyvesi: Peas are cold weather plants that wilt in our early summer. But I'd follow the instructions on the other plants you mention. They are summer plants. Good luck on your farm. Okra is a winner, both as a gorgeous flower and as a delicious vegetable. And you'll love your beans and melons.

E. Falls Church, Va.: If a spot has good morning sun but shade thereafter, do you plant "sun" annuals or "shade" annuals? What about, say, daisies? Sunflowers? Delphinium or hollyhocks? Thanks!

Charles Fenyvesi: You need to experiment a bit. "Partial sun" is a broad concept, as is "dappled sun." It's hard to figure out just exactly how much sun that means. Some daisies will like it (Michaelmas, maybe, but not black-eyed Susans), and hydrangeas may thrive on only morning sun. Hollyhocks need more sun. Delphiniums find it too hot here, even in the shade. They do better in Connecticut.

Arlington, Va.: Do some non-species tulips spread? I planted some from Home Depot (not fancy) two or three years ago and they have sent up very full foliage this year. I think they must've spread because we didn't plant THAT many! You hear so much about tulips that peter out, I wonder if we got lucky.

Charles Fenyvesi: If you mean SPECIES tulips, also called botanicals for some reason, they do spread a bit, though not like daffodils. They are the ancestors of today's tulips and they are wonderful.

Alexandria, Va.: I've got the afternoon off. Anything I can plant today? Pansies? Bluebells? Lily of the valley?

Charles Fenyvesi: All of the ones you mentioned can be planted now. I assume you plan to plant seedlings.

Silver Spring, Md.: I'd like to plant some vines along my property line for some additional privacy. The yard is part shade, and I plan to use either bamboo poles and string or a few pre-made trellises to support them. What varieties will flourish in less than full sun? Will Hyacinth Vine be a good choice?

Charles Fenyvesi: Hyacinth vine is great! Or you may want to put in trumpet vine which is a perennial that also self-sows. If the site is too shady, you'll get more foliage and fewer flowers.

Wheaton, Md.: For the chicken wire problem;

Yesterday, while driving home, I noticed that a neighbor had something that looked like green chicken wire curved over his plants by the sidewalk. This would not be as intrusive as "shiny" chicken wire.

Charles Fenyvesi: I'll check out that green chicken wire myself. It sounds like an idea whose time has come.

Washington, D.C.: Hi Charles: I have two cherry blossom trees in my yard that the previous owner hacked away at, so they are badly pruned and have several stringy branches on knobby old branches.

I am trying to resurrect them. Any suggestions in bringing them back to a good shape by pruning or should I just cut them down?

Charles Fenyvesi: George or Georgia, please do not cut down your ornamental cherry tree. It is a tree full of life and a will to live and to please. When it comes to pruning, it's putty in your hands. Saw off sick or damaged branches but let the rest live. If there are too many puny branches, keep one or two and let them gain girth. You may even come to appreciate knobby old limbs. Resurrection is the word!

Arlington, Va. Can lily of the valley be transplanted? My neighbors have a thriving crop of it which is spreading into their yard and I'd love some for my front yard! How would I go about doing this? Is now a good time or after they flower?

Charles Fenyvesi: Lily-of-the-valley loves being transplanted. You can do it now, the sooner the better. Make sure the new bed has rich soil, and water after your transplant. But you can also transplant after they flowered. They double in number every year.

Re: species tulips: Actually, I was asking about NON-species tulips -- do they spread? They aren't the tiny ones but are full-sized tulips and really look like they have spread.

Charles Fenyvesi: Well, if they spread, that's just fine. Spread them. You can do it now if the shoots are only a few inches tall, or you can spread them after their petals are gone. Do not cut off foliage as long as it is green. My bed of Queen of the Knight (almost black) triples every year. Some tulips are like that; others peter out after one season. I prefer the former to the latter.


That was our last question today. Thanks to Charles Fenyvesi, and to everyone who joined us.

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