Responses to Ask the Gardener

Q1: Where can I go for a soil test to best determine the type of fertilizer I should use?
Testing is available through the Cooperative Extension Service in Alamance County. You can collect your samples and bring them to the Ag Center building at 209 N. Graham-Hopedale Road, (336) 570-6740. They will get them sent to the testing lab in Raleigh. Be sure to fill out an information sheet and attach it to your sample box. This is a great time of year to do this as you should get a reply quickly. You only need just a cupful of soil to do the test. If any other questions, please email us! ....Elon Gardener

Q2: I lost a Bradford Pear tree during the last ice storm. It was the only shade for my house's front, western (hot) exposure. What are some good replacements that grow fairly fast, offer shade, and are not so brittle? I like Maples but have heard their roots are problems near water lines. This tree will be near the water main. Thanks.
Red maples (Acer rebrum) are excellent trees. The roots of any tree will not bother water lines unless there is a crack in the line. The roots will then penetrate the line. If your lines are fine, then you should not have a worry. These trees have moderate growth and sturdy limbs. A great orange/red/yellow color in the fall is an added bonus. Willow oaks (quercus phellos) will grow moderately as well, but only have a brown fall color. Another downfall is the fall leaves that are numbered in the millions and are "pinky finger" in size and very difficult to pick up with a mower and rake. There are many of these in the "West" area of campus. Acer rubrum: 40-50' tall with 25-35' spread, sun or part shade. Quercus phellos: 60-80' tall with 30-40' spread, best in full sun. Both need to be in good drainage soil. Hope this helps and thanks for using the site! ---JC

Q3: I received a rosemary plant for Christmas. I know it can't withstand freezing temperatures, so should I consider this an annual? Or will it grow for a number of years if I keep it in a pot and bring it in during cold weather?
It is always hard to move plants inside and outside. Rosemary is considered a tender perennial. Planted on a southern exposure or close to the foundation for some protection should work well. I have rosemary at my home -- some on the deck on the north side and some on my south front yard that are doing well in both locations. It doesn't like to stay wet, so let it dry almost to a depth of your index finger between waterings once established in your yard or container. Fresh rosemary in your cooking is outstanding!!! Thanks and I hope this helps. ---JC

Q4: When would you advise pruning crape myrtles?
This is a good time to prune crape myrtles. However, unless they are interfering with a walk, mowing ability, or a driveway, there truly is not a need to prune them. They will bloom on old wood (existing branches) just as well as when pruned. You may need to thin out the existing smaller branches or any branches that are crossing one another. As most c. myrtles are susceptible to powdery mildew, they need to have plenty of air circulation to prevent it. --- JC

Q5: Do I have to prune my crape myrtle in order to get blooms?
There are dozens of c.myrtle's with different growth habits. If you plant one that meets your requirements for height and width, you do not need to prune it. If you are working with an existing tree, unless you have to mow under it, walk under it, or drive past it, then you can prune it. You will get just as many blooms without pruning it. There is no need to prune a crape myrtle as drastic as they do at some commercial properties around town. Rhett Davis, our extension agent, calls this "crape murder'!! ---- JC

Q6: What is the best way to get my tall fescue lawn to "green up" after the winter dormancy?
Fescue needs to be fertilized in late Sept or early October with a slow release fertilizer. This encourages root development in the cool season. This is a cool season grass and has a hard time in full sun and full summer heat without an irrigation system. Fertilize again in mid/late November with a farm grade fertilizer like triple 17. The next time would be in late Jan/early Feb with another slow release. You will be amazed at your results if you follow this regimen. Fertilize again in September and you can overseed then as well. The grass will green up in spring and will be able to tolerate heat stress better due to a more extensive root system. Also, do not mow shorter than 3 inches. This height will allow it to shade itself and protect it from the heat and look more plush. Contact your local ag extension office for other details and fertilization rates in your area. Good luck! ......Elon Gardener

Q7: Now that the weather has turned cooler, I'm considering moving some outdoor plants to the indoors. What procedures need to be followed to insure the plants survive the transition? Is there a special fertilizer that I should use?
A7: It is very stressful on plants to go from outdoors to indoors. You need to treat the plant inside like you did outside. If the plant was used to being in full sun, then find a sunny location for it. The same for shade plants. Leaves will drop due to the change. Do not over water it. Most plants do well with being watered only when your index finger put inside the soil doesn't get moist until your center knuckle on the finger. Also, do not let the plant sit with water in the saucer. Water it, allow it to drain into the saucer, then remove the water in the saucer. The roots will begin to rot if left standing in water. Only use a water soluable fertilizer, following the directions on the package and treat the plant every other month. Keep it out of drafts and away from heater/ac vents. This should give you a good prescription for indoor plant care. Hope this helps. ...Elon Gardener