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Gardening chat with Carol Stocker-- April 5, 2007

Carol Stocker writes about gardening for the Boston Globe. She answers readers' questions and gives advice about gardening every other Thursday at 1 p.m.

Carol_Stocker: Hi gardeners! I'm Carol Stocker, Boston Globe garden writer. I will be on line from 1 to 2 p.m. to answer you gardening questions in the order in which I receive them. I'm sure you are all anxious for spring!

eastie_gal__Guest_: Hi Carol -- I had those red beetles on my Asiatic Lillies last year but not a single one this year (yay!) -- any ideas what happened?
Carol_Stocker: You can hope for the best. But they don't hatch until April, so you're not home free yet. I think you should check the undersides of your lily leaves for clusters of small orange sorta octagonal eggs. If you find a cluster, hold a jar of soapy water underneath and clip off the entire leaf so it drops in the jar for drowning and disposal. Since the caterpillars are disgusting because they cover themselves with their own feces as a deterrent to hungry birds, don't pick them off you see them on your lily leaves. Instead cut the whole leaf off the same way so you don't have to handle them.
flower_guy__Guest_: A friend of mine suggested blending little green chili peppers with water and using it as an organic pest deterrent. Does this really work against ants, gophers, and fruit bugs?
Carol_Stocker: I think it works with mammals such a gophers which can taste the spice, but I don't know why it would work with ants or fruit bugs. Spraying seeds with chili pepper water is one way to discourage squirrels from raiding bird feeders, because they are mammals and their tastebuds would be burned by chili peppers while birds do not have a reaction to them.
B__Guest_: How soon can I prune rose bushes. mine got trampled this winter
Carol_Stocker: Soon. But first wait until you seen the red buds of the rose leaves around the middle of April. Then you will be able to tell which branches are dead and which are still alive. You will probably have to cut back some of the ends.
jkkjglj__Guest_: when should I cut back butterfly bush?
Carol_Stocker: Sometimes butterfly bushes die back to the ground during the winter and sprout new growth at ground level in the spring. If the winter is mild, however, they may not die back. So you can wait until late spring to see if your butterfly bush sprouts leaves. If it does not, or all the new branches are sprouting from ground level, then cut back the old branches, probably around the end of May. You can also cut back a butterfly bush right now if your purpose is to keep it small.
northeastnostalgia: Hi Carol, When can I plant cold weather crops like lettuce and spinach?
Carol_Stocker: You can plant them as soon as the soil has dried out a bit. Here's a test: Squeeze a fist full of your garden soil from you planting area in your hand. When you open your hand up, the soil should crumble like chocolate cake. If it stays compressed in a mudball, it is too early to plant. You can plant earlier in a raised bed than in a low spot because the raised bed ensures good drainage so the soil dries out earlier.
chris__Guest_: Hi Carol, I am trying to fill in some shaded space between property lines with some trees or shrubs that have foliage all year. What might do well in shade? Thanks
Carol_Stocker: The best evergreens for shade are rhododendrons. Some will get 12 feet tall, though not quickly. The species Rhododendron catawbiences is perhaps the largest and fastest growing, managing about a foot tall and a foot wide growth per year under ideal conditions. Rhododendrons can be pruned into upright evergreen tree-forms. The flowers of many of the varieties are very pretty. Most evergreens, however, do not do well in shade.
sarah__Guest_: hi carol, i live in foxboro and i'm looking for a good privacy bush/hedge row that will get bushy... but not any taller than 5 feet.
Carol_Stocker: There are a lot of shrubs that would fit the bill. Blue holly is a good choice because it has shiny evergreen leaves all year and red berries in winter. Japanese spireas such as Gold Flam are nice because they have colored foliage and flowers. Or you could consider a type of low maintenance rose bush such as Bonica for a long period of bloom.
ivygirl__Guest_: Hi Carol, I want to spend less time weeding this year. What are your feelings about products like Preen and what is the best way to use it?
Carol_Stocker: I have not used Preen or any of the other weed seed surpressants on the market. Corn Gluten is organic and is supposed to work without bad side effects. Generally these products should be applied while the forsythias are in flower, around early to mid-April.
Jeff__Guest_: Hi Carol! I have two drawf alberta spruces, one to each side of my front door. The backs of the spruces have thinned and is all woody. If I move the shrubs to a different spot, will the woody area grow back?
Carol_Stocker: The backs of the Alberta spruce have thinned because they are not getting enough light. If you moved them so the area that was shaded now receives a lot of sun, the woody sides might beef up. This could easily be accomplished by twisting your Albert spruce 180 degrees so the full part is in back and the woody part faces front, but that wouldn't look very good, would it? As long as you plan to keep the spruce on either side of you back door you may have to resign yourself to their having a "good side" and a "not so good" side. Actually most shrubs have a "good side" because sun is seldom distributed with 360 degree equally. But if your spruce is planted in pots and therefore can be easily moved, you could moved them to a an area with full sun on all sides until late fall, and then put them back by you front door just in time for winter, which is when evergreens are most needed to create a cheering effect.
scarlet926__Guest_: Hi Carol! I'm a novice gardener, just trying to get started with vegetable gardening. I was wondering if you had any tips about some combinations of vegetables that grow successfully together in the same bed and if there are any sort of "natural" ways to keep animals out of the garden. I remember hearing something about mint for rabbits, but I'm not sure if that's an old wives' tale.
Carol_Stocker: There is a lot of folk wisdom about this, such as the saying "tomatoes love basil" because these plants do grow well together, largely because they like the same conditions of rich soil, full sun, frequent watering and hot weather. Indians used to plant corn, squash and beans together in a single planting hole because the corn stalk would give the beans something to climb while the squash would shade their roots. Carrots, parsley, fennel and dill attract wasps which kill harmful caterpillars. I don't know about mint and rabbits, but it does repell deer somewhat because they don't like smelly plants, so maybe it would also work with rabbits.
flower_guy__Guest_: What kind of dense grass should I get if I want to make my backyard a golfing area?
Carol_Stocker: I believe that Kentucky Bluegrass with the lawn species used for golf areas, though it is harder than most grass species to grow, requiring good irrigation and fertilization. However it is very attractive.
Carol_Stocker: That is all we have time for this week. However I will back again next Thursday, April 12, and most Thursdays at 1 p.m. to answer gardening questions. You can also send in your questions ahead of time and they can be posted after the chat so you don't have to be on line strictly from 1 to 2 p.m.

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