Q: I've experienced a lot of what I think is called frost heaving in my garden this year. Some of the plants are up on little mounds of soil with the roots exposed, which can't be good for the plants. Can I just put them back in place? How do I stop this from happening next year?
A: You are right; it certainly doesn't help the plants' roots to be exposed to the cold. This is why we mulch plants over the winter.
Plants can be gently pressed back into the soft ground — note the "gently" part! A lot of gardeners press them back by stepping on them, but this can seriously hurt the delicate feeder roots that the plants need desperately as they come out of hibernation. Another option is to add soil to the base of the plant, gently covering the roots. The good news is that this won't happen again this year!
Q: Attached are pictures of a corn plant. In another month or so, it will reach the ceiling. Last August, I cut approximately 24 inches up from the stock. Using rooting powder, I replanted the stems in fresh soil. I have used this method three times. Is there a way to stop growth at the top?
A: What a beautiful, healthy plant! Thank you for the pictures.
There is really no way to completely stop the growth of the plant. A healthy plant will grow and grow until it reaches the maximum height for the species, which for a corn plant can be as tall as 20 feet. But you could slow the plant down a bit. Repotting into a larger pot would be encouraging growth, but you could repot it in the same pot and do some root pruning at that time. Removing about a third of the root mass would be safe, would slow down the growth and buy you a little time.
You could certainly snip a few inches from the top — but this, in time, will encourage the plant to branch out and grow several sprouts at the top like a crown. Then, in a few years, you'd probably have to trim all the sprouts! But this might give you a few more years in your home before you'd have to cut a hole in the roof! Is there any place, say in a stairwell, where you might have a higher ceiling?
Has your plant ever bloomed? You would certainly know, as the sweet smell is almost overpowering in the house. Flowers are tiny and can be difficult to see, but you will smell them!
Q: I carefully dug up and saved my tuberous begonias from the past year because I heard they could be saved. When should I plant them again?
A: Tuberous begonias need to be given a six-week head start before being put out into the garden, if we want to see blooms before August. With our cool springs and short summers, we need to start them indoors about the second or third week of April.
Start tubers now and move them outdoors around Memorial Day, about the same time that it's safe to put your houseplants outdoors.
Starting tuberous begonias is no big deal — it's much easier than starting seeds. Start the tubers in individual pots or in flats of moist peat moss or potting soil. Individual pots are easier for just a few tubers. But if you're growing more than a few tubers, a seed flat will make a dozen or two tubers simpler to handle.
To start tubers in a flat or a pot, plant the tuber in damp peat moss. Place each tuber in the moistened peat and press gently into the soil surface. Do not cover the tuber with peat! Water thoroughly and do not permit the pots to dry out.
Keep the planted tubers just moist and at room temperature, until the sprouts appear, which doesn't take long. At all stages of growth, begonias are kept in strong light, but not directly in hot sun. When the first shoots appear, it's time to begin feeding with a weak 5-10-5 or liquid manure fertilizer every week from spring to fall. Be careful not to burn the little plants by splashing fertilizer onto the leaves.
Now, which side of the tuber is the up side and which side is the down side?
We get dozens of calls every year about which way is the correct way to plant these tubers. It's simple to remember: Plant the cup-shaped tuber up!
Where to plant?
Use them wherever you want precious color in the shade or in tree-filtered light. These shade-loving plants can best be used in protected areas — they're quite fragile.
This week's dirt
These first weeks in the garden are the ideal time to start labeling and relabeling your winter forgotten plants. As each makes an appearance, stick a new label in the ground.
While you're waiting for spring, you can attend a free workshop next Saturday, March 28, at the Topsfield Fairgrounds Clubhouse.
Topics covered include:
Creating Beautiful Lawns Without Using Fertilizers and Pesticides
Ins and Outs of Composting and Capture Rainwater for Beautiful Gardens
Native Plants and Wildlife Habitat Gardens
Space is limited, so reservations are requested. Call 978-741-7900 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a regular feature of the Lifestyles section. Reach Barbara by e-mail at email@example.com or write to her c/o Salem News, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Previous North Shore Gardener columns are available at www.nsgardener.com.