Question and Answer
Q. My honeysuckle is pretty wild looking. Dare I cut it down this time
of year, or should I just grin and bear it? -- Jean Phillips, Lafayette,
A. You won't kill it if you prune it now, but the cuts are areas that
could dry out during winter. It's best to wait until spring, just before
it leafs out if you're going to do drastic pruning. If you just want to
tip it back a bit to keep it from being so wild, then go ahead and
do it now.
Honeysuckles are hard to kill and tolerate heavy pruning well. I'm not
sure if you have a honeysuckle vine or bush, but both can be cut back
to 12 inches from the ground and will still spring back with vigor. They're
so vigorous that you might want to think about whether this is the wrong
plant for the spot. If it is always exceeding the space available, you
might want to remove it instead of pruning it back.
Q. I have three rhododendron bushes that won't bloom. They are 3 or 4
years old, and, this spring, I had only one bloom on one plant. They are
planted on the west side of the house and near a large pine tree. They
don't get much sun. Do you have any suggestions? -- Stan Bennett
A. Rhododendrons cover a large portion of the United States, and there's
a great deal of variability in the hardiness of different rhodos. It's
important to choose the right plant for your climate. The American Rhododendron
Society lists recommended species and cultivars on its Web site at www.rhododendron.org.
Look for the proven performers for Indiana. It's a good list, but we all
seem to suffer from plant envy (sometimes called hardiness zone denial)
and choose plants on other state lists!
Even if the buds on your rhododendron are usually hardy to your area,
the temperatures in recent winters could have been a problem. Late spring
cold snaps can damage buds, in which case you would see the damaged buds
but not get any blossoms.
Hardiness is only one possibility. Some cultivars require some sun for
flower production while others like more shade. Yours could be suffering
from a lack of sunlight. It would be helpful to increase the amount of
morning sun on the plants, if possible. Be careful, though, because winter
sun on an evergreen rhododendron can cause desiccation.
Finally, your plants may be just settling in. They're fairly young, and
rhododendrons can establish slowly. With regular water, nutrition and
decent temperatures, they could put on quite a show next spring.
Q. I am a true blue reader of your column. I never knew that hens and
chicks bloomed, but as you can see in my photo, they do. I have a very
sick dogwood tree. It has split bark. What can I do? -- Doug Hall, Celestine,
A. Dogwoods are susceptible to a handful of pests and diseases. Take
a sample of the branches to the Purdue Extension office in your county
for diagnosis so that you know how to treat the tree. There's no sense
in spending the time, energy and dollars, as well as exposing yourself
to pesticides, just to spray an insecticide on a plant with a disease
or a fungicide on a plant riddled with insects.
It's possible that your tree has dogwood borer. The larvae enter through
a wound in the bark, like those caused by lawnmowers on trunks. Once inside,
the larvae feed in the inner bark. The damaged area of the trunk swells
until the bark falls off. This may not kill the tree in the first year,
but years of reinfestation will cause the tree's demise.
Check the main trunk and branches in early spring and early fall for
signs of dogwood borer. Infested trees develop seeping cracks that contain
piles of sawdust-like frass. If dogwood borers are a chronic problem in
your area, you can apply an annual borer spray in early May. Follow all
label instructions regarding amounts of pesticide to use, method of application
and safety warnings. For information on insecticides for dogwood borer,
refer to publication E-41, "Recommendations for Managing Insects
and Mites on Shade Trees and Shrubs," which is available from the
Purdue Extension office in your county.
In addition, some cultural practices will reduce borer injury. Regularly
watered and fertilized trees remain vigorous and are less susceptible
to borer injury. Avoid pruning during the summer months when the moths
are laying eggs, and avoid wounding or injuring the tree.
Another possibility is sunscald. This occurs when thin-barked trees receive
winter sun. The southern surface warms more than the bark on the northern
surface. A sudden drop in temperature can make the plant cells rupture,
causing damage to the bark. Prevent sunscald by wrapping the trunks with
burlap or a commercially available tree wrap.
Thanks for sending the photo of the Sempervivum, or hens and chicks.
These are interesting plants, and many people collect them. The parent
plant, or hen, creates many chicks, or offsets, that are easily plucked
off and transplanted. When they bloom, typically in summer, they send
up a tall, alien-looking flower stalk. The rosette that bore the flower
typically dies, but the offsets live on.
Q. I realize you are a gardener, but I hope you can answer my question.
What kind of spider makes webs between trees and other close objects?
I live in the woods, and every year these pesky spiders make a walk in
the woods a challenge. The spider is very dark in color and looks like
it has some sort of shell or large thing on the rear part of its body.
I just want to cure my curiosity. -- Gordon Vander Ploeg, DeMotte, Ind.
A. I asked an entomologist, and he said that it could be one of dozens
of spiders! He recommended purchasing the "Golden Guide to Spiders,"
one of the commonly available, inexpensive nature guides, to aid you in
your quest for identification. My sister lives in Canada and has the same
situation, although it's probably caused by a different spider. When visiting,
we walk the path to the lake each morning waving a stick before us!