Question and Answer
Q. I have an old hydrangea that was given to me by my late grandmother, and I would love to have a few more just like it, but I don't know its name. Can I collect seeds from this plant? -- David Holiday, Terre Haute, Ind.
A. Depending on which type of hydrangea it is, likely the best way to make sure you get more just like it is to take stem cuttings in early to midsummer. Seeds may not come back true to that plant.
Purdue Extension has a new tool for gardeners who want to learn more about how to propagate their own plants. Purdue's "Plant Propagation" CD-ROM is kind of like a book, kind of like a hands-on class -- but better!
The CD has 52 videos and hundreds of photos, animations and graphics that show everything from the simplest planting of a seed to the complexities of grafting. There are sections on basic botany, seed germination, cuttings, divisions, layering or grafting. There is also a glossary, complete with pronunciation of the more unusual words, quizzes and a reference section with links to the Internet for even more information.
What makes the CD even better than a class is that the lectures and illustrations are all there at your fingertips, ready for you to learn something new or review a technique at your own pace. And, better than a conventional book index, the CD is fully searchable, so you can find just exactly the page you're looking for.
Purdue's "Plant Propagation" CD (item number CD-HO-3) is available for $40 from Purdue Extension's online Education Store at http://www.extension.purdue.edu/new/. Or call 1-888-EXT-INFO or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can preview a sample chapter online at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/plantprop/WebVersion/Intro.html.
"Plant Propagation" has received several awards, including the Garden Writers Bronze Award of Achievement in each of three categories, writing, design and overall product, and a Gold award for Non-Credit Educational Product from the Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Life and Human Sciences.
Q. During the recent ice storm, two of our evergreen trees got top heavy and bent down under the weight of the ice. The trunk on one of them snapped in the middle and the tree broke in half. The other is still bent quite significantly. We have been given conflicting opinions on how to remedy the situation. We need to straighten the tree's rootball but are unclear on the timing. We would much appreciate advice on how to proceed. Also, a list of reputable tree gardeners in the Lafayette area would be quite useful. -- Rusi and Navaz Taleyarkhan, Lafayette, Ind.
A. Evergreens actually experience considerable root growth in the fall, but spring is the second best time of year to capitalize on the new roots you need to correct this situation. Have the tree righted as soon as possible, and stake it so the rootball is held firmly in place. Interestingly, allowing the tree trunk to move somewhat with the wind will cause the tree to grow stronger and faster in response to the movement. Staking is done to hold the rootball in place, not necessarily the top of the tree. Staking material should be removed as soon as the tree is firmly rooted, preferably within one year of application.
I once had a similar experience with a Colorado spruce that was bent in an ice storm. I hoped the top, which was quite out of my reach, would straighten itself. It became straighter but always had an "S" curve. Righting the tipped rootball of your tree, if it has been dislodged, is the right thing to do.
The tree that snapped in half will probably never recover its original pyramidal form. If that's your goal, you may need to replace the tree. If it still provides important screening and greenery, have the trimmers make a clean cut and remove any torn or ragged edges.
I'm unable to endorse specific companies in this column but urge you to ask for recommendations and be certain any firm you choose carries liability and workers' compensation insurance. A certified arborist has passed an international exam showing an understanding of tree growth and care. Ask each firm if it has a certified arborist on staff, and consider staff expertise as you make your decision.
Q. We have one plant that I take care of that is having ladybug problems. It is a fern -- there are eggs on the leaves, and it is looking really ugly. I can see some new growth in soil, but it really needs help. What can I do? Thank you. -- Jeanette Weaver
A. It's unlikely that they're ladybug problems, since ladybugs are beneficial insects. They feed on aphids, an insect pest, and cause no damage to plants. You might be looking at insect eggs, but other possibilities exist. Ferns have spore-bearing structures, which resemble insect eggs, or you may be seeing scale insects, which are under a hardened, shiny protective covering. Bring a sample to the Purdue Extension office in your county for identification.
In the meantime, try to bolster the health of the fern by giving it proper care. Ferns grow naturally on the floor of tropical and sub-tropical rainforests. Those are difficult conditions to replicate indoors! For successful fern growth, daytime temperatures should not exceed 72 F. Nighttime temperatures should be on the cool side, below 60 F.
Low humidity around the home, usually averaging 10 to 15 percent, can be a problem for many tropical indoor plants. Thirty percent humidity is about as low a level as a fern can tolerate, while 40 to 50 percent humidity is more desirable. Symptoms of plant damage caused by low humidity include browning and drying of the tips of the leaves or fronds. Also, yellowing and dropping of interior leaves can mean that the atmosphere is too dry.
There are several methods for overcoming the low humidity problem. One way is to add humidifiers to the heating system or to buy a self-contained electric humidifier. Another way to raise humidity around your plants is to place potted plants in saucers or trays filled with gravel. Then add water to the trays or saucers, maintaining at least one-quarter inch of water at all times. The water that evaporates from the gravel surface will increase the humidity around your fern. Double-potting your fern is another method of raising humidity. Place the potted fern inside another container -- perhaps a decorative pot -- and fill the area between the bottom of the pot and the container with pea gravel or sphagnum moss. Now, keep the moss or gravel moist to humidify the plant. Many people suggest that misting on a daily basis helps to raise humidity. Actually, misting only helps remove dust from the plant leaves. The previously mentioned methods are more effective and less time consuming than misting.
A north or east window usually provides good light conditions for ferns, while south and west windows will probably need a reduction of light. A sheer curtain will help reduce light penetration. Or simply position the fern far enough from the window to avoid direct sunlight. There are no hard and fast rules about watering ferns.
The best way to determine when to water is to know your plant, and feel the soil for moisture. Some ferns, such as the Boston ferns, should be watered when the soil becomes slightly dry on the surface; others, like the Maidenhair and the Button fern, need to be continually moist. When you water, use room temperature water, and thoroughly soak the soil until water drains from the bottom of the pot. Plants should not be allowed to sit in the drained excess water. Your watering practices help determine your success with ferns. If plants are over- or under watered, shedding of leaflets will occur.
For more information, contact the Purdue Extension office in your county, and ask for "Ferns for Indoors" (HO-141-W) or go online at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-141.pdf