Gardening

Lots of downed branches in your yard? Here’s what that might be telling you.

Time to answer a few of the questions that have been piling up.

One reader wants to know if all the dead tree material now on the ground in our yards is an indication that our trees are sick and need special care. I noticed the unusual amount of debris in our yard during the last big thaw, but had a different reaction.

My first thought was how wonderful it was that Mother Nature blessed us with so much ramial wood, a development I have covered once or twice before. To the uninitiated, ramial is a term that describes branches and, in this instance, small twigs up to 3 inches in diameter. These are full of goodies that will provide nutrients as the wood is broken down by decay.

Studies have shown that chips of this size are particularly beneficial, and chips are what you get when you run over these twigs with a lawn mower or collect them and stomp on them. I must admit, I don’t want to promote extra use of our two-cycle engines.

The presence of all the wind-produced tree stuff on the ground is not an indication that the trees are not doing well, unless you are speaking about the stuff under and around spruce trees hit by beetles. What this debris may indicate, however, is that your trees are aging and you might want to consider planting some new ones this spring so they are big enough to replace trees that are passing maturity — birch, in particular. Most yardeners accept the trees in their yards when they buy their property, but rarely add more. If you are inundated with ramial wood, you probably should consider doing so.

Next, a question about reusing last season’s begonias, including soil and containers, if you had powdery mildew on yours when they went dormant.

I can’t identify the type of mildew that hits local plants without seeing them, but realize that begonias do develop a special powdery mildew. This is caused by a fungus that only infects begonias. It spreads by spores. Either way, if you had powdery mildew when you stored your plants for the winter, they were there and still are just waiting to germinate.

I am cheap and don’t like to admit defeat when a pathogen hits my plants. This is not necessarily a good thing, mind you. I would remove every bit of the debris from last year’s plants. Next, spray a goodly amount of Neem oil product on the soil and the container and tubers to kill as many of the remaining spores as possible. You probably won’t kill all the spores. However, if you get enough of them, the plant might get hit, but won’t die. These fungi need to keep the plant alive to survive themselves.

Or you can try heat. Heat kills powdery mildew spores and this may be your best method, though you have to be careful. Is there a place where you can expose the container and soil to 100 degrees or even higher? Remove the tuber first. Then spray it with Neem and replant.

From begonias to sedums: a reader wants to know how to multiply the succulents in her collection. It is so easy to multiply sedums. Just take a cutting, remove the bottom leaves and stick the naked end in damp soil. It will root and you will very soon have a new patch of sedums.

Another reader wants help identifying the leaf stalk and the flower stalk when it comes to his amaryllises. This is useful information: even before they swell, the flower stalks always have a little notch on their tips. It is very distinct and is there from the time it appears until the bud swells and the petals start to unfold. The leaf “stalks” have smooth tips.

And, finally, what should a person do with indoor-grown paper white bulbs once the flowers have faded? Simple: Toss them into the compost. They will not re-bloom. Outdoors in suitable climates, a new bulb would form under the spent bulb, but you forced yours in a container, so that is a no-go. The same is true of tulips and other forced spring-flowering bulbs. Sorry.

We are gaining lots of daylight now. We have a while to go, but at least we can now see spring from here. Have a great week and be safe out there.

Jeff’s garden calendar for the week:

Valentine’s in The Garden: The Alaska Botanical Garden is really getting into using their grounds during the winter months and doing a terrific job by all reports! There’s new Valentine’s Day lighting displays and a special Valentine’s Day in The Garden event for groups of two to four. Check things out at alaskabg.org — and join!

Christmas trees: If you didn’t recycle, your best bet is to put your tree out in the yard and make it a wildlife habit. This spring, when it is all nude and brittle, break it up and put it in a compost pile.

Houseplants: Clean up plants by removing dead leaves and any spent blooms.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2020 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He's authored several books on organic gardening; his latest is "DIY Autoflowering Cannabis: A New Way To Grow." Reach him at jefflowenfels@gmail.com.

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