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Gardening Q & A

Today’s Common Gardening Questions…Answered!

How do I get pussy willow branches from my garden to bloom inside?

Branches of spring flowering trees and shrubs can be forced to bloom indoors starting in late winter (February/March). The trick is to wait until we get a few warm days, and look for branches where the buds have already begun to swell. This means the plant is prepared to bloom. Cut branches a little longer than you want them in the vase. After you bring them inside, give them a fresh cut under running water, and immediately place them in the vase. Be sure to change the water every 4 days.

Some branches that can be forced include Forsythia, Crabapple, Flowering Pear, Pussy Willow, Flowering Quince, Cherry, Plum, Magnolia, Redbud, Lilac, and Viburnum. If the branches you cut don’t bloom, you may want to wait another couple of weeks to see if the buds have swollen more.

I’m bored. How soon can I start my seeds?

Yah, winter can be pretty boring for gardeners in January and February. Fortunately, there are many types of seeds that work best if you start them in winter. Geraniums, Impatiens, Snapdragons, Pansies, Petunias, Dianthus, Purple Coneflower, and Black Eyed Susan are flowers that can be started early. Slower herbs such as Rosemary, Lavender, Sage, and Thyme all benefit from extra time before planting out in the garden. Vegetables that can be given an extra head start include Artichokes, Leeks, Onions, Shallots, and some of the very Hot Peppers. There’s also Alpine Strawberries, that can start producing fruit 4 to 6 months after starting from seed.

For more information and ideas, see our handout. Early Start Seeds Handout

The leaves on some of my plants are turning yellow, and when I look closer there are tiny webs and the leaves look dusty. What’s wrong with my plant?

You probably have spider mites. To be sure, flick an affected leaf over a clean white sheet of paper. The mites are tiny, but they’ll move on their own, as opposed to bits of dirt and dust. The mites will also smear if you rub them on the paper.

English ivy, palms, croton, and many other plants tend to develop mite issues in the winter. This is because mites thrive in warm, dry (low-humidity) conditions; and love to attack plants that are stressed from over- or under-watering. To prevent this, mist or shower off your plants regularly, and place them on pebble trays with water or put a humidifier nearby. Once you have developed a problem, the first step is to rinse off your plant in the sink or shower (use room-temperature water). Then, spray the plant thoroughly with Neem Oil or insecticidal soap, making sure to coat the tops and bottoms of the leaves. Do this in the shower so you don’t get spray on your furniture. Re-apply the Neem/soap two more times at 5-day intervals.

Please note that most currently available insecticides will not work on spider mites! Mites are about as closely related to insects are dogs are to starfish. Products like Permethrin and Imidachloprid aren’t very useful against them. Neem works well on them, both to smother and to prevent feeding.

Why don’t you carry Forget-Me-Not seeds and plants anymore?

Starting last year, the common Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis sylvatica) has been absent from Wisconsin garden centers. That’s because it has been classified as “restricted” invasive weed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, effective May 1st, 2015. Plants that were already in the state before that time can still be moved or planted until May 1st, 2018. After that date, transporting, transplanting, and sales will be prohibited by law. You don’t have to remove “restricted” plants from your garden, but purposeful propagation is not allowed.

Plants are classed as ‘Invasive’ when they spread in the environment and cause environmental and or economic harm. This is different than ‘aggressive’, which is when a plant spreads rapidly in the garden.

For a legal alternative, try seeds of Chinese Forget-me-Not (Cynoglossum amabile). This is summer-blooming annual with the same blue flowers. We have the variety “Firmament” available as seed from Seed Savers. To plant, simply sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil where you want them to grow!

Have a Question? Ask Our Experts!

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The Bruce Company Garden Center
2830 Parmenter Street, Middleton, WI 53562

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