Celebrating the Seasons

From February 2008 E-newsletter





Gabby Gardeners

Lilacs won't bloom

Question: I have had a lilac bush for 4 years now and it still isn't blooming. It looks good — just no blooms. Is there anything I can do now? I live in zone 5.

Answer: Be patient. Sometime lilacs take years to finally bloom. However, there are some steps you can take to encourage them:

  • Make sure your lilac gets full sun.
  • Limit feeding the plant. Lilacs don't appreciate a lot of fertilizer. However, they often respond to an application of phosphorus.
  • Old trick: Mix 1 gallon of water with 2 ounces of Epsom salts and water the plant when dormant (early spring or late fall).
  • Buds are formed the year before, so be sure to prune immediately after blooming so you don't cut off the flowering wood for the next year.

Help, my clematis is wilting!

Question: Over the last 5 to 6 years, several of my clematis plants have developed wilt each summer. Strangely, not all my clematis are affected. I have one clematis that is planted next to a wilted clematis, yet it seems to be thriving. Is there any way I can prevent this disease and treat the affected clematis?

Answer: I've got some good news and some bad news. Unfortunately it sounds like some of your plants have “clematis wilt.” It's one of the few problems that affect clematis, yet it is quite common. The good news is that plants that have wilt can recover. Wilt is spread by fungal spores so it is important to keep the plant and surrounding ground clean of plant debris, even in the winter. The disease doesn't affect the plant's root system so you may be able to eradicate it by cutting the wilted stems to the ground and as close to the roots as possible. Make sure to remove the cuttings and do not place them in the compost, dispose of them by burning.

Magic ingredients?

Question: I've heard you say that you enrich the soil with “magic” ingredients. Can you tell me the ingredients and when is the best time to enrich?

Answer: Every spring and fall, I amend the soil with compost, peat moss, and manure (usually sheep manure I get from a local farmer), which work like magic to replenish and keep the soil alive with nutrients. I spread liberal amounts of each (no more than 3 inches total) on top of the soil and till it in about 12 inches deep, which gives my plants a natural boost right from the start.

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