“My butterfly bush was so rangy last year. How can I get it to be fuller and to attract more butterflies?” Question from Diane of Newark, Ohio
Answer: Several things can cause butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9) can have flowering and vigor troubles. Here are the main culprets.
Age: If your butterfly bush is an older specimen, it may be petering out. They are not the longest-lived shrubs, and as they age they often show less vigor and flowering. Many may only thrive for 10 or 20 years, or less. If it’s time to replant, I recommend that you try Proven Winner’s Lo & Behold®‘Blue Chip’ butterfly bush. It’s sterile, so it does not become invasive, and it blooms nonstop all summer with wands of purplish-blue that draw lots of butterflies. It is also more compact, at 2.5 to 3 feet high. (Click here to discover more sterile varieties.)
Light: Make sure your plants get full sun. Less light puts a damper on flowering.
Soil: Well-drained average soil is best for butterfly bushes. If your soil has drainage issues or is heavy, then you may need to move or replace your plant.
Pests: Various pests can reduce the vigor and flowering of butterfly bush. Tackling them early will help your plants perform better. (Click here to learn more about common pests.) Fortunately, butterfly bushes have few disease problems.
“Are wild mushrooms in my vegetable garden a risk if they just disintegrate? Any risk of poisoning the veggies for eating?” Question from Margaret from Chandler, Arizona
Answer: Some wild mushrooms are certainly poisonous, so I recommend removing the fruits from your lawn and garden if you have pets or small children that might consume them. If you have them in your vegetable garden, then your soil may be too moist. Either way, remove the mushrooms as you see them if you have any concerns. It would be wise to wear gloves while handling them. Expert sources say that the spore loads of toxic mushrooms are typically too low to cause any problems. Still, better safe than sorry.
“How do I get my Pumpkins to get past just flowering?” Question from Marilyn of Roseburg, Oregon
Answer: I am sorry to hear that your pumpkins are not producing! There are lots of things that could keep your pumpkins from setting fruit. Let’s start with what pumpkin vines need to grow and produce fruit.
What Pumpkins Need to Fruit
Full sun (8 hours per day or more)
Fertile, well-drained soil
Fertilization with an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer
Space–Vines require plenty of space to grow and branch.
Time–Check the days to harvest for your pumpkin variety. If it is 100 days or more, then it is a late producer and just needs more time.
What Keeps Pumpkins from Fruiting
Lack of female flowers (see below)
Lack of pollinators–Bees pollinate pumpkin flowers, which is essential for them to fruit.
Excessive heat– Very hot days (above 95 degrees F) and warm nights (above 75 degrees F) can stress vines to the point where they do not fruit.
Too little light–Vines lack the energy to produce fruit.
Too little time–If late-producing vines are planted too late in the season, they will not have enough time to fruit.
Pests and disease–There are many pests and diseases that can reduce fruit output in pumpkins. If your vines look healthy, then don’t worry about this possibility.
Pumpkin Flowers and Fruiting
All squash, pumpkins included, have two flower types–male and female. Male blooms appear first on the vines as simple yellow flowers with stamens covered in yellow pollen. Female flowers develop towards the vine tips and have little fruits at the base of the yellow flowers as well as a single, central pistil in each bloom. If your vine has both flower types, then pollination failure could be the problem. Without pollination, developing fruits just shrivel. The solution is hand-pollination. Simply use a small brush to move pollen from a newly-opened male flower to a newly-opened female flower. It’s fast, easy, and will yield pumpkins.
It is quite possible that your vines are healthy and on the verge of producing. Time may be the only factor limiting their fruiting. Many late pumpkins will not start bearing until September. Keep me posted. I would love to hear the end of your pumpkin story.
Black Gold Horticulturist
Click here to view my top 10 list of best-tasting pumpkins and winter squash!
“I had a pear tree with pears and then before they were ready, bam, no pears. They all fell to the ground. How can I get them to stay on the tree?” Question from Stephanie of Tylertown, Mississippi
Answer: What a disappointment. There are lots of factors at play when it comes to nurturing a fruit tree to production. Let me simply cover what you can do to keep your pear trees happy, and what factors can potentially lead to fruit drop (information derived from the Pear Production and Handling Manual by Elizabeth J. Mitcham, Rachel B. Elkins (2007)). You can troubleshoot from there.
What Pear Trees Need to Produce Fruit
Fertile, well-drained soil
Mild spring weather and good pollination
Proper fertilization with a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10 (follow the manufacturer’s directions)
Full sun that penetrates into the tree branches
Balanced crop load (thinning small fruits on loaded branches can encourage fruit set and improve quality.)
Causes for Premature Fruit Drop in Pear Trees
Temperatures that are too hot (85 degrees F and up) or too cool (55 degrees F or lower)
High winds and low humidity
Leaf loss due to pests and disease
Excessively wet or dry soils
Heavy crop load
If your trees are missing anything in the “Need” list, or if they experienced any of the negative conditions in the “Premature Fruit Drop” list, the composite caused your trees to lose this year’s fruit. Hopefully, this knowledge will give you what you need to help your trees produce lots of good fruit next year.
“Every year I try planting alyssum and within 48 hours of planting its dead? I’ve tried many different things but can’t seem to get it to work at this house. I’ve grown it in other beds and borders just not working here … any thoughts?” Question from Kyla of Oakbank, Manitoba, Canada
Answer: Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) is a common bedding plant that originates as a seaside plant from the coasts of the Mediterranean and Europe. It can withstand the cool temperatures of spring as well as the heat and drought of summer, but there are several things that are certain to kill it early in the season. Here are the top four possibilities.
Below-freezing temperatures – Spring-purchased alyssum plants have been greenhouse-grown and are more tender than average and sensitive to temperatures near or below freezing. Once well-established and growing, they can take light frost.
Poor drainage – Maritime plants like alyssum are adapted to very sharply drained soils. They will grow well in organic-rich soils if they are porous and have very good drainage. Pot-grown specimens require a mix with good drainage, such as Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix. The containers also need to drain well through holes at the bottom.
Cold, wet weather – Cold, wet weather can induce fungal disease and subsequent root and crown rot.
Poor Irrigation before establishment – Newly planted annuals need even moisture and good care while they are becoming established. If they are not properly watered from the start, they can dry out and die quickly. Those planted as small plugs are especially susceptible to drying because they have tiny root systems.
If your plants are subjected to one or more of these stresses shortly after planting, death can occur. But, below-freezing cold is the fastest killer. I hope that these tips help!
“Most of the leaves on my verbena have become very pale. Not yellow, just faded looking. The plant is still blooming, but the foliage doesn’t look healthy. Any thoughts on what’s going on?” Carlene of Conroe, Texas
Answer: Pale leaves are often a sign of stress, whether it be stress caused by excess heat, excess water, too little water, poor soil, a nutrient imbalance, or some other malady. Yours appear to be chloritic, but the discoloration is white and almost speckly, which is most likely spider mite damage. There also appears to be additional spotting. It is very challenging to provide a definitive diagnosis from a photo, so let me start with what Verbenas need for good growth and follow up with some additional suggestions for the possibility of mites.
Tips for Growing Verbena Successfully
Verbenas grow best in full to partial sun, and even though they are tolerant of hot weather, they should be provided partial sun during the hottest time of the day down in Texas. Plant them in average to fertile soil with excellent drainage. Once they are established, they will tolerate drought, but regular water makes plants happier. If they are in containers, water them daily and make sure the pots drain freely from the bottom. Fertilizer is recommended to keep them blooming all summer long. I recommend feeding them with Proven Winners Premium Continuous Release Plant Food because it is formulated for flowers, and you won’t need to feed weekly. If they become a little overgrown, consider cutting the old stems back to encourage new branches and flowers.
Identifying and Managing Spider Mites
These are tiny plant pests, and once you notice their damage, they are numerous and have already become a large problem. You will notice the damage when the tops of leaves look like they have little white spots across them. These are dead leaf cells that the mites have sucked dry. You might also see little webs on the leaves and tender stems of infected plants.
To see if you have mites, take a clean piece of white paper, hold it beneath the leaves, then tap the leaves onto the paper. If you have mites, lots of tiny specs will fall, and eventually, they will start crawling around. These are spider mites!
To manage them, remove the worst of the damaged leaves if you can. Then spray, wash, and wipe the remaining stems and leaves thoroughly. For potted plants, remove the top inch of potting soil and replace it with fresh. (We recommend using Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix.) It also helps to wipe the container down, in case any mites have strayed. Finally, spray the plants with insecticidal soap or Neem oil (especially underneath the leaves). Continue to do the tap test and wipe and spray leaves as needed. In time you will overcome your spider mite problem.
“Why Did My Iris Take So Long to Bloom? I planted Irises about three years ago & this is the first year they have bloomed. Is that normal?” Question from Rosie of Wichita, Kansas
Answer: I am going to assume you are growing German bearded iris (Iris germanica), the most common iris variety in the United States. There are lots of factors that may have caused yours to be late in blooming, such as small starting size or less-than-ideal growing conditions. Since I am not certain of your plant’s garden conditions, let me simply share what German iris need to thrive.
These popular garden flowers perform best when given full sun and fertile, well-drained soil conditions. (I recommend adding Black Gold Garden Compost Blend if your soil is low in organic matter.) Bearded iris rhizomes should be planted with the tops at or slightly above the soil surface, as those planted too deeply may result in lush foliage but fewer or no flowers. Late spring freezes, which can halt early stem and bud development after the plant has sprouted, are another common cause for lack of flowering in bearded irises. Other factors that might have impacted the delay in blooming are lack of sufficient sunlight, poorly drained soil, or insufficient soil nutrition.
I hope that these insights help. And, if you think there are some improvements that can be made to the growing conditions of your iris, I encourage you to make them. It is always wonderful when iris are in full bloom in spring.
“Why aren’t my roses growing? My rose bushes do not grow, and I fertilize them once a month, but they don’t grow. Soil is clay-like. They are semi-shade, I have a lot of big trees. They do flower. What else can I do?” Question from April of Dresden, Tennesee
Answer: There are three key factors that are likely keeping your roses from growing, thriving, and flowering to their fullest. They are:
Sunlight: Roses need full sun to grow and flower at their fullest. Six hours per day is the bare minimum they need to really perform well. Eight to twelve hours is even better. The morning sun is preferable to dry leaves early in the day, which dissuades fungal diseases.
Soil: Roses require a fertile, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic (pH 6.5-7) and high in organic matter to perform at their fullest. Amend the soil where they are planted to encourage better root growth and performance. Black Gold Garden Soil and Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss are two excellent amendments to consider
Competition: Tree roots quickly drain water and nutrients from the soil. It is wise to plant roses away from tree roots to avoid competition.
Please watch the video below to learn more about growing roses organically.
“This is the 2nd lavender I am having problems growing. I can pull up part of it like it’s rotting. What am I doing wrong? There is another Lavender about 3 feet away that is looking great.” Question from Jacklyn of Portland, Oregon
Answer: When lavender (Lavandula spp.) struggles, it is almost always due to a problem with soil quality and drainage. If fungal rot has taken hold, it is definitely caused by excess soil moisture. The frequent rains of the Pacific Northwest make it even more important to give your lavender very sharply drained soil. The difference between soil from one garden spot to another can be quite dramatic, even if they are only 3 feet away.
Lavenders naturally grow along sunny uplands with very well-drained soil, and they require full sun. If the soil is too moist and does not drain fast enough, rot will take hold. I encourage you to read our article titled, Soil Matters to Lavender; it will give you all of the information you need to properly amend your soil for lavender growing. You might also consider growing lavender in large containers and cutting their mix with part Black Gold All Purpose Mix and part Black Gold Cactus Mix. Topping the pots off with decorative pebbles would also be helpful.
Cultivate a shower of flowers for the holidays! Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus are easy to grow if you know what you are doing. Get yours to grow and bloom to its fullest year after year. Here are the seasonal steps that you will need to know for the most beautiful display!