Gardening Q & A: Summer Snowflake Plant and More

Master gardener Paul James talks about pruning candles, cool plants, and no-hassle manure tea.
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Master gardener Paul James fields questions from gardeners:

Q. Do you have to prune the candles on evergreens?

A. No, the candles (new growth) that appear on a number of evergreens and are most pronounced on pines don't have to be pruned at all. In fact if you want the plant to grow bigger — taller, wider or both — you shouldn't prune the candles. However, if you want to restrict the growth of the plant and encourage it to get bushier, then you should prune the candles, cutting them back by about half with sharp pruners or by bending them until they snap.

Q. What's the coolest plant you've come across lately?

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A. If I had to zero in on just one, it'd be a member of the euphorbia family in the genus Jatropha, common name, Buddha's belly. This tropical curiosity is swollen at the base, has a single trunk and numerous branches, topped off with nearly round leaves that are deeply cut into lobes.

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It also features large clusters of gorgeous red flowers. Jatropha is fairly common in Florida and throughout most of the tropics where certain species can grow up to 20 feet tall. However, they're hardy only to Zone 10, so mine spends half of its life indoors as a houseplant and the other half outdoors as a patio plant.

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Q. Everyone in my garden club raves about a shrub called 'Summer Snowflake.' Is it that great of a plant?

A. 'Summer Snowflake' is a great plant if you happen to like carefree, easy-to-grow, deciduous shrubs that are rarely bothered by pests or diseases and produce tons of beautiful, lightly scented white flowers over a long period of time followed by red berries that birds devour in a day. Other than that, it's no big deal. Seriously though, 'Summer Snowflake,' which is a viburnum, is an extremely popular plant. Given all the merits I just mentioned, it's no wonder why even a viburnum snob like myself has to have one, and maybe you should, too.

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Q. I can't stand the hassle and mess associated with brewing manure tea. Tell me there's an easier way.

A. You can now buy worm castings tea in ready-to-use bags that you simply add to lukewarm water and allow to steep for a few hours or overnight. This is without a doubt the simplest way in the world to brew manure tea, which you can use to soak the soil or spray the foliage of plants. And the tea itself is all natural, odorless and full of nutrients. What could be easier?

Q. Any tips on how to get grass to grow beneath a trampoline?

A. Given the popularity of trampolines these days, that's a fairly common problem, and the shade created by the trampoline makes it difficult for even shade-tolerant turf grasses such as fescue to grow. So sadly, the only real solution is to move the trampoline every time you mow or every other time so that the grass has a chance to bounce back.

Q. What's your take on using Epsom salts on roses?

A. Epson salts or magnesium sulfate can be applied to soils that are deficient in magnesium, but that situation is fairly rare. Too much of the stuff can actually lower the pH level of the soil, significantly in some cases. Also, too much magnesium in the soil can affect a plant's ability to take up other essential nutrients. So if a soil test indicates that your soil is low in magnesium, I suggest that you add one or two inches of old-fashioned compost to your roses.

Q. How many plants have you planted in your lifetime?

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A. I don't have a precise answer, but if I had to venture a guess, I'd say I've planted at least 2,200 plants here at this location, not including bulbs and seeds. And I've planted at least that many plants at two previous locations.

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