Garden FAQs

Stew Leonard's Ask the Garden Jeannie Frequently asked Questions.

Q. How do you care for a hydrangea that is planted in the garden? Should it be cut back in the fall? How much sun do they need and what color are the blooms if it is planted in acidic soil?


ANSWER: Let me start by saying that hydrangeas are one of my favorite plants. You can change the color on most hydrangeas, with the exception of white hydrangeas, which you can not change their color. The color of your hydrangea depends upon the pH of the soil. The more acidic the soil the bluer the hydrangea will be and the more alkali in the soil, the pinker the flower should be. To obtain a bluer color you can add 1/4 oz. of aluminum sulphate and 1/4 oz. sulphate of iron to 1 gallon of water. Apply 2 gallons in spring and fall. You should be able to find these chemicals at a nursery or hardware store. If you can't find the chemicals you can use Holly Tone. Scratch it into the soil at the drip line of the plants two or three times during the season. Remember it will take more than one application to change the soil's pH. It will occur gradually over time. In order to get a hydrangea to turn pink you can add lime to the soil. This process takes time and the color may not start to change until next year. There are a few varieties that say they will be pink even in acidic soil. On pruning hydrangeas, the time to prune depends on the type. If you don't know what type you have wait until the leaves leaf out and prune away all the dead wood and let the plant grow all season long. Some hydrangeas bloom on last year's growth (old growth) and some will bloom on this year's growth (new growth). Except 'Endless Summer' which blooms on old and new growth, therefore it blooms throughout the summer season and not just once. It is extremely hardy and will be pink or blue depending on the acidity of the soil. They are available here at Stew's. Hope I've helped to clarify the mystery of how to get the hydrangea color of choice. 

Q. Do you have guidance for transplanting plants, or repotting more accurately?


ANSWER: When transplanting houseplants you should go up only one pot size at a time. When taking the plant out of the old pot, examine the roots. If you see that they are going around in a circle, gently ease them away from the soil before transplanting in the new pot. Just add enough soil to cover the bottom of the new pot, place the plant inside and then soil to fill the remainder of the pot. Place the pot in a sink and water. Add soil as necessary after the water drains. When transplanting trees, shrubs and perennials you should dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot and the same depth of the pot. Mix 1/3rd peat moss, 1/3rd dehydrated cow manure and 1/3rd of the soil that came out of the ground. Put the tree or shrub into the hole keeping the soil at the same level it was in the pot, replace the soil. When the soil is half way filled, water the plant and let the water drain, continue to fill the hole until the soil is level and water once again. Water every day for the first two weeks. Then check the plant and water two or three times a week until the end of fall. If you are planting annuals and are making a large bed, it is easiest to turn the soil and add peat moss and compost into the soil. This will loosen the soil and make it easier to plant your annuals and it is easier for their roots to establish in the loosened soil. Water as needed. Once a week you should water with a water soluble fertilizer such as Miracle Gro. I like the Miracle Gro Bloom Booster for the most blooms. 

Q. I live in a rural area and have resident deer and woodchucks. What plants, of any kind can I use that they will not eat? I have used deer repellant spray..that seems to work if I use it once a week and we do not have heavy rains. It was suggested that crushed hot pepper, used for cooking, would keep the woodchucks away. I use that just last week on tulips and iris. So far it might be working. But we had not had rain yet! We have a very large yard and need year long plants as well as flowering plants...but I do not want to spend one more dollar on plants until I know what these pests do not like. Marigolds do seem to be the best flowering far!


ANSWER: Dealing with deer is one thing, as there are plants they do not have an appetite for, but woodchucks are a whole other issue - there is just about nothing a hungry woodchuck will not eat. I haven't found any lists of plants that are woodchuck resistant, although they do not like things that smell/have a scent. I would recommend using a live trap to capture the woodchucks and then you can release them in a wooded area. That will alleviate your problem. My other recommendation would be to try the following that are also deer resistant: Foxglove, Monardas (Bee balm), Mint, Russian Sage, Lavender, Lamb's Ear, Agastache (hyssop), Astilbe, Peony, Aquilegia (columbine), Ornamental grasses, Allium and Daffodils. 

Q. I have dug compost into my garden and was getting ready to top dress it with 6" of compost. Should I add peat moss first? Part of the garden was exposed to road salt. Also, we have rabbits--I have put in a small wind chime that if anchored at ground level. Neighbors put in childrens pinwheels. Do your have any suggestions--I prefer not to use chemicals?


ANSWER: Gardening near a road is always a challenge with the snow salting that occurs during the winter. Your best bet is to utilize plants that tolerate salt conditions. Here's a list of plants that will tolerate salt conditions that are deer and rabbit resistant: Aquilegia (columbine) Achillea Artemesia Aastilbe Dianthus Dicentra Digitalis Heuchera Liriope Monarda Nepeta Peony Rudbeckia Santolina Sedum Stachys (lamb's ear) Vinca Minor Ornamental Grasses. 

Q. I have a large bush in the front of my yard. I don't know what type but the needles are pretty short and dark green. It is really big. I want to cut it back but the green stuff is only growing on the outside. If I cut it back about 6-8" I will lose all the green and only have branches. I was advised that I can cut it back and that it will grow again. I hope so because it would really be ugly. Do you think I can cut it back or should I just keep trimming it.?


ANSWER: I would love to see a picture as I'm not sure what kind of plant it is you are referring to. When you say it is really big, can you tell me how high or how wide it is? I have a feeling that it may be an Alberta Spruce, but I would like to see it before I advise you on how to or if you should prune it back. Is this bush getting too large, or do you want to trim it because the growth is only at the outside ends? You can bring a picture with you to Stew Leonard's garden center and either I or one of our Garden Shop managers can take a look at it and give you some advice on how/where to trim it. You can attend one of my Saturday morning gardening clinics (9:00 AM). 

Q. I bought the "Ramblin Shades o' Pink Petunia but I really wanted the Wave Petunia. Do these two grow the same way or is the "Ramblin" just like a regular petunia?


ANSWER: The growth is similar. 

Q. When is the best time to prune hydrengas?


ANSWER: When you prune hydrangeas, it depends on the varietal that you purchase. If we're talking about the big ball type or macrophylla type, then you should wait till most of the leaves leaf out and prune away all the dead wood. Some bloom on last years growth while others bloom on this year's or new growth. If you prune back now you will be cutting off your flowers for this year.