You Bet Your Garden

Calling all northern gardeners: Imagine planting an orange tree!


Listen to the full show:

Mike discusses how to thin patches of overcrowded companion plants, what to do with “Zoo-Doo”, how to care for tropical pulmeria trees, the best way to get rid of wild strawberry weed, how to properly identify mystery weeds and what varieties of orange trees will thrive in colder climates.


Question of the Week:

“When I was a horticulture student at the Barnes Foundation I picked up a couple of hardy oranges from a specimen they had. I successfully started the seeds, grew the plants in pots for years and then planted one outside. This tree is gorgeous. Last year I got my first fruit, and this year, there are over a hundred fruits. I’m moving to Asheville North Carolina next spring and I’d like to take some seed with me to plant at my new place. I tried saving some seeds last season but they dried out. Short of planting them now in pots, which I’d rather not do, is there a way to preserve the seeds and keep them viable for future plantings? Thanks!”

— Ron from Morgantown, PA

Learn about orange tree varieties that grow in colder climates »


Highlights from show for October 26, 2013:

Reorganizing companion plants

Nancy from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania has a few too many plants growing in the same spot. Her asparagus plot is also home to daffodils and econashia, and she’s finding that the area is overcrowded. Mike agrees that while some forms of companion planting are OK, this arrangement is a little too close for comfort. Because the asparagus is well established, Mike’s recommended course of action is to dig up and replant the daffodils and the econashia. He advises Nancy to dig up the daffodil bulbs in the spring if they do not bloom or when they’re finished blooming. These bulbs can then be stored in a cool, dry location (like a garage or basement) and then be replanted in the fall around Halloween. When the econashia comes up in the fall, Mike recommends flooding the area to loosen the soil and then very gently lift the econashia, being careful not to disturb the asparagus spears. The econashia should be replanted in the evening in their new spot. Mike recommends both the daffodils and the econashia be replanted far away from her asparagus patch!


What to do with “Zoo-Doo”

Eric from Kansas City, Kansas has just built new raised bed gardens and is consulting Mike for what to fill them with. He received a batch of “Zoo-Doo”, or elephant compost, and he wants to mix it in with his existing home compost pile, which is made of mostly garden waste, lawn waste, kitchen scraps, and a few leaves and sticks when possible. Mike explains that this equation will produce unbalanced compost and that Eric needs more fall leaves in this mixture — a LOT more. Mike explains: “You’re not really making good compost — you can’t with those kinds of materials. This is the time of year you need to get yourself together to make real compost. You need to harness your fall leaf fall. You need to get a leave blower that’s set on reverse, you need to shred up all of your fall leaves — and I mean mountains of ‘em. You got a cubic yard of elephant poop? I want you to get three cubic yards of shredded leaves.”


Caring for pulmeria trees

Julie in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida has two young plumeria trees that were doing well, but now at 2-1/2 years old, they are not thriving. They have a powdery substance accumulating on the underside of the leaves and have not flowered as much as in years past. After a quick assessment, Mike advises that Julie get rid of all mulch products she has been using around the trees. Mike explains: “The wood mulch is what caused your mildew, which you had whether it was downy mildew or powdery mildew. But the wood mulch breeds those disease organisms. Now the rubber mulch doesn’t breed those disease organisms, but you do realize that in the tropics Mother Nature does not go around with a grinder and grind up old tires and wrap them around the plants? All of this stuff is unnatural.” Mike recommends getting rid of these “crappy mulches” and clearing the base of the trunk to allow water and air to get to the base and roots of the tree. He also recommends pruning the trees to open them up; increasing the air flow in her hot, humid conditions will prevent disease.


“You’re supposed to be pruning [pulmeria trees] all summer long to keep them open to prevent disease, because of your humid conditions.”

Mike McGrath


Getting rid of strawberry weed

Alexander of Yardley, Pennsylvania has a lawn full of wild strawberry weeds and is looking for help in reclaiming this space. Mike explains that the best course of action is to invite a few helpers over to pull up the weed and its runners out of the lawn as completely as possible. Mike says: “If you do a pulling party and you get a handle on this, and you continue feeding in the spring, feeding in the fall, both naturally and cutting high, I don’t see any reason that your grass shouldn’t be able to out-compete this.” For anything remaining in the lawn, Mike advises using an herbicidal soap spray or a natural iron-based herbicide to get rid of remaining weeds.


Have a mystery weed? Consult your local extension service

Peggy from Glen Mills, Pennsylvania is following up on previous caller’s mystery weed. Her guess for the clover-like weed with small yellow flowers is oxalis. Mike explains that this caller’s question received a lot of responses, with other popular guesses being black metic and sorrel. Mike’s recommendation for tracking down any mystery weed, however, is to take a clipping of the plant to your local extension service for identification.




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