Gardening Q&A

Hungry Fledging
A mother robin returns with a worm in its beak for its hungry fledging.

Yes, it’s time once again for another round of Gardening Q&A.

As some of you may already know, gardening questions come in all year round, and I try to answer as many as possible. I also keep track of the questions that lots of people ask so I can periodically share those in a Q&A roundup, since I figure they might be on a lot of other people’s minds too.

Here we go.

Q: Why do my hostas turn brown around the outside edges of the leaves?

A: Though some hostas are said to be able to tolerate sun, most do best in semi- to part-shade, and that browning often happens when they scorch in the sun.

It is also possible that they need more water or it’s just terribly hot or both. While it’s true that hostas are amazingly tough, they do need some regular moisture and protection from blazing sun to look their best.

Q: When can I prune azaleas?

A: First, let me congratulate those of you who actually have nice azaleas. Mine always get eaten down to the nubbin by starving rabbits and/or never really grow much and probably wish I would just put them out of their misery.

Anyway, the best time to prune azaleas is right after the flowers have faded. To help them keep their natural shape, prune out all the dead wood you see and cut older stems back to their base. Unless branches are really doing weird things all over the place, don’t go pruning them back elsewhere or you’ll get a bunch of new, leggy growth.

Q: Why do robins cock their heads to the side when they’re on the ground in the garden?

A: Way to notice cool things about nature! By the looks of it, you’d think that robins were listening for something when they tilt their heads while remaining motionless at times in the garden. In fact, though, they are hunting for earthworms.

Cocking their heads just so allows robins to turn one eye to the ground so they can better notice teeny-tiny, itty-bitty worm movements beneath the soil. If they don’t see much, sometimes robins will thump their feet on the ground to stir up some worm action.

Q: What causes the wavy lines that appear on a lot of my plants’ leaves in the summer?

A: Those lines are caused by leafminers, the larval stage of insects that create tunnels as they feed between the lower and upper surfaces of leaves. Leafminers love a wide array of plants, including fruits and vegetables as well as flowers, shrubs and trees.

Like most pests, they cause damage for a limited time — in their case, about two to three weeks before they mature and move on. Most of the time, the damage is unsightly, but not really harmful.

To stop damage before it spreads, pick off and throw away affected leaves. Or, squeeze affected leaves between your fingers to squish that larvae before it finishes dinner.

Q: How long should new trees be staked?

A: This is a rather fiercely debated question, actually. Experts used to say that most young trees should be staked for the first year. But more recent research indicates that staking can hinder trees’ ability to develop a strong trunk. Better to let that little tree sway in the wind a bit — unless it’s a super windy spot — they now say.

If you do decide to stake a tree, be sure to remove the stake within one year or as soon as you feel the tree can stand alone.

Q: Why won’t my Siberian iris bloom anymore?

A: Like other types of iris, Siberian iris likes to be divided. Old clumps of iris tend to develop the dreaded empty donut hole in the middle, which is a sure sign it is time to divide them. But even if you don’t see that yet, a lack of blooms can often mean the clumps need to be thinned out a bit.

When you replant various clumps, remember to put them in the ground at the same level they were growing before, because being too deep or too shallow can adversely affect bloom too.      

Meleah Maynard is a writer, editor and master gardener. For more gardening ideas and tips, visit her blog, which has been renamed Livin’ Thing.