Ask The Gardener: Clematis wilt, lemon tree, container tomatoes and more

Posted on: June 7, 2019 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Everybody Gardens editor Doug Oster gets asked a lot of questions. A lot. And he doesn’t mind offering gardening advice. But rather than just limiting those answers to the person who asked, we thought it might be a good idea to share that wealth of knowledge with everybody.

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(The questions may be lightly edited for grammar/clarity/etc.)

Question 1: Clematis wilt

Ruth Ann: I believe I have clematis wilt. My vine is getting brown to black leaves near the bottom of the plant while the rest of the vine is green and full of blooms. Should I spray this with Serenade? I love this vine and don’t want to lose it. I had the same thing last year, and I trimmed off all the bad growth. Help, please.

Doug: Serenade isn’t effective against clematis wilt. Take a look at this site and be sure that it is in fact clematis wilt. It looks like it to me. Remove the infected part of the plant and hope things dry out a bit. The weather is not helping.

Question 2: Lemon tree

Debbie: My daughter gave me a little lemon tree that she started from seed. I wanted to know how to take care of it and if it will even survive in Pittsburgh? It’s about 4 inches high right now in a fiber pot.

Doug: It’s good to go outside now where it will live all summer and then come back inside in September, where it will live until the end of May. I would put it in an 8-inch pot at first and then go bigger as the tree grows. The thing about a fruit tree from seed is that we never know what type of lemon will be produced (if any). Most are hybrids, which will revert to a parent cultivar used to create the hybrid. Hopefully it will bloom (wonderful fragrance) and put on some lemons for you in the next couple of seasons.

Question 3: Container tomatoes

Veronica: I planted container tomato plants with a name of Better Boy. The plants are flowering with a cluster of four to six blooms. Should I remove a few of the blooms from the cluster to produce a larger tomato?

Doug: No, leave the clusters as they are. The plant is bred to put on the fruit that way. When the rain stops, be sure to keep the soil evenly moist to avoid blossom end rot.


Question 4: Tree problem

Greg: I’m not trying to be overly concerned but the leaves on my tree look like this. I’m guessing they will drop eventually. Think we will lose the branch?

Doug: That doesn’t look good. I would go to the end of those branches with the brown leaves and bend some twigs at the end. If they bend, are flexible and green, they are alive. But if they snap off, they are dead. If that’s the case, the branch should be removed.

Question 5: Lilacs

Scott: I planted a new lilac two weeks ago before the rains started. The root ball was very compacted, so I used a knife to put some lines in the ball. With all the rain, the leaves are wilting. Was it my knife work or just all the rain? The soil was mostly clay. I did try and break it up, but I didn’t have any additives like peat or compost to use.

Doug: My guess would be some transplant shock and possibly poor drainage.

Question 6: Pruning rhododendrons

Fran: Is it too late to lightly trim a rhododendron? I’m seeing lots of new growth. Where do the buds form?

Doug: You can trim them right now, but don’t delay or you’ll cut off next year’s flowers. The only reason to prune them is if they are in the way.

The buds form right where the flowers were, but if they need to be cut, they need to be cut. Pruning is part art and part science. Look carefully at the plant to decide what needs to go and what should stay. Never prune more than a third of a plant.

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