Ask the Gardener: Early garlic, pencil holly, hydrangeas and tree locations

Posted on: November 3, 2018 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Gardening 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.)

Garlic greens

Question 1: Garlic

Harry and Sharon: We are garlic lovers so we hope that it’s not too late to get your advice on this matter. We planted our garlic several weeks ago right before that stretch of hot weather. The garlic sprouted very quickly — probably 8 inches tall and kind of flimsy, but standing tall even in the present chilly weather. In the few times we’ve planted garlic, we don’t remember it getting this tall before winter. Our question is whether we should do anything special because of the height. It is not mulched. Do you suggest mulching? If so, with anything special?

Doug: It’s not uncommon for garlic to sprout, and it won’t harm the bulbs. When things get cold, the greens will die back. It’s always a good idea to have a nice layer of mulch (I use straw) over the bulbs to act like a blanket. Next spring you can harvest the greens sparingly. When the seed head (scape) appears, cut it off so the plant can focus on making bigger bulbs. The garlic is harvested in July when more than 50 percent of the greens turn brown.

Question 2: Pencil holly

Ken: I purchased four pencil hollys (about 4 feet tall) and planted them in half whiskey barrels this spring. They have done very well. Do you think they will make it through the winter in the barrels above ground? They are in an unprotected area with a lot of wind. I could struggle to move them to the east side of the house where they would be protected from some of the wind. What do you think?

Doug: I would want them to be protected somehow. If they are too big to move, a makeshift barrier of burlap around the outside of the shrubs would help if you could figure it out. I would also be concerned about the soil in the whiskey barrel being above ground. If it’s a bad winter, that could do them in. Since they are so big, you could get a few bales of hay to help insulate them. Also make sure the soil is watered until it freezes if rain is scarce.


Question 3: Hydrangea problem

Becky: I need your help, again! This is what all my hydrangea leaves look like! Wah …what’s happening?

Doug: Don’t worry about it. Looks like a fungal issue, which has been very common this year with all the rain. I think the plant will be fine.

Question 4: Tree location

Pat: I live in a ranch-style house. I’m replacing a tree in the front of my house, which is actually the back of my house. I live on a dirt road along a creek, which flows into the Youghiogheny River Lake. I would like to plant it somewhere in the middle of the house, approximately 8 feet from the house. My septic system would be in front of it. My question: Would a coral bark Japanese maple work? Does it require regular pruning? I like the multi-trunks and the beautiful color in winter.

Doug: That sounds like a fine place for the plant. Just know that at maturity it could be 15-25 feet tall and about 15 wide. Be sure there’s room for the plant to grow as it gets older.

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