Ask the Gardener: Lantana, starting compost and hydrangeas

Posted on: February 21, 2020 | 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: Lantana

Susan: We had two lantana planted in our front yard last summer, and they got beautiful and huge. I read a bit online about saving them over the winter so here is what we did and I wanted to check with you on that.

We dug up one lantana plant and put it in a huge pot. The only place to house it was in an upstairs bedroom at a south-facing window. At first, of course, it dropped all its leaves after they turned crispy. After that, it produced new green leaves all over. I have been watering it about once a week or less. I closed the curtain at the window when I read something about it not wanting direct sun.

Was I supposed to force it into hibernation ? Do you think we can plant it outdoors in the ground again and should we wait until late May? Will it flower? Anything that you can help us with would be appreciated.

Doug: You’re doing all the right things with the lantana, although I think you’d be fine to have it in full sun. The plant is a weed in Florida, so knowing that, you’ll be fine. Keep it on the dry side, but don’t neglect the plant. You could even give it a little organic liquid fertilizer like Grow starting in March.

It can go back out in the garden when all chance of frost has passed. Give it a little time to adjust to the outdoors by taking it in and out a couple of days. Your lantana will start flowering soon after getting outdoors.

Question 2: Starting compost

Joanne: I have started saving our tea bags and coffee grounds. Are they safe to add to the soil of my house plants or would it be better to use outside? I have been taking the leaves out of the bags, but would the bags just decay? My mom always used coffee grains and egg shells around her roses (1950-1960). They were beautiful! We do not have a compost pile, so would I just add this to the soil?

Doug: You are always better off to compost those items as they can affect the pH of the soil. There is a technique called trench composting, where fresh material is added to soil in an unused row of the garden. The next year, the row is planted and the trenching is done an an adjacent row.

Might it be time to create a compost pile? It’s just an area where anything that was once living is left to rot. This story will give you a little bit more information. Composting is the best way to recycle as you get the direct benefit of the finished soil amendment.

Question 3: Moving a hydrangea

Pat: I need to move my Bobo hydrangea to another spot. Ideally I would like to do it soon, but I’m concerned about the soil being too wet. They say if you work the soil too soon, you ruin the structure of it. Is that true? What would your advice be?

Doug: Is it possible to wait until the end of March or early April? It’s very important that the soil is ready and not too wet. If it sticks to the shovel, it’s too wet. If you can’t wait, you could dig out the hydrangea, put it in a large container and then replant in the spring when the soil has dried out.

Question 4: Starting seeds

Pam: I’m going to use your toilet paper roll trick for starting zinnia seeds this year. When do you think I should plant them? April 1? I also got a big box of the seeds at dollar general a few years ago. Do you think they will germinate if that old?

Doug: I don’t think the toilet paper roll is my trick, but it’s a fine way to start seeds. In case you’re wondering, you fill the cardboard rolls with planting mix and then add seeds. I’ve always found that zinnias do better when direct sowed in the garden, but they can be started indoors, too. April 1 would work, but you could even wait a couple more weeks. They can go outside when all chance of frost has passed.

There’s a great way to test your seeds to see if they are viable. Here’s a link to show how it’s done.

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