Ask the Gardener: Poinsettia problem, avocado tree, voles and more

Posted on: December 2, 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.)

poinsettia problem

Question 1: Poinsettia problem

Carrie: I’m wondering if you can tell me why my beautiful poinsettia plant is losing all its leaves. The leaves are shriveled and dropping off. I’ve only had the plant for two weeks. I keep the poinsettia moist, and it has sunlight. Please help!

Doug: With a poinsettia, that is usually an indication of too much water. Pick up the pot to see how heavy it is. Also push a finger down into the soil. If the pot is heavy and the soil is wet, let it dry out a bit.

Question 2: Avocado tree

John: On Nov. 23, I re-potted my avocado, with new potting soil, into a 12″ high by 14″ wide circular container. The roots appeared healthy, showing no signs of fungus or rot. I have just six leaves within the top 6″ of the avocado with no other leaves on the plant. New leaf growth (there are three) is apparent at the top of the avocado, and the remaining six leaves are showing dark areas on their perimeters. I would like to place some plants (not certain as to what type) at the base of this avocado to “fill in” the container. Your advice and suggestions are most welcome!

Doug: It sounds like a great project you’ve got going. I’ve got an avocado tree, and it grows the same way. The only concern is too much water; make sure it’s on the dry side. I’m assuming you’re growing this as a houseplant, so those are the types of plants to put at the bottom. You would want them to stay small and use the same amount of water as the avocado. You could put some herbs in there if that interests you. Thyme, sage, oregano and parsley would be some options. If not those, poke around a greenhouse for some plants that stay small and you’ll be fine. One other idea would be some ivy spilling out the sides of the pot.

Question 3: Voles

Marie: Something is digging up the dirt in our yard again at night and leaving piles of dirt in the yard. We have holes the size of a quarter. How do we get rid of these critters?

Doug: That’s voles making the holes. Those vole colonies can reach upwards of 400. They eat plants and love to destroy root crops. The good news is that you can use an organic product to repel them. Mole Scram (available here) uses castor oil and other natural ingredients to force the pests to live somewhere else.

Question 4: Hydrangeas

Adele: Do I have this right? I shouldn’t do anything to my hydrageas even if they look ugly right now?

Doug: Leave the hydrangeas alone. They will look brown all winter. The only type of hydrangea that gets cut to the ground is H. arborescens. Many of the others have buds on them, and removing the buds would mean no flowers next year.

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