Ask the Gardener: Sunflowers, lemon trees and plantains

Posted on: January 17, 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: Sunflowers

Adele: I planted sunflowers for two years, and they were beautiful. But last year I planted sunflowers and even bought the more expensive seeds and not one of them grew! What did I do wrong? Did something eat them? I even tried planting a couple of times.

Doug: I’ll assume the sunflowers sprouted, but if they didn’t, it was a problem with the seed before you got them. The most common culprit for sunflower sprouts are rabbits, who devour them overnight. There are also plenty of other four-legged pests that enjoy the young greens.

Here’s what I would do. Start the seeds in something called peat pots, somewhere safe from critters. You can do it outside the same time you would direct sow them. Sunflowers don’t like to be transplanted, so this way those peat pots can be planted directly in the ground when they get a little bigger and aren’t as attractive to the pests. You might even surround the planting area with some chicken wire, just to be safe. Once the sunflowers are underway, they get too tough to be interesting to rabbits and the others.

Question 2: Meyer lemon tree

Emily: I have recently ventured into the world of house plants and I would like to get a Meyer lemon tree. I’ve seen some online, but I didn’t know where to look locally. Do you have any tips for growing one successfully?

Doug: You should be able to find a Meyer lemon tree locally. I would call around to some of the nurseries in your area.

You want to have it growing in the brightest part of the house, preferably in a south-facing window. You might even consider some supplemental light, too. There are lots of options these days at local nurseries. Grow the tree in a pot that can be moved inside and out. When there’s no chance of frost, the tree would love to be outside. Watering during indoor growing is critical. The soil should be moist, but not soaking. These trees like deep, but infrequent watering. It will take anywhere from three to five years to get lemons, and you’ll need to pollinate by hand with a small paint brush, taking pollen from one flower to another. A blooming tree smells wonderful.

Question 3: Plantain leaves

Sherri: Can you grow plantain leaves indoors? You know, the kind that grow in our lawns, not the banana-like thing. It’s actually for our pet bunny … he loves them!

Doug: I’ve never seen it done, but I would guess it could be done. It’s one of the toughest plants on the planet. They are always going to be happier out in full sun, but over the winter, I bet you could get them to survive until they could be grown outdoors. They would be happiest either under lights or in a south-facing window. By the way, the plant is known for its herbal use. The oils of the plant are used to relieve pain of bee stings, scrapes and cuts.

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