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A dose of Epsom salts can help lilac bush to flower

QUESTION: “I have a lilac bush that is about ten years old and about five to five-and-a-half feet tall. I think it had one flower a few years ago. The main trunk is about one inch in diameter. It is situated quite close to an evergreen tree. What is wrong with this bush that it won’t flower? Is there anything I can do to promote flowers for next year?” – Helen Eckert

ANSWER: Try putting one tablespoon of Epsom salts into one gallon of water. Water the bush with the solution to soaks the roots when dormant in late October. Then do it again just before it leafs out in the spring. I do this on a number of plants to force blooms. Let me know your results next season!

QUESTION: “I would like to prevent grass and weeds from growing up under my new trees I have planted. I don't want to put bark down as I feel that it looks ugly. My dad has cement blocks surrounding his tree. A friend of mine has cement laying flat on top of the ground around the trunk of the tree.

“Is it acceptable to have the cement laying flat on top of the soil? I know that this will prevent any grass or weeds from growing but will it rot the roots? I live on a farm and have a rather large area with a lot of trees that we have planted. The grass is taking over and it would cost a fortune to buy fancy blocks to go around all of the trees. My biggest concern is the safety of the trees and if the cement would cause problems.” – Donna Hallock

ANSWER: This is a new one on me and I have never tried it myself! However, it would seem that it should not bother the trees at all. You see a lot of cement around trees in the city. Let’s see if any other readers have tried this solution and what the results were. Send an e-mail to steve@landsteward.org

QUESTION: “A year ago I purchased some Apache Blackberries. They are doing great and the bushes are loaded with berries this year. Most of my plants are starting to sprout new plants at their base. which I expected. However, most have grown a "stalk" about as big around as my finger and about four feet high. Are these "suckers" that need to be trimmed or will these grow into new canes?” – David Krabbe

ANSWER: These are your new fruiting canes for next year so please do not trim them or you will have no fruit next season! When you harvest all the berries from the old vines this season, you can cut them off at the base. When your new canes reach a height of about 5 feet, you may want to trim the tips to cause them to branch more giving more fruiting area next season.

Here’s an useful tip from Terry Briggs who had read about a reader’s problem with fungus:

“I don’t know if this will help your reader's photenia fungus or not. I had a gardenia that did not respond last year to commercial fungicides. This year almost the entire plant was covered with black spotting that looked like dirt. I read that aphids chew the plant sap & the resultant sticky substance can cause a mold. So I treated with a soap & garlic home mixture which worked for the aphids but didn’t do much for the mold.

I then soaked the plant with a nicotine tea and repeated this two more times. Every remaining leaf, the stems, the branches & the root area were thoroughly treated. With all the rain we are having the gardenia has grown by leaps & bounds & no sign of mold as yet.

Here is the recipe: (It is toxic. Keep away from children, pets, edible plants, petunias or nightshade family plants which are susceptible to tobacco mosaic virus.)

Soak 1 cup of cigarette butts in one gallon of warm water for several hours or overnight. Add 1/4 teaspoon dishwashing liquid. Strain the mixture. Spray leaves well, top & bottom surfaces, the base of the plant & pour over the root area, every other day for a week.” – Terry Briggs

The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to steve@landsteward.org For resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, go to www.landsteward.org