Don't expect Christmas tree to grow without a root ball

Backyard Q&A

In The Garden

December 26, 2004|By Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali | Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali,Special to the Sun

Is there any hope of replanting a Christmas tree (without a root ball, mind you)? My fiance is a gentle soul who hates to see anything die, and the more he watered the tree, the more it flourished and actually started sprouting new buds. I've never seen a Christmas tree do that before. A nursery told us maybe we could use a root hormone to get it to root. I'm a little skeptical. Is this possible, or should we just lay our tree to rest in the woods from whence it came?

Sorry, there is no hope for planting a Christmas tree without a root ball. Rooting hormones will only work on vegetative cuttings. Those sprouting buds are not new ones the tree is producing, but buds that the tree produced last year for this year's growth. After the buds open, nothing will happen. All is not lost, however. You could decorate your tree for the birds to enjoy outside. For instance, make homemade ornaments using pine cones dipped in peanut butter then rolled in birdseed. The birds will love it.

My mother has had a cyclamen houseplant for years in the same spot, and it was doing beautifully until last week when the leaves lost their color almost overnight, turning pale yellow. Some of the new leaves coming up in the center of the plant are still green, but what happened?

Your mother has been fortunate to have her cyclamen so long. These tuberous-rooted plants are usually treated as temporary houseplants and discarded after flowering. It is difficult to get them to re-flower. As a tuberous plant, it needs a rest period. Your mother should decrease watering to begin the dormant period now. After the foliage dies back, store the pot in a cool (45 to 50 degrees F), dark spot for three to four months. Then, return it to warmer temperatures and begin to water again. New growth will appear.

Help! Something is eating my liriope plants all the way to the ground. I suspected rabbits and used "dried blood" to deter them, however it has not. Any suggestions?

Deer are capable of finishing off liriope, although it's not usually their first choice. This year with the deer population booming and the acorn harvest practically nonexistent, they are eating "deep winter" plants earlier than usual. Next year, fence or net your plants, or spray with a deer repellent. Predators' urines work too, for a while. Urines also work with rabbits, if they are, in fact, the culprits. Human hair or repellents containing offensive aromatics such as naphthalene are other possibilities for rabbits.

Checklist

1. Remove all the tinsel, lights and ornaments from your Christmas tree and wreaths before recycling them. This is especially important if you plan to leave your tree in a woods to provide wildlife habitat.

2. Order seed catalogs from companies that you wish to patronize in 2005. Review your 2004 garden diary to see what worked and what didn't work.

3. Protect vulnerable trees and shrubs from winterburn by covering them with burlap or erecting a windbreak on the windward side, 18 inches away. Anti-desiccants can be applied following label directions. The protective coating may wear off during the winter and need to be re-applied.

Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist, and Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, work at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information and answers to plant and pest questions. Call its hot line at 800-342-2507 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.) or e-mail questions to www.hgic.umd.edu. (You can also download or order publications and diagnose plant problems online.)

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