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“Dear Ruth” Column

Category: 'Dear Ruth' Column, Presenting "The Curious Gardener"

The Curious Gardener Newsletter

The “Dear Ruth” Column for Gardening Questions

Ruth Rogers Clausen is a horticulturist, journalist and author who is partnering with Womanswork to produce the “Dear Ruth” column.

Ruth grew up in Wales and studied horticulture at Studley College in England. She has contributed greatly to her profession as a writer of tomes (Perennials for American Gardens, Random House; Essential Perennials, Timber Press); an editor of gardening magazines; and a lecturer, advisor and judge for botanical gardens and flower shows all across the country and around the world.

For many years Ruth gardened in Westchester County, NY (Zone 6), and more recently has been gardening in Maryland where she grows an eclectic range of plants. Her plant choices reflect those plants that do well in her region and throughout the northeast and mid-atlantic.

Ruth wrote a book for Timber Press titled 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants: The Prettiest Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs, and Shrubs that Deer Don’t Eat, and more recently co-wrote with Tom Christopher a book, Essential Perennials, also for Timber Press.

Write your questions in the Comments section below and Ruth will respond in a timely manner.

209 thoughts on ““Dear Ruth” Column

  1. Ruth Rogers Clausen says:

    Hi Penny, 45 years is a pretty good run for your rhodos, so be happy about that! Sounds like it’s time for a good cutting back to the healthy new wood as you suggest. The time for this is right after any blooms are spent. I wonder if you had blooms this year? Anyway, cut back hard into the healthy wood, with hand pruners, loppers, or a pruning saw if necessary preferably where there is a shoot or two emerging. If this seems overly drastic, operate over a few years, taking perhaps a third of the old growth each year. As the rehabbed shrubs are back to normal size, be sure to deadhead the bloom clusters after they are finished and keep an eye on the condition of the new growth. If it appears to be growing out of hand don’t hesitate to trim it back to size to maintain the shape of each shrub. No doubt the plants appreciate your TLC with fertilizing, but remember that rhododendrons refer soil to be slightly acid, so avoid adding alkaline fertilizer. Pine needles and coffee grounds are both good, as is “Holly-tone” or some other compound especially formulated for acid-loving trees and shrubs. However hold the fertilizer until growth appears to be normal, while keeping the plants well watered during dry spells. Best of luck with these.

  2. Debi Riley says:

    Dear Ruth, I cut back one of my orchids to just above the “joint” closest to where the first bloom fell to encourage it to bloom One spike of the plant is green and just stands there. The other one has two leaves and what looks like roots coming out just like at the base of the plant. Is this something I can cut and pot? I’ve had orchids inside my home for years and I’ve never seen this. Thank you for your advice.

  3. Debi Riley: The answer to your question is from our orchid expert Carrie Buchman, who writes: The growth on the inflorescence is called a keiki (Hawaiian for baby). It is pronounced kay-key. The answer is that yes, the plantlet can be removed from the mother plant when it has roots that are 2-3 inches long. Without a good root system, the baby plant won’t be able to take up sufficient nutrients on its own. Once removed, the baby plant should be potted in a small pot with loose sphagnum moss that is kept consistently moist (not wet!) and cared for much like the mother plant. It is very important that the plant is stable in the pot or the delicate roots might be damaged. The baby plant may take several years to become big enough to bloom, and when it does it will look just like the mother plant. This is a relatively common occurrence for Phalaenopsis.

  4. Karen Gerber says:

    Hi, Ruth!
    Karen Gerber, here.
    I have happy memories of the scent from “trailing arbutus”.
    Will it grow in the United States?

  5. Yes

  6. Carol muir says:

    Can I still plant catnip in an insulated planter and 3 plants with red stalks and velvety plumes that come back outside. Also, can I grow catnip, rosemary and a mini yellow rose indoors. Any tips for my Christmas cactus. Also, I planted some lemon seeds that have sprouted and how to care for them.

  7. Monica Gregory says:

    Hey there Ruth, I’m from sunny hot southern South Carolina. My question is I planted peonies in pots to start like the instructions on the package said. It’s been 2 months and still no plant. The tuber is still good I’ve checked them. I’ve never had luck with them. Please help!

  8. Pam Elliott says:

    Dear Ruth,
    This is the second year in a row that the first buds on my shasta daisies have bloomed, but the lower buds have not. I deadheaded regularly, but unlike past years, the lower buds have failed to open. One potential culprit: Last year there was some sort of beetle that burrowed down into the flower head of the first blooms, which clearly affected them. Is there a “cure” for this, or should I just rip them all out and start over? I live in NJ, in Zone 6b, bordering on 7a. The rest of my perennials are business as usual. Many thanks!

  9. We will forward your question to Ruth!

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