December 18, 2014
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The Magic Garden
When in doubt, leave it out
Morton White

My apple tree did very little in its first year. It is a scrawny six feet tall. How can get it to flourish?
Joel, Eveleth, MN


You will need a spray program, good pruning and some fertilizer to start. Pruning requires a sense of purpose. Apple trees are best left open on the inside. This winter or fall you can start with cutting two feet off the top. You will need three main branches that will grow mostly laterally. In the third or fourth year as the tree gets taller you can have five main branches to become the scaffolding for the fruit bearing branches. Use a home orchard spray. It contains two insecticides and a fungicide. Follow directions on the label. You can also use a dormant oil spray or Neem when the leaves fall. Apply the oil again in the spring before the buds swell. Fertilize with 5-10-10 now. Dig five holes with a crowbar that go down a foot in a circle at the leaf drop. Fill them with the fertilizer.

What should I do with my Mandevilla for the winter? It is really tall.
Bruce, Norwich, CT


Mandevilla suavelons is a tropical woody vine that can get really big outdoors. Unless you have a greenhouse or similar environment, you will need to rest this beauty for a month or two indoors. Cut it back to three to four feet and store it in the cellar until January. If you have a partly heated garage that will work. It needs to be between 40 and 50 for that time. Water the plant just enough to keep it alive. As the days get longer the house plant will start to throw out new shoots. At that time you can add some liquid fertilizer to the water and water more frequently. If you have a greenhouse, you need not cut it back. It is best planted in the ground in the greenhouse.

Can we use pecan leaves in our compost piles?
George, Boaz, AL


Juglone is a toxic substance that is present in walnut leaves. Many vegetables are inhibited in their growth by this compound in the soil. Many people report that composting will make the soil toxicity insignificant. I have not heard of any such chemical in the leaves of pecans. You can sterilize the compost pile by letting smolder through the winter. Frost will insulate the interior of the pile as it heats up and self sterilizes. If in doubt, leave it out. If you do not sterilize the pecan leaves ,they can lower the pH. This would help with azalea and rhododendrons.

My gramps would use lime and cement on trees for protection. Does it work?
Frank, CT


Lime keeps the crawling insects from ascending the trees in the spring. I would not use cement as an adhesive in the younger trees. Cement can be used in cavities in younger trees. You can use a high concentrate of hydrated lime with soap to make it stick. Stickers are available from garden shops.

Mort’s book, “A Face Made for Radio," is available now for $14.95, including shipping and handling per copy. Mail check or money order to Whitehouse Productions, 484 Wellington Ave, Cranston, RI 02910.


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