Garden Clippings: Reader Questions

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A growing stack of letters from CAPPER’S readers has prompted me to refrain from discussing some of my own personal gardening issues this month. In-stead, I will answer some of the questions I’ve received from CAPPER’S faithful readers.

• Jo Dempsey, of Mankato, Kan., lost two clematis plants this year, when they suddenly wilted and died.

Clematis is considered a relatively trouble-free plant once it is well-established. Fungus and insect damage can cause the plant to look bad after it is well-rooted in the garden, but the plant will normally recover by adding new foliage to that which has been lost.

On clematis plants that are not fully established in the garden, there is a pest that can make a vigorously growing plant turn brown and die in a matter of days. The pest is called clematis wilt. It’s a result of a fungus that causes the stem to rot and the foliage to become spotted.

There is not a preventive spray that can be used for clematis wilt. Spotted leaves should be picked off and disposed of when they are noticed. I would also recommend planting new clematis additions to the garden 2 to 3 inches deeper than what they are growing in the nursery container, or the crown of a bare root plant that much deeper as well. By placing the plant deeper than normal, it allows viable buds to be protected from the fungus by the soil.

If you have a clematis that rapidly wilts from this disease, don’t give up immediately. I’ve seen plants resprout from the bottom and be just fine after a period of time.

• Letha Cowell, of Pittsburg, Kan., has a similar problem, but with a different plant. Letha is having trouble with rhubarb dying a couple of months after planting.

Rhubarb does not like having wet feet. In garden areas that have heavy clay soils, rhubarb can be difficult to grow because the water does not get away from the crown. Wet soils, coupled with summer heat, give rise to a fungus that is generically called crown rot.

Rhubarb infected with crown rot may die abruptly, or just barely be able to keep foliage alive. Like clematis wilt, there are no prescriptions that will help this disease. But there are things that can be done to help prevent it.

First, purchase healthy crowns from a reputable nursery. Starts from a gardening friend may already be infected, without your knowing. Plant the new crowns in an area of the garden that drains well. If your garden soils do not drain well, plant the crowns in a raised hill to allow the plants to dry out quicker after a rain.

• Lorraine, a reader from Troy, Kan., is in search of seeds to grow sensitive plant.

Sensitive plant, Mimosa pudica, is a member of the pea family that has compound leaves. What is unique about this plant is that the leaflets will fold up immediately when it is touched, or if rain or winds hit it. The ferny foliage and light-pink blooms are not as attractive as the curiosity the plant provides to those who touch it.

I couldn’t find a seed source in any of my catalogs, but I have seen it listed before. After the weather really warms up, local garden stores in my area carry the plant, because it thrives in hot weather.

If any of you know of a source for sensitive plant seed, please send the address to CAPPER’S, Mike Lang, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265.