What Not to Plant

IMG_4890If you come across a plant that looks like this…do not plant it right away.

The specimen at left is the root ball of a Mammoth™ mum I purchased at a grocery store recently. Mammoth mums are a newish variety out of the University of Minnesota that reach a size of 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide by the end of their second season. I’ve had visions of a row of Mammoth mums along one side of my driveway for a couple of years but have never found them in the stores in spring — which is when this variety is best planted.  So, when I saw the grocery store had Mammoth mums — and at a pretty good price — I bought one with the idea of trying it in a back garden before investing in a row of them.

After buying the plant, I got involved in a rather mammoth move of my college-age daughter, which required two trips to Chicago within two weeks of each other and way more stairs than I want to count. (Note to self: Discourage young adult child from renting fourth-floor walk-up apartment, unless professional movers or strong men are involved.) As a result, the plant sat in my holding area for longer than it should have.  The root ball was probably bad enough when I bought it, but after two additional weeks in the pot, even with regular watering, it was a tight, dry mess and clearly needed some work before planting. I’m not sure that this is the official method for loosening a super tight root ball, but it’s what I’ve done in the past.

After removing the plant from the pot, I set it in a wheelbarrow with water up to the top of its dirt. I added a little fish emulsion and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Longer probably would have been better. While the root ball soaked, I dug a hole wider and slightly deeper than the plant and its dirt. With the root ball thoroughly sodden, I ripped the tight half-inch or so of roots from the bottom and discarded the clump. Then I plucked at the roots that were left, pulling as many out and away from the plant core as possible.  After this root pruning, I planted the mum, firmed dirt around it and poured some of the fish emulsion water in the area.

Mammoth mums have had a somewhat tumultuous history on the plant market, but I’m hoping that this one will grow well and in a couple of years, I can plant my driveway row.

Invasion of the Green Bugs

Anyone know what kind of bugs these green guys are? They pretty much destroyed the flower head of this sunflower, and I have seen the bugs in other gardens, too. I checked the Minnesota Extension insect site and my guess is it is some kind of aphid. That makes sense in that yesterday I discovered a batch of these creepy red aphids on black-eyed Susans in the front garden. My usual attitude toward bugs is disdainful tolerance, though I removed the stalks of the black-eyed Susans, since they were spent anyway.

What's Up with Begonias?

A reader e-mailed me about a problem with his begonias, which he says are performing much more poorly than they have in previous years.

Here’s how he described the problem:

” The begonias were planted on Mother’s Day in rows 9 inches apart with 10-inch spacing
in the rows…With the exception of limited sunlight in the AM, they are shaded. Have planted begonias in this area for several years and within a couple of months, they have typically been very healthy-looking and taller than the ones shown in the attached pictures.”

Does anyone know what might be happening here?