Althea, violets, Japanese maple and chenille tips
Planting Althea can be tricky
Q: The attached photo shows the facade of a garden covered with weed fabric and decorative stones. The three Althea, starting in the left foreground, were succulent until late last summer, when the first two (left and middle) started to look bad: the branches were shedding their leaves and are drying out. I watered and fertilized (sparingly) all three, with no visible effect. The leftmost one, my pride and joy for years, has completely failed to come back this spring, and one of the two main trunks of the second is also bare and dry, while its other trunk is shedding ( but not nearly as soon or vigorously as the one farther to the right…that one is trying to conquer the world). Unsure if #1 was missing, I scraped the bark, bent the stems and branches for stiffness, looking for signs of viability. I can not say it. I’m willing to dig up and replace #1, but I want to be sure it doesn’t come back (especially since all three were treated the same, under virtually identical growing conditions). Tips?
A: Rose of Sharon or Althea is generally a tough plant. It can suffer from several root diseases, especially in poorly drained soils. Without seeing him in person, I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think he’ll survive. I spoke with the plant pathologist at the University of Arkansas, and she would like a sample of the roots and wood. If you cut it, see if there are brown streaks on the stems, especially near the base. If you can take the samples to your local county extension office, they can test for the disease and tell you what to do about the other plants and if you should replace them with something else.
fond memories of purple flowers
Q: When I was younger, my mom and I used to walk through the woods at Hall High campus in Little Rock. There was a wildflower – I’m thinking a kind of violet – growing around the trees. They were purple with 5-6 petals. At random, a petal on a flower would be dark purple and velvety. My mother told me that an angel had kissed this flower. Do you know what that flower would be?
A: What a sweet memory. I assume the plant is a wild violet, Viola sororia. Depending on where it grows, it can be a wildflower or a weed. It is now in full bloom in many lawns and gardens, and although it looks pretty, it can be very overbearing.
Selective pruning could help unbalanced Japanese maple
Q: This Japanese maple was damaged when tree cutters came through our neighborhood for Entergy a few years ago. They dropped a big branch on the tree, and he cut off all the branches on one side. I have observed new growth on this side and there are none. Is there anything I can do to encourage growth on the branchless side? I fear that as it matures it will be more susceptible to wind damage as it will be heavier on one side. The tree is finally getting taller, and I would hate to lose it.
A: With selective pruning, you can direct the branches to grow in the direction you want them to. If you prune a branch to a node that faces the direction you want new growth, the resulting new growth should grow in that direction. Although you don’t want to cut it and start over, you can see that a few branches are now starting to point in that direction from other limbs. It will take some time, but you can also pull it back a bit, trimming it again to a node that grows in the direction you want. It will take time, but you can help shape it.
Woolly caterpillars are not long for these parts
Q: We are overrun with woolly caterpillars all over Hot Springs. I guess they come from those little white webs on the trees. Are they harmful and what are they?
A: Yes, they are associated with the white webs of trees. These are eastern tent caterpillars. Fortunately, they are short-lived. They can eat a lot while active, but they should go away in about two weeks and the trees will recover. Very young, small trees can be damaged, but most trees are not severely damaged.
Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas’ best-known horticulture experts. His blog is at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet. Write to him at PO Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email [email protected]