Gardening questions answered

It’s garden questions and answers again! You may e-mail me
questions at: [email protected] Or you can mail me questions in
care of this newspaper. For a faster, personal response, please
include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
It’s garden questions and answers again! You may e-mail me questions at: [email protected] Or you can mail me questions in care of this newspaper. For a faster, personal response, please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Q: The surface of the soil on several of my houseplants has a white gunk on it. That’s the only word I can best describe it as. It’s sort of a crusty material. What can I do? – B.C., San Jose, via-e-mail.

A: In all probability, the white “gunk” you describe is the result of a salt build-up. Specifically, the natural salts in our water are contributing to the white material that is appearing on the surface of the houseplant soil. You need to leach your soil by taking the plant outdoors and watering heavily with plain water. Allow the water to drain, and then repeat this several times. This should leach out the excess salty materials. Sometimes, though, the build-up is also a sign that your plants need to be re-potted. If you do so, always re-pot using fresh potting soil.

Q: I’m interested in planting a pear tree in my backyard. Do they grow in our area and, if so, what variety should I select and when should I plant them? – D.K., San Jose, via e-mail.

A: Pears, as well as most fruit and nut trees, will grow great in our area. If space is a concern, I would go with a semi-dwarf type, which grows to about 12 to 20 feet. Standards will grow 25 feet or more. The old standby variety, Bartlett, is still around and going strong. Other varieties include Anjou and Comice. Be aware, though, that pears are susceptible to a fireblight disease, which can kill entire branches.

Q: I have recently trimmed some cypress and long-needled evergreen, species unknown. My question is what do I use this compost for? What plants? I have been told that camellias like this type of compost. – J. K., Hollister, via e-mail.

A: First of all, congratulations on not throwing away your pruning clippings and deciding to compost them instead. Too many people don’t think twice when pruning and throwing the debris in their garden recycling container. They’re throwing away “black gold.” Within six months, this garden debris will have turned into magic compost that will improve your garden soil.

Now, back to your matter. You’ve been given correct advice in that pine needles (or any needled evergreen) are acidic. This means that compost made from these needles would be especially beneficial when spread around other acidic plants. Acid-loving plants include most shade-loving species, including camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons, fuchsias and more.

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