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MSU Extension Service

Home Grown is an educational, entertaining, question-answer column seen weekly in "News from the Genesee MSUE Office," a weekly newsletter for Genesee County Master Gardeners. Special thanks to the Genesee, Oakland and Livingston county MSU Extension offices for providing this service.


2004 Editions

01-13-05 Fungus gnats; deer protection for trees
01-19-05 After cutting down trees: to chip or not to chip? Also: starting seeds indoors for spring planting
01-27-05 Excessive plant growth in ponds; problem trees and/or problem sites
02-11-05 Diplodia Tip Blight on Pine trees; caring for African violets
02-14-05 Caring for Ficus in winter; indoor pests: larder beetles
02-14-05 bonus! Fertilizer for gardens - designer vs "regular"; why gardenias don't like our houses 
02-21-05 vole damage in lawns & woody plants; how to root cacti and succulents
03-04-05 tree-climbing vines; hibernating insects
03-08-05 deer pests in the landscape; grain moths in kitchens
03-15-05 ants in the kitchen; mythological apple trees
04-07-05 spring care of ornamental grasses; little beetle in basements
04-13-05 Preventing crabgrass; flies on the wall 

This week's HomeGrown

Extension web sites:












I was at a store yesterday and saw these boxes that say they have perennial plants in them. The plant roots are inside in a plastic bag with some black, crumbly stuff. When I got them home and looked in the boxes, they had all started to grow and had white stems pushed against the plastic bags. I've been told to refrigerate them until the end of May and plant them, put them in a dark closet or plant them outside now. Now what do I do?

None of the above. You've been given three creative choices but each has its own built in recipe for failure. When any plant is attempting to grow, sunlight, a warm temperature, moisture, and a potting medium with some nutrients are required. When you know what is needed for plant growth, the defects in your three "Grand Plans" are obvious. If these plants are refrigerated for another four to six weeks, they will have expired. If there is enough moisture in the bag, you could possibly squeeze the peat and plant material out of the bag like toothpaste. You would get about the same results with lettuce in a sealed bag for a month. The plants are in a sealed box where it is currently dark. Putting in the closet isn't going to change much except their location. They will still continue to grow. With no moisture or light, the outcome is obvious. Because this is Michigan and we still are promised a few frosts or freezes this month, planting outside comes with it's own set of risks. If you want the best chance of saving your little plants, pretend they are houseplants for the next month. Pot them up in a container with a drain hole. Use a soil-less potting mixture used for indoor plants. Plant them carefully, spreading out their roots and getting those pale stems facing up. Water them and put them in a place where they will get bright, indirect sunlight. When stems and leaves are showing green, introduce them to more direct sunlight. In mid to late May, they can go outside. If these are full sun plants, give them a week or so to harden off. This means putting them in their pots in a shaded area. They need to acclimate to the huge increase in sunlight or leaves will burn. Some of these plants in boxes can be nice purchases, but be aware that they will always be more work because of their temporary indoor plant status.

I moved into a house last fall with some really nice perennial beds. There are lots of brown stems standing above the plants and some green stems at ground level. How much do I trim the brown ones back? Some plants don't have any green at the ground level. Are they dead? I don't even know what is out there.

Just like "Alice in Wonderland," it's off with their heads. Trim brown perennial stems off as low as you can without cutting into the new stems emerging. Don't pull them. Even though the plants are perennial, the tops live one season. The roots are the perennial part. This is true for most perennials. An exception would be tree peonies. They have a woody stem that remains year after year and about now, there should be some rapidly enlarging buds on the sides of the stem. Trim ornamental grasses low before new growth begins. Don't worry right now about lack of growth with some of the perennials. Many need warmer soil to begin growth. If this was June and there was no growth, that's an entirely different story. Some perennials that bloom in the fall can get a late start. As to what kinds of plants you have, if you can contact the previous owners of the house, maybe someone can give you the information. Or, you might try to engage one of your more knowledgeable gardening friends on a little garden expedition. Take some pictures when the plant is blooming and check in books, catalogs or gardening magazines.

Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture
Agent 517/546-3950


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