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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 
04-18-05 Buying perennials in boxes; care of perennials in early spring
05-20-05 Dogs and lawns; winter injury on evergreen trees
05-27-05 Sawfly larvae on Scotch Pine trees; rabbit-eaten  Burning Bushes
06-07-05A Dead spots in the lawn; grow your own maple field?
06-07-05B Insects on your mint plants;  don't till the rose garden!
06-07-05C Sick garden phlox - look for spider mites; strange grass in the lawn
06-25-05A Maple petiole borer - no need to spray; water for lawn and trees & shrubs
06-25-05B Maple galls - what are they? Ash tree decline - is it the earwigs or emerald ash borer?

This week's HomeGrown

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My friendís son is a landscape architect. He drew a beautiful plan up for my sunny hilltop home but Iím having trouble finding one tree and other things donít look good that I have bought and installed. I am looking for a variegated Japanese maple. He said I could get them all over. The plants that look bad are all the Rhododendrons, the Hollies and the Hydrangea. I also canít find any of the Liriope that he put on the plan. This was an expensive plan to have made.

Somebody had to graduate at the bottom of the class and I think that you found him. This is a strange combination of plants, most of them with a small death warrant tacked to their stems. The Rhododendrons need filtered sun, milder winters than we have and very acidic soil. Hollies need somewhat acidic soil, and a protected area to grow. Many Hydrangeas look very bad after a hard winter. The reason that you canít find Liriope is because it isnít hardy in Michigan. Lucky for you. You may spend the rest of your life trying to track down a variegated Japanese maple. They are extremely rare with a correspondingly high price tag. Japanese maples need a filtered sun and some protection from a windy hilltop. Did he suggest that you get a soil test to find out what kind of soil and pH you had? Did this guy know you lived in Michigan on a sunny hill? Could he have made worse choices if he had thrown darts at plant lists? Being a landscape architect is not always a guarantee of quality, any more than being your sisterís garden designer is. Ask to see some examples of their work Investigate some of the larger local nurseries or landscaping companies. Many have people on staff. The real question is does anybody visit your site and work with you? Do they know about and use soil testing, especially for harder-to-grow plants? A plan should be designed to please your eye and meet with the amount of continuing work that you are willing to do. No landscape is going to be carefree or without a problem or two. But to start with a bunch of plants that are not suitable doesnít give you much place to go.

Trim Pines Note: Occasionally we don't agree with Gretchen 100%. We have found that  one species of Liriope, L. spicata is quite hardy in  Michigan, and we love to use that species for groundcover in our beds!

I am growing tomato plants for the first time. The plants are getting big and starting to bend over. One neighbor says to stake or cage them and the other says I can just let them be on the ground. Whatís the right answer? Do I buy tomato cages?

If the goal of this tomato exercise is to get as many good tomatoes to eat as possible, go with the cage or staking. Tomatoes can grow on the ground but fewer end up in your mouth. Ripening tomatoes on damp soil can develop rots. They are also victims of insect, bird or animal damage because they are at the perfect height for insects, birds and animals. Many purchased tomato cages arenít durable enough for a big healthy plant. Some seem more suited to holding up peonies. You can make you own cages with woven wire farm fencing. This is a great idea if you plan to be a tomato farmer for a couple of years so you can use them each year. Woven wire farm fencing is four feet high and is made so one end has smaller openings than the other. If you were a farmer, you put the small openings closest to the ground to hold in small critters. You want to do the same thing. Cut a piece about five or six feet in length and bend it around to make a cylinder. Hook it together so it canít open. Place over the tomato plant and use three small metal fence posts to keep the cage in place. Buy the slender posts that are used for temporary electric fencing. They are metal, inexpensive and really tough. Put the stakes on the inside of the cage. You have just created tomato cages to last decades. If you stake the plants, tie the plant with something soft, like a strip of cloth. Happy tomato-ing.

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


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