CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I love when readers write with answers, opinions and ideas. First, there's Bill Murray. I've heard of Mr. Murray's gardening prowess through several friends, and when he wrote to discuss holly bushes, I was thrilled.
"During my weekly avid perusal of your column I noticed the allusion to the Sky Pencil holly. I realized that I had not e-mailed you following my research into the mixed review question. I submitted a soil sample from the site in question (Sacred Heart) to the extension service for testing and they came up with a pH of 7.4, decidedly alkaline and not a good environment for hollies.
"Since the building appears to be brown Indiana limestone or a near relative, the result is not surprising and should have been apparent to me earlier. On the other hand, the Sacred Heart garden contains Ilex merservae (blue holly) and Ilex meservae (Dragon Lady blue holly) one of which is planted next to the building and thrives. These apparently are hybrids cultivated for their adaptability since they tolerate the high pH."
Save those geraniums
Elaine Ramsey writes, asking about overwintering geraniums.
"I was wondering if you could help me with my beautiful geranium potted plant that was given for a special occasion. With winter coming on, I need some suggestions. Would it survive as a houseplant? How can I winterize it for spring planting? Can I put it as is under the house to keep it from freezing and just let it die out and in the spring bring it out and start watering it?"
Good questions all. I've saved geraniums in the past by pruning them (get rid of dead leaves, etc.) and putting the pot in the basement. I let them dry out and left them there until March or so. I then brought the pot out into a warm, sunny location and watered regularly -- voila! New growth! I repotted the plant and enjoyed it for another season.
Also, I've been told you can uproot the plants and hang them, roots included, in a dark, dry place. Another friend told me they dig them up, shake off the dirt, and then put the plant out to dry for a few days. Then they put the whole thing in a paper bag, fold over the top, and hang the bag in the garage. Worth a try?
Howard O'Cull asks about pruning and fertilizing.
"Should Perovskia (Russian sage) be pruned in the fall? If so, how far should it be cut back? Or, should the plants be pruned in the spring? Or, is it wise to prune these plants? Please elaborate."
I prune my Russian sage in the spring, after the new growth has come out. I cut back to the lower three to four shoots to encourage more shoots to form from the base. Leave the stems in place to protect the plant through the winter.
Howard also asks:
"Should iris beds be fertilized in fall or spring? Is it OK to use bone meal? Or, what fertilizer, depending on the season, should be used? I've never known the answer to these iris-related questions."