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Janet Macunovich

Member Since 02 Jan 2012
Offline Last Active Aug 17 2020 10:19 AM

#2427 Redbud pruning

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 03 September 2016 - 11:11 AM

From direct email:


I have been a big fan of yours for about 20 years. Your advice is always helpful and I enjoy your articles in the "MI Gardener.” I have taken your written advice and been to several lectures at Meadow Brook Garden Club. You are a wonderful, enlightening and interesting lecturer. I also love your amusing asides about gardening.

I attended your lecture about the correct way to prune last spring at the Meadow Brook Garden Club. I have a Redbud my son raised from seed at his nursery in Wisconsin and gave to me as a sapling. It was 3 years in the ground and was looking pretty pathetic with my skewed pruning jobs. At that lecture I asked you when and how to prune a Redbud and you advised me “Now and do it drastically.” I went home and the next day I pruned it exactly how you told me to. I pruned it down to about 40 inches with just a few big branches. It was a little better than a stick. I fertilized it and mulched it. I made sure it had enough water. Then I waited and I waited. For about a month it didn’t do much but bloom on the stems, then slowly it started to leaf out. About mid-June it went nuts and became the tree I wanted. As the summer has progressed it tripled in size and is now about 15 feet tall with lush and balanced growth. A happy second beginning for this tree. The main branches are all at least 3 to 4 feet long, well leafed out but not branching. Should I wait until next year to prune for branching or will it branch out by itself? How do I progress from here? I hope you can help.

You may never get feedback from the people you advise on tree pruning but I, the big doubter, wanted you to know that your pruning method for this Redbud really worked. I learned a lot the day of your lecture and have used your methods of pruning on other trees since. So, I say a big “Thank you.” This believer is grateful for your pruning guidance.

Best regards, B.Z.

#2315 Best soil for new box garden

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 25 April 2016 - 02:31 PM

You can grow vegetables in compost-alone, if it's finished compost with detectable mineral content (soil, enough to feel the grit; this soil might have come from bits of sod you've composted, or soil you've added to break up and activate thick leaf layers).  Without mineral content the plants may lack for micronutrients and drainage may be slow.


Trouble with growing in compost alone, even the gritty well drained stuff, is that even finished compost keeps breaking down and settlin. So even if you fill and tamp the box at the beginning of the growing season the level may drop by late summer and the crowns of the plants may descend into poorly ventilated area prime for mildew development. We've frequently used a mixture of compost and screened (rock free) topsoil for flower and vegetable gardens, about half-anf-half. It settles, too, but not so quickly as compost alone. If you're growing an annually-replanted crop of flowers or vegetables, it'll work but for shrubs, trees and perennials (including perennial edibles like asparagus and rhubarb) you can expect to have to lift and replant down the road.

#1848 Beech leaves shrivel and fall off

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 26 April 2014 - 02:47 PM

That flat-sided trunk is what I suspected we'd see. Use a trowel and dig the soil away around the trunk. You will almost certainly find a root that should have grown out away from what is the back side of the trunk as seen from this angle, and that root wrapped itself around the trunk. (blue line).  It was forced to grow that when it ran into the side of the pot or production container/wrapping, and it was never straightened. Now it's grown thicker and hass not only killed the flare root that should have grown out from the right side of the trunk but is pressing against the trunk and reducing its vigor. So in summer when the heat comes the tree can't keep up, and drops leaves.


Left in place, that root will kill the tree or seriously deform and weaken it. The good news is that it's probably only just begun to press on the trunk so if you remove it the tree has a chance. Often, people don't notice the plant's decline until years have passed and it's too late. (We've written a great deal about girdling root problems on GardenAtoZ; go there and put girdling root into our Search field, to see photos and other tree examples.)


Cut that girdling root out. Take it off from where it starts (arrow). You may have to do some tedious little-bit-at-a-time digging with the trowel to expose enough of what's buried there, to cut it.


Cutting it takes courage, we know. Just do it. You may have to use a chisel to cut it without damaging the bark.


#1655 Steven, Janet and GardenAtoZ.com are NOT gone

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 26 September 2013 - 08:05 PM

Just so you know. We've had a series of set backs this summer, not the least of which was a flood that created a 2 foot river with our house in its middle. We could not publish and did not even have time to notify the mailing list. So very sorry.


Now we've just gotten back to snuff and last night finished writing and illustrating What's Up #203... only to have GardenAtoZ.com lock up and blink off when we went to post the articles. All you'll get there is an "unavailable" error code.


It's kind of Murphy's Law in action and we have to laugh because we refuse to cry.


Programmers are looking now at why this happened. We're waiting to hear why and what we must do. Meanwhile we've formatted #203 as a pdf and you can download it here -- click WhatsUp203, below.


Again, so sorry to have been out of touch so long. But we ARE back!

Attached Files

#1296 Need a narrow columnar boxwood source

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 17 April 2013 - 09:54 AM

Green Tower or Graham Blandy would work. Graham Blandy is narrower than Green Tower, and slower but harder to find, probably. Although I know Mahoney's out in Boston has it, saw it when I was there in April.

And Mary's Plant Farm http://www.marysplantfarm.com northwest of Cincinnati has Graham Blandy plus True Tree Box. I'd love an excuse to hop onto I-75 this week and travel south to meet spring coming up. And it would be joyous to see Mary Harrison at MPF. Probably a pipe dream but if it rains hard here one day this week maybe we'll do that!

#1234 Getting rid of existing plants

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 24 March 2013 - 12:21 AM

Backhoe is right. And then soil replacement. Absolutely true that one herbicide application won't do it. Not unless the herbicide is a persistent one that ruins the soil for ALL plant growth for X years.

In our experience, the following applies not only to dayliles but to other tenacious perennials that store a lot of energy in their roots.

We've smothered daylilies under cardboard and heavy mulch renewed by heavy newspaper and mulch as the cardboard developed breaks. Took two seasons (smothering began late summer, and 18 months later in spring we cleared the mulch to pursue the survivors.

There were survivors; always are. After loosening the soil around each live daylily shoot and lifting out it and its roots, we went ahead and planted the area with the new plants, seeking and removing daylily pieces as we went. Then we watched for more shoots that whole growing season. Bed has been clear since.

Most times we don't have so much time to spare. So when we need daylilies gone, we dig them out. It loses a lot of soil because it's nearly impossible to knock soil off the excavated root balls without having grow-able bits of dayliliy tuber break off, too, and end up in the soil. One memorable time, we dug out daylilies -- I mean we lifted every square foot of the bed -- but it was late in fall when the soil was wet. We set a bunch of the clumps on the driveway hoping to dry them some so we could break them up into smaller, less backbreaking units. Suddenly, cold weather set in a bit early. The clumps froze in place on the concrete. The next spring, having been above ground all winter in one of the coldest and most exposed winters we've had, those daylilies began to grow. The neighbors asked us, "So you've planted the driveway now, too?"

#1172 True devotion to the birds!

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 08 March 2013 - 12:43 AM

These photos say it all. They came in from Connecticut after the record setting blizzard of February, 2013:

CLB2_8_13SnowMt_116.jpg CLBShovl2Birds_133.jpg CLBShovl2Birds_137.jpg

#1079 So who's seeing rose rosette disease?

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 04 February 2013 - 10:39 PM

We've just posted our photos of some summer symptoms of this lethal disease in a What's Up article.

For more, including photos of the very noticeable spring symptoms, we can recommend Morton Arboretum's 14 year coverage of the problem, summed up in their bulletin.


What we wonder here is whether you've stumbled on this problem as we first did. If so, it seems we should all be telling more people to look for it. Perhaps if we talk about it here we might see it very early and perhaps stop it from ruining a garden for roses for the long haul.


#1073 Wish List

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 04 February 2013 - 07:57 AM

I think about trees a lot in the dead of winter. Our granddaughter has understood what I've pointed out about tree branches move in the wind; she points them out to me as we look out the window, or take walks. It's not only cool to think that a child less than a year old can grasp things like this, it's great to be reminded to look up more than down.


I love white pine, too. Such soft needles, and when they get big they can be so picturesque, branches shorter on the windward side...


But if we had room, I'd have an oak. A red oak (I know, that's foolishness in these days and this region, because of oak wilt disease, but the reds grow faster than most of the white oaks, and the color of the scarlet oak cultivars in fall is breathtaking...) The number of birds and animals that hang out in an oak is a never-ending thrill. I also like the way the juvenile leaves look, their color and the texture as they hang on through. And the thought of the tree growing to enormous size and eventually an old ent actually makes me tear up a little. Most of the time 80 or 90 years sounds like enough to me but wouldn't it be great to live several hundred years and see which of the things you've planted makes it to that stage, and who/what receives the benefit?

#913 Best materials for raised bed

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 19 November 2012 - 04:10 PM

Cedar lasts a long time and a good carpenter can build a raised bed of cedar that will stand up to a heck of a lot of abuse.  One we had built almost 20 years ago comes to mind, still sound as ever.

However, for durability, plus insulation for plants' roots and resistance to the kinds of wear and tear that can happen in a busy public place, you can't beat concrete block for raised beds. There are many colors and patterns, some even made to coordinate with brick paver lines. These interlocking block systems are very well designed, even for creating free form curves and caps. If you describe the beds (dimensions, type of block you want to use, whether the top needs to be finished for a nicer seat, etc.) the supplier that sells the blocks can tell you exactly how many of which kind of blocks you need.

#706 slug/cutworm deterrent

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 30 May 2012 - 10:10 PM

Pauline Banyai, our late great hosta hybridizer friend (produced 'Gold Standard' and 'Key Lime Pie' and ta-da 'Janet' - not named for moi) told me that the problem with diatomaceous earth was moisture. Let it get damp at all and the critters can pass over it on the water surface, like a car hydroplaning on a newly wet pavement. So she said don't put it on the ground. She swore by loading it into a shaker can and shaking it down into the plant's crown, making sure the D.E. got onto the stems the slugs would have to crawl on. (To get up to the hostas; she did have lots of hosta seedlings out in the beds but also a lot of big hostas that were munch-targets).
Also, she used traps. In her case, cardboard sheets in the bed, and 2x4 wood at the edges. Every day (daytime, while the sun shined and the slugs were hiding) she'd flip those over and kill the slugs hiding there. So the overall slug population was reduced through vigilance.
She was a wonder,the things she knew!

#673 Remember 2012's frosted, wilted Japanese Maples?

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 15 May 2012 - 10:37 PM

We made this the lead article in our What's Up #179, and we'll report again -- we're watching a number of maples for when new growth is apparent, and we'll prune as needed. We expect to see the trees push out new growth in another week or two (3-4 weeks after the loss).

Trees that lost all their foliage may push out new growth from under the bark, sooner than those that lost only some leaves.

How strongly they come back depends on the tree's prior condition, site, and type.

Everything's a guess but we have high hopes for many of these trees.

We do hope people who read our newsletter will tell others with Japanese maples hit by the cold, to wait and see... We've heard of a number of Japanese maples that have been pulled out as dead -- including large, well-established trees that are exactly the ones most likely to be able to come back!

#612 favorite tomato varieties

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 29 April 2012 - 07:35 AM

Brava, someone else who is not deterred by the "unsafe to drink from garden hose" warnings on new hoses!
(we tried to address this issue seriously in a past newsletter...)

I'm having a heck of a time going through the Seed Savers Exchange to pick 3 or 4 heirloom types. SO many cool varieties and each one with a personal history ("...sent to the U.S. from the former Czechoslovakia by Milan Sodomka..." ""...grown since the early 1900's by Lithuanian immigrants in Sheboygan, Wisconsin...") Because I want to grow several and have limited space I'll have seed left over; it's good to be in touch with so many others so I can foist extra seed on those I see when I'm in gardens working, or doing talks!

#599 Ninebark and powdery mildew

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 28 April 2012 - 08:02 PM

Ah. Are they running dry, then? Stressed plants get mildew -- for instance, bee balm is more prone to mildew when it's grown dry.

Interesting article with a University of Connecticut evaluation of various ninebarks for mildew resistance, at http://www.amerinurs...ticle-7868.aspx -- note that Summer Wine is pretty good but plain old, been-around- forevere' Nanus' is a virtual star.

Also notes there about you-didn't-suspect-this-is-what-mildew-can-do fungal deformities.

As for treating mildew-prone plants:
Milk and water I haven't heard of, but Cornell University Extension did quite a lot with baking soda and water years back; found it fairly effective, although it had to be re-applied after rains and in general applied more often than over-the-counter fungicides (which are formulated with sticking agents in the mix). MY daughter an I used it on roses and phlox and tried to be scientific about it -- it was helpful against mildew and black spot but no way was it armor-all, or a cure.

The garlic oils, oil soap sprays (we've used Murphy's oil soap, 1T in about half-gallon of water) and even canola oil, have shown as much effect in mildew prevention. (None of the fungicides or home formulae are curatives, just preventives.) Also the anti-dessicants form effective fungus-protection barriers -- products such as Wilt Pruf and Moistur-in.

But just to say: Organic is a slippery term. How natural is it for a plant to have a milk bath, or for stems and soil to be doused with sodium bicarb or oil? All organic tenets say to first make sure you have done everything you can to correct the culture -- the light, air, water, soil -- before doing these things with topicals.

#468 Turtles with a long tale

Posted by Janet Macunovich on 01 April 2012 - 10:02 AM

Been emailing with our friend, Moderator Beaufort Cranford. Beaufort has a very soft spot for wildlife with a velvet pillow patch for turtles. It's reminding  us of other turtle stories, and that maybe you-all have never considered how tangled an ecological web can become once we insert ourselves into it.
If you stock your garden pond with a turtle or other animal, make it a native species. Then allow it to feed itself, giving it help only by nurturing the rest of its natural food chain.

Chapter one. Saturday in March.

B: Fark. I have another #$%&! turtle. I was looking for "minnows" on craigslist, intending to start raising my own turtle food in the pond, and the only thing that came up was a snapping turtle.

Some(one)... got him from her parents about six months ago; they caught him on a hook and line in Indiana while fishing. He looks about 12-18 months old, which means he thinks he's still wild. There's a photo of him trying to climb out of his tank, which my snappers have never done since they were raised from hatchlings. Looking at the poor thing in that picture, I couldn't just leave him there; only Glob knows who might buy him if I don't, or what they'd do with him if nobody made an offer. So I bought him and the tank for a totally outrageous $50 and will pick him up Monday.

...we're going to have to return this turtle to the wild pretty soon, before he gets any more accustomed to life as a prisoner. Be thinking of a safe place, please.

Janet, Jean-Luc is ready for his June appt with you. If you and Steve have a surfeit of tadpoles again, I could use a bucketful of them, too. The pond has no catfish in it this year, so they stand a good chance of becoming frogs. That is, the ones I don't feed to Darwin the musk turtle.

And that's the latest reptile news. Just had to share.

J: You are hopeless. Did Steven tell you that? He told ME that, when I got home yesterday. "Beaufort emailed, he has another turtle..."

...walk with us at Highland Rec. There is perhaps the safest pond/lake there of anywhere we know. You will, of course, have to see it to believe us.

P.S. Don't name it, this turtle. Do not name this turtle!

B: This is a wild turtle, I hope. If so, I don't plan to keep him long.

This is a very stupid turtle; he got caught on a hook. The first thing I need to do is see the vet and find out if he still has the hook in him...

I have looked EVERYWHERE for wild minnows. You'd think there'd be a bait shop somewhere within 10 miles of me, but apparently not. I don't like feeding my turtles on goldfish, because so many of them have funky fish diseases and almost all of them are chemical bombs from the ponds they're raised in. ...I'd try to catch some minnows but I can't even get to the Rouge.

Seriously, if you guys have a lot of tadpoles again this year, I'd appreciate some.

J: We shall see what we can do. Not many tadpoles yet. Steven saw one, early, but I wish he hadn't as an overwintered tadpole would probably be a bullfrog, which we don't want.

Scratch that, Steve says there are a bunch of new hatchlings already, now. Might be out your way this week and if so will drop by whatever we have -- excess fish or whatever. Our pond's goldfish would be okay, as they're at least two generations removed from store-bought and nothing goes in that pond except what ma nature drops in.

But I dunno if Steven will actually part with them.

So anyway, we'll see what we have to share.

We used to tell our kids, because our vet told us, 'sorry guys, we don't work on wild animals." Your vet does? Would love to hear about the encounter. Our two friends the vets always amaze me with how they can hold animals to work on them but, a snapper. Yikes.

B: Jean-Luc would love to have a bullfrog tadpole.

A vet in Allen Park cured him of septicemia. She also has turtles, though not snappers, and had no trouble handling him even when she gave him a shot of antibiotics and he came out of virtual catatonia long enough to try to kill her. If not for her he would be dead.

Last year we harvested maybe 50 second generation comets out of my pond, but I made the stupid mistake of putting them in the tank with some store-bought fish and most of them died. If I ever get some real minnows I plan to put enough in my pond to start a breeding pool. By then you'll have transported Jean-Luc to his new home, but Blitzkrieg appreciates fish, too.

J: Blitzkrieg? Blitzkrieg?! You named this turtle. Arghhh!

B: Blitzkrieg is the Florida softshell that I rescued from Scott's turtle stock in summer 2009.

J: This is all reminding me of every other turtle/wild-thing-brought-in story. Cory and Turtle. Peggy and her Manhattan street vendor turtles. Sue and her painteds. Can I put it on the Forum?

B: What do you want to say? I'd like to tell garden-pond people to avoid turtles that aren't native to Michigan. Of course, red-eared sliders aren't native to Michigan any more than Florida softshells, and ponds around here are full of them because of pets released into the wild. They seem to adapt OK. But a Florida softshell would die before Christmas.

A lot of turtle purists rail mightily against releasing former aquarium turtles into the wild. But snappers, for one, are famous for making the transition easily.

J: Tell people. Hmm. To stick with native animals if you have a garden pond you want to stock. That people are softies. That it's a big responsibility to take things in from the wild. That there is not easy way to step into and back out of an ecological web.

Whatever the story and the moral, it's for later. Maybe tonight after class. Much to do today. And dag blam it I left the hose out ready to use not thinking the ground would get so cold, so now I can't get it clear of ice in time to hose the frost off the red horsechestnut. Argh. So frustrating, I can bend the hose all along its length and hear the crackle but can't get the water through it.

Chapter Two

B: So after work I drove clear across town to buy that snapping turtle I wrote about the other day. People should have to have licenses to own turtles. It was a mud turtle.

A mature mud turtle, too. They were feeding him goldfish, but unfortunately fish, except dead fish, are not really on the mud turtle menu. I wouldn't be surprised if he hasn't eaten since they got him.

Sadly, mud turtles are probably the dimmest turtles Glob ever created. Their one trick is to retract their head, shut their eyes, and open their mouths wide. At least that way I can tell this one doesn't still have a hook in him. They spend almost all their time either doing nothing at all or trudging around hoping to bump into something to eat. They look for all the world like primitive armored vehicles, and have a personality to match. This one cost me $40 (I declined the tank and paraphernalia) but better that than leave him with people who didn't even know what the hell he was. Mud turtles are crappy pets, anyway.

We'll be letting this one out as soon as the water temperature around here stabilizes.

J: Shoot. Now you make me want to drive straight over there with these tadpoles. But I can leave some there early Saturday.

You said they had a picture of him on-line? Must have been a pretty poor image if you saw a snapper in a mud turtle body...

Should we put him in OUR pond? Now?

B: Thanks!

J: Sorry Beaufort, no tadpoles on your step this morning -- don't look out, see nothing and think some neighborhood kid snagged 'em. It was raining, hailing and so cold yesterday that getting to our pond to fish anything out was daunting. When we did get out there, it was so cold everyone was out of sight.

B: I figured it would be too cold for tadpoles. Darn it. I'm having a hard time with this musk turtle, Darwin, who used to have an appetite to rival those of Jean-Luc and Blitzkrieg. Now he eats nothing. I don't know if he's going through a hibernation-time hiatus, or what. But I'm looking forward to trying him on tadpoles. He'll bite the head off a mealworm pupa once in awhile, but that's it.

Meanwhile, this rescued mud turtle has taught me several things already. First, mud turtles aren't native to Michigan. I thought they were common pretty much east of the Mississippi, but no, they're mostly Southern, though they do range closely up the Atlantic coast to Long Island. If that woman's family caught him in Indiana, they did so in extreme southern Indiana, because that's the limit of their range in the west -- this is, in fact, a Mississippi mud turtle. So I may be stuck with him indefinitely. At least he has a healthy appetite for night crawlers. He'll get tadpoles, too, when they come. I'm going out tomorrow if the sun shines to see if I see any in sundry rain pools and mudholes.

J: We did wonder about the mud turtle thing. Our book of Michigan Turtles has an entry "Musk and Mud Turtles" and it was when I went to those pages to see this mud turtle you were now taking on, that Steven said, "Hey, that's the turtle Deb had show up at her place." When I looked harder at the text,though, there was not one word on those pages about mud turtles. Steven had been preparing to email Deb to offer his condolences that her pond had acquired a dumb turtle that would never be seen. Glad now we can go back to "go" and maybe tell her to see if her turtle matches the musk turtle profile.

Sorry if you have another turtle-for-life you didn't really wish for.

Hmm. Thinking about nothing showing in the pond surface, in the cold. Maybe the ducks have taken a big bite out of the tadpole pool? The ducks have been here off and on all week (used to hang out in the water in the neighbor's pool cover but they took the pool out). Never thought about ducks being tadpole and toad egg eaters. Always thought they were just grazing the vegetation when they do that water-biting thing they do.

As I read about musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) I note that it eats snails. Another menu item I never thought about, re turtles. What about we bring your turtles some snails? We have tons of those. We could bring it a few young soft-ish ones and see whether it likes them. Our snails, too, are all organically fed. Unless they stray into others' yards as the one behind us does get sprayed (illegally and stupidly sprayed, too. The guy doing the spraying couldn't tell us what he was applying, or what it was supposed to control -- yet a commercial firm must be law be able to supply that info on demand to neighbors -- and was also doing a poor job of applying it. Frustrating situation, and maybe one for an ethics class, even -- do we tell our neighbor that we would rather did not spray, that her service is doing a poor job? Would she even believe us?