18stangler column /mb/ab

How to keep flowers watered on vacation?

Q: Do you have any ideas on how I can keep my container flowers watered while we go on vacation this summer? We live in the country and it is just a great inconvenience for us to have someone come out here to do this small task. I do not worry about the garden — we will water that well before we leave — but the containers seems to dry out so fast in the sun.

A: Although I have never tried it, I have heard about people filling plastic bottles with water, freezing them and just before they leave, they will drill a small hole in the water bottle and set it in your container plant. As the ice thaws, the plants get watered. For larger containers, they use a gallon milk jug. It is certainly worth a try.

Q: How do I get rid of maggots on onions, radishes or carrots?

A: One of the advantages of writing these articles for the Post-Bulletin is the feedback that I receive from readers. One particular former customer of mine says that when she tends these vegetables, she sprinkles the leaves with tea from a tea bag and has never had a problem since. Just one application prevents this condition, she says.


Q: A couple of years ago, I started a shade garden but now it is covered with moss. Is this harmful to the other plants and can I get rid of it?

A: Moss will not kill your plants, but its presence means that you do not have ideal growing conditions for other plants. Moss prefers shade, damp, poorly drained and often acidic soils. You can improve these conditions by adding organic matter to the soil. First take a soil test before trying to change the pH. You can also try increasing the light by thinning the overhead tree canopy if that is the source of the shade. However, some gardeners love the beauty of moss and create actual moss gardens which might be an easier solution to your problem. It is easier to pick plants that match your soil’s pH rather than trying to change the soil. 

Q: What can you tell me about Caladium?

A: Caladium are the large leafed plants grown in shade for their intense foliage. They are tropical plants coming in various shades of red, pink, white, green and yellow-green in their leaves. They are not hardy here but can be grown as an annual or you can dig and store the tubers over winter. They normally grow 12 to 24 inches high and wide. They like warm soils so they should not be planted too early in the spring. They are true show-stoppers, especially when paired with delicate plants like astilbe and fern.

Q: My allium plant seems to have weak stems as they broke off last summer and are doing it again this year. Is there anything I can do to prevent this?

A: Excess shade, wet soil and too much fertilizer can lead to weak stems. You might consider moving them to a location that has full sun and plenty of well-draining soil. Be careful not to over-fertilize or over-water these plants. You can also try staking the individual blooms. Many garden centers carry a single metal stake with a simple loop designed to support flower blossoms.

Keith Stangler of Byron is a horticulturist. If you have a question for him, e-mail it to

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