Ask the Gardener

Clematis might need some lime

CorrespondentJune 7, 2013 

Clematis does best in a neutral pH growing space because acidic soils tend to lock up nutrients and make them inaccessible to the plants.

COURTESY OF L.A. JACKSON

I’ve had a Dr. Ruppel clematis for two years now. Each year, it spreads like a groundcover. Tendrils that grow up the trellis start out looking beautiful, but soon die. The roots are shaded and mulched. The area gets a few hours of sun each day. Can you offer any recommendations for getting my clematis to grow on a trellis?

Carol Aupperle

Raleigh

First, when you say “a few hours of sun each day,” I hope you mean around five to six hours because clematis needs at least that much sunlight to do well.

Also, you didn’t mention anything about fertilizer, which this vine needs in order to thrive. But let’s just say that you at least added a balanced fertilizer – how about lime? Clematis does best in a neutral pH growing space because acidic soils tend to lock up nutrients and make them inaccessible to the plants.

Another problem could be the planting hole. In our brick-hard red clay, it not only has to be dug to proper proportions, but also think about chewing up the ground close around the hole with a pick in order to give the developing roots room to run.

Finally, water. Your vine is only two years old. Have you been watering it at least once a week? This is also crucial as the clematis is becoming established. Otherwise, its growth will be weak.

Watering can planter

I bought an old metal watering can from an antique shop in Durham, and when I told the fellow there that I was thinking about making it a planter, he wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Could you tell me why not?

Lucy Taylor

Charlotte

Drainage is the first drawback I see. One of the fundamental laws of the universe is that watering cans hold water, so irrigating plants in such a container will eventually be more like drowning them. Of course, a simple solution is to drill holes in the bottom of the can, but there is another problem – the can is metal. Metal absorbs heat from the sun, meaning it can easily turn such a container into an oven.

But don’t kick the can out the door just yet. With holes in the bottom, it can still be a planter. Either bring it inside and use it as a nifty container for indoor plants – away from sunny windows, of course – or use it as an interesting accent brimming with plants in a shade garden.

Finally, I’m not sure how big this watering can is, but if it is a hefty hunk of metal, you might want to consider adding several inches of Styrofoam “peanuts” as filler to the bottom before pouring in potting soil so it won’t be so heavy.

Blossom end rot

Last year, I planted some tomatoes and added lime to them to prevent blossom end rot, but many of the fruit still got the rot. Should I use more lime this year?

Ed Barnes

Raleigh

While blossom end rot is the result of insufficient calcium, adding lime – and then even more lime – is not going to completely take care of the problem. This common tomato ailment is not a “disease.” More properly, it is classified as a physiological disorder, meaning the basic needs of the plant, as a living organism, aren’t being met.

In your case, since lime was added, rot probably has to do with water. Sending tomato plants on a roller coaster ride of wet, dry, wet, dry soil conditions is a sure way to get a grand case of blossom end rot because it disrupts the uptake of calcium to the developing fruit. Mulch is the obvious answer – and don’t be stingy when you apply it! In addition to suppressing weeds and keeping plant roots cool, mulch does a good job of retaining water, which helps prevent extreme fluctuations in soil moisture.Of course, when showers are scarce, be sure to grab the hose and give your tomatoes a long, tall drink. Tomato plants usually need a little over an inch of water each week to produce healthy, blossom end rot-free fruit.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. Send your garden questions, including the city where you garden, to askthegardener@newsobserver.com.

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