Ask the Gardener

Ask the Gardener: Bewitched by witch hazels

CorrespondentMarch 7, 2014 

The unusual “Amethyst” cultivar of witch hazel has purple flowers.


Q: I live in Southeastern coastal North Carolina. It is zone 7A/7B here. I am looking for witch hazels. Unfortunately, the nurseries I have found online are in Oregon or the United Kingdom. Do you know of any nurseries here that would carry them?

Fred Miller


A: Witch hazels aren’t strangers to regional commercial growers, meaning they shouldn’t be too hard to find at local retail nurseries, and if a garden center doesn’t have any on hand, just ask. I’ve found nurserymen to be adept at getting their hands on in-demand plants.

In your case, the first nursery I called in Wilmington, The Transplanted Garden (, currently has two cultivars with yellow blooms, “Arnold’s Promise” and “Sweet Sunshine,” as well as the unusual, purple-flowered “Amethyst” in stock.

Camellia fungus likes moisture

Q: My camellia is suffering from small, white, powdery splotches on the backs of leaves. It is on the north side of the house, somewhat protected in a corner. It gets most sun in the summer when the sun is moving to north. The dryer vent is close to the base of the plant – is that moisture too much? One “gardener” told me I have the infestation because the plant was too dense with limbs/leaves, so we cut out a lot of branches a year ago. She also made a concoction of things that I sprayed on the bottom of the leaves once or twice. No change. I have since bought another recommended spray called Schultz (Houseplant and Gardens) with pyrethrins. I was not able to use it consistently, so that may or may not be the reason that the leaves are still infected. Any suggestions what to do?

Lou Umscheid


A: I think the pyrethrins suggestion was to combat an insect called tea scale (horticultural oil works much better), but because of the moist conditions – thank your dryer vent – I’m leaning towards a disease known as downy mildew. There are more than a few fungicides to help control downy mildew, but for starters, try one that contains Mancozeb as the active ingredient. Increasing the air circulation by removing some of the branches wasn’t a bad idea, but that dryer vent could keep encouraging the problem, so either move it – or the camellia – or consider the advantages of a clothesline.

Different traps for moles, voles

Q: Would you have any suggestions for the control of moles and voles, specifically in the lawn and ornamental beds under the hardwood mulch?

Robert W. Williams


A: You are actually asking two questions because there are moles and there are voles, and they are different. Moles are insectivores, meaning they spend their time digging up your landscape in search of underground bugs. So it stands to reason that if you soak an insecticide into the soil to get rid of the bugs, Mr. Mole will go somewhere else, right? Well, bopping such insects as beetle larvae – many of which are destructive to lawns – will help, but moles also like earthworms, so they are likely to hang around, even in a beetle grub-free landscape. Since moles tend to be solitary critters, if you catch or kill one, you will see a big improvement in the tunneling problem. There are baits and traps available, but since traps are more target specific, I would lean in that direction.

Voles, on the other hand, are herbivores, and they use their tunnels to get from Plant A to Plant B. They do pop out of their holes more often than moles, so if you have a cat, turn Tabby loose in the garden. Other predators include snakes, owls and hawks, so be friendly to your local wildlife. Traps and baits are available, but you can also make a vole trap with a common mouse trap – or a kinder, gentler Havahart trap. Just put the trap in a box with a small entrance in the side close to a vole hole. Bait it with peanut butter or thin apple slices, and see what happens. Unlike moles, voles are very happy breeders, so you might have put out several traps and keep them in the garden for a few months.

Making your garden’s ground less inviting is another way to discourage both moles and voles. This can be done by liberally mixing PermaTill or a similar product into the soil. PermaTill is a soil conditioner consisting of pea-size, porous rocks that makes digging small tunnels in the garden a real problem, which encourages the little furry critters to head to easier digs.

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

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