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Sep 23, 2009

 ABCs of Gardening: If hibiscus needs pruning, wait until spring

Q. My neighbor has a beautiful hibiscus shrub. Because of the heavy and constant rain we have had this year, the branches are bent down, and I am afraid it is going to split the shrub. It also has multiple stems instead of one trunk. Should I prune it to get it back in shape? — H.M., Shandalee

A. Hardy hibiscus makes a wonderful late summer blooming shrub. It can grow to 8 feet tall and more than 5 feet wide. It breaks dormancy very late, usually sometime in June, and starts producing flowers from late July into August.

If you need to prune it, the best time to do that is spring, before it begins to leaf out. Need help?

For answers to your gardening questions, call your local Master Gardener Volunteer Helpline:

 Orange County — 18 Seward Ave., Middletown. Calls are answered "live" by master gardeners 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, April-October. At all other times, leave a message at 343-0664 or e-mail

 Sullivan County — 69 Ferndale-Loomis Road, Liberty. Calls are answered 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 292-6180.

 Ulster County — 10 Westbrook Lane, Kingston. Calls are answered 9 a.m.-noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday, March-October; 9 a.m.-noon Fridays only, November-February. Otherwise, leave a message, 340-3478.

 Master gardeners are also available in the Cooperative Extension offices for soil testing and plant and insect identification. The cost is $5 for plant and insect identification and $3 for a soil pH test.

If the shrub has been "weeping" (branches bent down) all season, I would not be too concerned about it unless some branches have snapped, in which case do cut them off. I don't like to force branches into position if they have been like that all season, as this may cause them to break.

Generally avoid hitting the branches or otherwise moving them so as not to put any more stress on them. They should recover for next year. If they still need pruning, do so in the spring.

Q. I have a purple weed all over my lawn. What is it and how can I get rid of it? (Lab sample submission) — A.S., Loch Sheldrake

A. What you have is a perennial ground cover called ajuga or bugle weed. It may have escaped from a neighbor's garden and is now growing all over your lawn.

Unfortunately, herbicides for lawn weeds won't work on it. You will have to use a broad spectrum herbicide, which will also kill your grass. If the area is not too large, you can hand-weed it or leave it as is, since it is a rather attractive plant, will provide flowers for the bees, does not have to be mowed, and adds color interest to your lawn (I await the calls from turf worshippers).

Q. We have these very small insects that swarm around my head, trying to get into our eyes, mouth, ears, etc. Sometimes they bite What are they and how can I protect myself from them? — L. M., Roscoe

A. The bane of my summer: midges, aka punkies or no-see-ums. Some bite, some do not; they are just VERY annoying.

They breed in water, same conditions as mosquitoes, or very wet vegetation, mud holes, etc. They are less than a quarter-inch long, with wings that fold over their small gnatlike bodies. They are more prevalent in the morning and early evening or on humid days.

I have yet to find a good control measure for them outside of long sleeves and pants, and I also wear a mosquito head net when working outside as I cannot tolerate them. If you have the biting kind, products containing DEET will give very limited control.

They are on my list of "would not be missed if never seen again." The adults and larvae are a food source for fish, however.

Coming up

"Introduction to Cheesemaking" — Cornell Cooperative Extension of Sullivan County, 64 Ferndale-Loomis Road, Liberty, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 21. Linda Smith of Sherman Hill Farmstead will conduct an all-day workshop on making fresh cheeses such as mozzarella, feta and ricotta. Class size is limited. Call 292-6180 for more information and registration. Registration deadline is Sept. 17.

"The ABC's of Gardening" is submitted by the master gardeners of the Cornell Cooperative Extensions of Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties, on a rotating basis, in response to questions from callers to the Master Gardener Volunteer Helpline. Marianna Quartararo is the community horticulture educator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Sullivan County.

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Posted: Wednesday September 23, 2009, 2:51 pm
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