Ask the gardening expert



There are five rhododendrons in my new yard. My neighbor told me to cut them back; he said they are too large. I never noticed that — they look good to me — but I am wondering if he’s right. I have no idea how to do it and the time of year to do it. I have some time this week, should I do it now?

I hate to think you are tackling this job on you own. You need some help. Call a professional, or at the least an experienced gardener. The plant could be horribly misshapen and take quite a long time to recover after a bad trim.

There is no hurry. You have some time since it should be allowed to bloom before you think about a trim. If you trim it now, you cut off this spring’s bloom. Ask a trusted friend who knows plants whether it even needs trimming. Trimming back could just be the neighbor’s opinion, and the plant might be fine. I suggest you do nothing until you know a little more about your yard.

I just bought a lemon tree and wonder if I can grow it outside? I think I won’t get very many lemons because it’s too cold here isn’t it?

I agree it is too chilly here. Citrus are warm-weather plants that make handsome house plants. You can certainly bring it outside in the summer months.

You could have a crop here if you know how to pollinate the blossoms by hand. There are many people who succeed and have fruit, but I’m sure they don’t leave their citrus plants out all winter in the Northwest.

Would you give a suggestion of plants tough enough to live in a rock wall? It’s not too tall, about 14 inches or so but it is in a hot sunny spot. How many would I need buy for a 10-foot-long wall?

That’s a tough question, as one would have to see the wall. The number of plants can only be guessed at after seeing suitable spots/crevices that can accommodate soil and plants. I can give a few plant suggestions however. You might try the sedum family, some thymus varieties, veronicas and saponaria (soap wort).

Most nurseries have a nice section of tough little plants to peruse. There is a company, Stepables, that specializes in plants for difficult places, and many nurseries have a selection of their plants. Stepables rates the probable survival of plants in difficult spots on their clever tag rating system. I find the tags useful and just plain fun to read.

Tell a nursery attendant what you are after, and they will point you to that area.

Celeste Lindsay is a WSU-certified master gardener. Send questions to