Ask the gardening expert



I have three hydrangea plants grouped together in my front yard. While they have lots of lush leaves, no flowers have ever bloomed. These are not new plants. We have had them for about five years. I have three more in a group in the backyard, and they bloom fine with very pretty blue flowers. Should I start with new plants or do something else?

There are several things that might keep them from producing blooms.

• Is it shady in the front year? Hydrangea is a shade-loving plant, but it won't bloom if it doesn't get some sun during the day. Mine did not bloom one summer, then it dawned on me that the magnolia had grown so large that the hydrangea got no sun at all. We cut back the tree, and the hydrangea bloomed like mad.

• Are you pruning them? If they need to be cut back, do it before March 15. If you wait too late, you'll be cutting off buds.

• Are they planted in an area where they get a heavy, cold wind in winter? Even a late cold snap can freeze the buds.

Our daughter has a pet rabbit, and we were wondering if we could use its droppings as fertilizer in our vegetable garden?

I don't think anyone should use fresh manure on edible plants, especially on root crops. Rabbit manure is a fine fertilizer and makes a terrific addition when making compost due to its high fiber content. I've read that it is considered a "cold" fertilizer and that many gardeners use fresh dropping in their vegetable gardens. I think it be good to compost it for a while before I'd feel safe recommending its use on edible plants.

Birds got all of our cherries this year. How can we fight them? It's probably not a good idea to shoot them, because we live in a neighborhood. What can we do to save our cherries for us?

Good luck. Once birds discover that you have a cherry tree, they keep an eye on the fruit's progress and grab it just as soon as it is ripe to their liking. If your tree is small enough, you could try netting it. I've heard of folks having some success that way, but it's really hard to do successfully. The birds are so resourceful and clever, not to mention determined.

You could be in a world of trouble if you shoot the birds; most wild birds are protected. The exception is game birds but only in season.

We gave up trying to grow our own cherries some time ago and buy our cherries at the grocery store. Readers, do you have some good suggestions for protecting home-grown cherries?

There is moss growing on the side of the patio. It just appeared last summer. I thought it might not be there this summer, but it is. We tried to scrape it off, but it's really not working. Why is it there just suddenly, and what can we do to get rid of it?

I'm guessing that it has gotten into deep shade as overhanging plants grow larger. This is often happens so gradually that the growing shade and dampness easily goes unnoticed.

Try trimming back some of the overhang and let some sun into the area. That should end the moss growth in that area. Or you could kill the moss temporarily with a solution of 10 percent bleach water. Keep the bleach solution off of plants, unless you want to kill those plants, too.

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