Ask the gardening expert

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We moved to Brush Prairie last fall from San Francisco, where it doesn't get too hot or too cold. We brought two "John Clayton" honeysuckles with us and want to plant them on either side of an arch walkway. We found the plants at a nursery in Southern Oregon. Someone working there said the honeysuckle would look really nice that way. We bought the arch a week ago, but when should I plant the honeysuckle? Should I buy fertilizer? I'm a little worried about winter, because we've been told the weather gets really bad here.

Lonicera sempervirens "John Clayton" is a twining honeysuckle vine with showy, unscented, yellow, repeat-blooming, trumpet-shaped flowers.

I'm thinking you found the plants at the wonderful nursery out of Williams Ore., called ForestFarm. This is a wonderfully well-known nursery that is mentioned as a plant source in nearly every major gardening publication worldwide. Its catalog is by far my favorite. I consider it a treasure for the information, the huge selection of plants, heavy on the Pacific Northwest natives, and it's just plain fun to read.

The winters here are not all that bad. Very once in a while, we experience a little stretch of fairly bad weather, but those spells don't last long. Quite often, we escape the harsh weather pretty easily.

The catalog lists these honeysuckles as Zone 4, so they should do fine in Brush Prairie. Yes, the nursery person was right; they should put out a nice bunch of leaves and hopefully lots of blooms on your archway this summer. Situate the arch in an area where the plant will get a lot of sun. Plant the honeysuckles now. See to it that the roots are not too tangled; carefully stretch them out in the hole as you fill in the soil. Don't fertilize them now; wait until you see new growth in the spring.

I have two kinds of banana plants that were beautiful this summer and want to winter them over. I am hoping my covered porch will provide enough warmth, so they can survive the winter. Any ideas how I should do it?

Most tropical plants such as bananas won't overwinter without supplemental heat or some protection. The Internet has a large amount of information on overwintering tropicals. One suggests you dig up the banana plant, bag the root ball, place in a protected spot such as a garage or basement, where temperatures stay are around 45 to 50 degrees, until the danger of frost has passed, then replant them in the same spot. If you can keep the temperature on the porch above freezing, you can overwinter some of the hardier perennials.

When you choose plants, check the tags for the lowest temperatures they will tolerate and match that to the temperatures you'll be able to maintain on your porch. Try to choose the plants that can tolerate the lowest temperatures, so you can successfully overwinter them.

I bought two patio blueberry brushes in the spring. They did fine all spring and summer, but suddenly dropped all of their leaves this fall. Is this just the ordinary plant cycle, or have they now died? How can I tell if they are still alive?

Blueberries are deciduous, so dropping their leaves is normal.

They might look dead to you, but I'm guessing they'll produce new leaves early in the spring. If you look closely at the plants, they should show some green close to the trunk. If you are still uncertain if they're alive, scrape off a very tiny spot of bark, and you should see living tissue, not brown and dead looking.

Blueberries are fun and easy to grow in containers and in the soil. They prefer acidic soil, which we have here in the Pacific Northwest due to the abundance of rain. Because they like our conditions, they can be grown commercially in our area.

Your plants are in pots, so as winter approaches, move them into a protected spot to keep the container from bursting in the freezing weather. Bring them back out when danger of hard freezing has passed. If you move them into a larger container in the spring, add other acid loving plants for a lovely spring display. I have tulips and daffodils in with mine, and will add other plants later in spring. Impatiens, begonia, gardenia also look fine together.

Celeste Lindsay is a WSU-certified master gardener. Send questions to mslindsay8@gmail.com.