Ask the gardening expert

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Last year I planted a bleeding heart vine by my front porch which gets a lot of shade (faces north). Since early spring it has dropped almost all of its leaves and looks awful. What leaves are left are yellowing. Is something wrong with the plant or is this normal for this type of vine (i.e., does it go dormant or something)? Is there anything I can do with it so it will come back again in the spring or summer?

It might come back next spring. It sounds to me like the Dicentra scandens is the variety "Athens Yellow," which is a yellow-blooming form of bleeding heart. It puts on quite a show during the spring and early summer months. The lacy foliage and stems generally die down during the autumn and winter. It has delicate foliage and lovely little yellow bleeding heart flowers. It's often the called the "king of climbing dicentras." The rapid-growing vine climbs and weaves itself around shrubs and through all in its chosen path, decorating those plants with hanging clusters of drooping flowers, producing new flowers as it goes along its way. It usually produces odd sausagelike pods at autumn time.

You can cut the stems down to ground level, if there are any left. In the spring new stems and foliage will come back. The plants are hardy in warmer climates. Its tag said zone 5 through 7. It does not like to become dry; this can lead to die-back of the foliage. But you might want to make some effort to protect it in the harshest part of winter. You may be rewarded come next growing season.

I've had mine going on three years. It often looks at death's door, I make a move to throw it out, but it's showing some healthy sprouts, so I can't put it into the compost bin. Then next thing you know it's taken off and is socializing with the neighbors that live upstairs in the top of my greenhouse.

At the Master Gardener office a local rose enthusiast found a white substance on the leaves, buds, and stems of one of her roses. Could you identify the substance and provide a recommendation about what can be done to resolve the issue?

The master gardeners on duty answered the question this way:

The white substance was identified as powdery mildew, a fungal disease that is spread by the wind. Powdery mildew causes curled, discolored, distorted foliage and sometimes kills infected leaves and canes. It generally crops up when rainfall is low, days are dry, nights are humid, and average temperatures range from 70-80 degrees.

To treat the affected roses, spray the plant with a fungicide specifically designed for roses (available at most garden centers) as soon as symptoms appear. Repeat applications every seven to 10 days if mildew recurs. Be sure your rose has adequate airflow by removing any crossed canes and any congested stems in the center of the bush. Rake up and dispose of fallen rose foliage now, and especially in autumn. In the future, plant rose varieties that are listed as resistant to powdery mildew. Check with the master gardener office to have them email that list: MGanswerclinic@clark.wa.gov.

My mother lives in California and is trying to grow tomatoes for the first time. She asks if she should pinch the top of her huge vines. I never heard of doing that, so I'm wondering would it be a good idea to pinch the flowers or tops off her tomato plants in order for the tomatoes to grow larger? This will be the first harvest and the tomatoes seem small while the plant itself is growing to be huge. She found the tag and it told her that her biggest plant is expected to produce for months to come. But didn't say if was determinate or indeterminate

Sounds like you're growing an indeterminate-type tomato plant — one that will grow and produce flowers and fruits all season long. As long as the weather is warm, her plant will continue to grow and flower. It's not necessary to pinch the tops of the plants, but I have heard of gardeners who pinch out the growing tips to force the plant to ripen the existing fruit — especially if it's late in the season and they're concerned about frost. Since your mom lives in sunny California, her tomato plant can grow and fruit right up through December. I'd just leave it alone and allow it to flower at will.

Determinate-type plants grow to a specific height, develop flowers and fruit and then stop producing. A great one if you're going to do canning or freezing. An indeterminate plant will continue to grow and produce fruit until frost kills it. This one will give you a consistent supply for the dinner table.

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