Ask the Gardening Expert



A woman came into the answer clinic late last week with a photo of a monkey puzzle tree. Many of the lower branches had turned brown and the woman was puzzled. What could be causing this? So this sent master gardeners on duty and coordinator Erika into motion.

This is the answer master gardeners discovered causing the problem in question: The lower branches of the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), also known as Chilean pine, turn brown and are shed as the tree matures. The tree makes a very bold statement in the landscape; in youth it is almost prehistoric in appearance and at maturity it lends an exotic other-world look to vistas. Leaves are sharp and stiff, leading to painful pruning experiences and a need to avoid contact with pedestrian traffic. Roots tend to grow near the surface and can cause maintenance problems in turf areas. Mature heights in our region have not been fully determined, but this is a large tree in its native haunts, reaching heights of 100 feet or more.

Monkey puzzle trees should be grown in full sun on well-drained soil and receive regular watering. They tolerate some drought and will grow well in clay soil. No pests or diseases are of major concern, however at times they may experience scales, sooty mold, and leaf spots.

Should you have a gardening question, master gardeners are reachable through telephone,396-6060 ext 5711, or online at

I have many hostas in my garden; most are in shade a large part of the day. I have a great deal of open sunny areas, and have heard there are some hostas that can take hot sunshine. Can you list some for me? I'd like to use only hostas there since they are plants that pretty much take care of themselves. How much sunshine is OK for most?

That's not an easy question you've asked, since there are so many variables to consider: the degree of sunlight in that portion of your yard, and the time of day the sunlight hits those areas (I'm thinking of the intensity of the sunlight at that particular time). Are you not considering any other shrubs, and plantings, perennials, small trees, etc. as shady companions? I'm having a little difficulty in supposing you'll use only hostas and nothing else. I'll list a few that I've heard that can take some sun, but I cannot recommend you not have some protection against hot blazing sunshine when they are in leaf. (What is creating the shady areas you mention in the first part of your question?)

"Sunset Western Garden Book" tell us: "Hostas are shade lovers, though some will tolerate (just means endure some sun) full sun, they will be smaller with more compact leaves, also may produce more flowers."

Sebright Gardens out of Salem, Ore., sells mainly hostas by mail order. Their clear and imaginative site is It is a pleasure to "wander" through this site. They tell us, "There is no such thing as a sun-loving hosta." They also say that some may have "full sun tolerance potential."

I will list only a few, as one really needs to go through the site. On page 26 of their catalog they have a large list of sun-tolerant hostas. I noticed on their list some that I have (in part shade) in my garden: Stained Glass, Sugar and Cream, Sum & Substance, Guacamole, Gold Standard, September Sun. Check the site out, if you like hostas, you'll love their site.

Some master gardeners and I visited Sebright Garden. What a lovely home/nursery these guys have, a real treat to see.

I have some beautiful professionally created baskets on my deck, and other spots in my yard. I am having the worst time with drip watering my hanging baskets. The system becomes clogged, and I don't know it until the basket looks sad, and wants water desperately. Can you think of a better way to do it? How do you do yours?

It's a little tricky to install them correctly. There are lots of companies producing drip irrigation systems, so some installation info may differ; you may want to keep the installation and maintenance instruction. I'm sure they work fine if installed correctly.

I myself don't use them, as I've said, I do hand watering as I enjoy the time spent. Additionally I don't create too many hanging baskets. I do however have quite a few large containers with dwarf trees, and other plants on a seasonal basis. They are easy to reach, to monitor, and enjoy.

Might I suggest you speak with the person or company that built your baskets and ask them to oversee the maintenance, the care and feeding as an added service. If you spent the money to have them designed and created, then I'd think they are most likely worth the money to see them properly maintained.

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