Ask the garden expert

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We've not been out in our garden area since last fall. Since then the whole garden plot is covered in small weeds. Most are ones I've seen before, but I don't know what they are. The seeds spray all around when they are touched. How can I get rid of them so I can plant here? My neighbor said I needed to be after them in the winter.

Yes, winter weeds are a real pain and it's true, catching them early before they set seed is the answer. Most of us are not hand pulling or hoeing weeds in November and December, but this late in the year, (March and April) they are setting seed. The later you allow them to grow in the garden plot, the more they will produce seed and continue to multiply. You surely want to keep after the one that shoots seeds as you touch it. It is called Cardamine oligosperma, common name little bitter cress or shot weed. It's a difficult one to eliminate, partly because it comes into seed so early, and because it broadcasts its seed when we do get after it. It was a native in Europe, and has become a real problem in the landscape industry in the U.S. I hate to suggest a chemical to control them. Hand pulling and hoeing are the better methods. Some folks smother them early in winter, others use a flame to burn them off. Those strategies may work, but each have their own problems, so hoeing and pulling still work best in my opinion.

Between my house and the neighbors there is a small plum tree deep in a thicket of weedy branches. It has pretty little blooms on it each year, and some of our family members like the plums for jelly on the years when it does produce fruit. I'm really asking two things: Is there a way to make it produce each year? And then do you think it's worth the work to cut it out of all the tangle of branches and things growing all through it? If it would consistently have plums on it, we might clean it up, so the neighbor can have the jelly.

This sounds as if it's a lost tree. You said it doesn't produce consistently and they are tiny when it does. Since plum trees usually bloom early, I'm guessing that the blooms may escape frost damage just once in a while. But since you do consider it a cute tree, you might try cleaning out the brush that is surrounding it. Let it get some decent light and air, perhaps a few more pollinators may find it as well. As far seeing to it that it that it will produce each year, that's a tall order, since it's more than likely nipped by frost during bloom time.

You told me no one remembers planting it, nor do the folks that lived there before your family owned the property. You need to decide if the tree is worth the trouble to you. If it's in a nice place, and you cleaned it up, your family may enjoy it as a nice little blooming shrub, then if it does produce some plums once in awhile that's all the better for your family.

I have some large house plants that I want to plant into several large (more permanent) mixed containers off my deck this summer. What do you think of that idea?

This is such a broad question — it may be something you could do very well with if you are willing to pay close attention to what's going on the container as the summer progresses. Most indoor plants are growing in some form or another somewhere in the world, usually in the tropics. In the business they are frequently called "tropicals." Most would not be happy in hot, dry conditions, especially sunshine. If you were able to have some larger sun-loving plants giving some protection (shade) — perhaps surround them so the sun is not beating down on them — and careful watering you might be able to keep them alive, but prospering? Not sure. I'd think you would do better to insert them into shade-tolerant containers and then I believe some tropicals should do quite well in that environment.

As a matter of fact I am growing some green plants I grew from 4-inch pots, most are in 6- to 8-inch pots now. I intend to place them in some shady planters that have some helleborus, heucheras, coralbells, pansy, and fern and other shade-loving plants for several years now. I hoped the tropicals would do well and add a fresh new look to the existing planter. Hopefully they'll grow to like their new outdoor summer home. (I'll move them back inside at the end of the season.) I'm intrigued now, so think I'll try your idea as well, see how this works out.


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