Ask the garden expert



I noticed the neighbor’s tree is blooming with beautiful colored blossoms as it usually does, but for some reason it’s growing a branch that is now green.

It’s been going that way, and the neighbor says that’s the way his tree grows.

Does that sound right?

This is a good time of year to notice trees, such as flowering cherry, plum, and others.

Every now and again, you’ll notice a green limb in a flowering tree, some of us might wonder why. A person asked me just lately, “Is that a form of variegation itself?” Probably not. The ornamental flowering trees are usually grafted on to a hardier type root stock, and since it’s hardier, it might be trying to dominate by going back to its original form.

The variegated portions of the leaves don’t make as much food for the tree as the chlorophyll-filled green leaves, so they try to revert. These emerging limbs and twigs should be removed if the owner wants to retain the gorgeous flowers each spring.

With variegated perennials, we realize that as in the trees it’s the result of cell mutation. It is the natural inclination to revert to its natural form.

Plant breeders need to observe how stable the mutation is before releasing their plants to the public through garden centers and other outlets.

Sometimes, the leaves regain chlorophyll and the variegation disappears as the chlorophyll returns.

A long time ago, I was in a nursery and saw 50-gallon barrels with fertilizer mixed up in each large greenhouse. I noticed them because there were little kids running around, and their mother didn’t seem to notice. I felt like saying something to the nursery workers. Should I have?

Yes. I am surprised they were allowed to have open barrels in there, kids or no kids. I’m sure we won’t be seeing anything like that nowadays.

Your question makes me think about the dangerous situation in my own garden and greenhouse area. For convenience, I too kept 50-gallon buckets around the area with water or fertilizer to catch dry plants, or fertilize something I missed. I have already purchased small buckets that I’ll keep up on growing benches, because our 18-month-old great-grandson is coming to spend time with us, and I’ve decided I’m putting my large buckets away for this summer. This tiny boy is so fast and curious he’ll be everywhere before I know it. A large 5-gallon bucket is so tall next to a little child that if he fell into it, his feet would be off the ground, and he would not have the arm strength to lift himself out of a bucket. I shudder to think of it. So the tall containers are gone. We need to think ahead in any work.

I have moved into a condominium that has a small patio-deck.

I want to have some vegetables growing in pots and was so surprised to see how expensive the bags of dirt were at the garden center. Can’t I just bring some dirt from my family’s yard?

My neighbor said no. She owns a garden shop, so don’t you think it could be just a money thing on her part?

What do you think? She went through a master gardener class and acts like she knows everything. Does she?

If she went through the classes she knows a lot, but as far as her knowing everything, I seriously doubt that.

Now, one could “know it all.” That is why we’ll see specialists in all subjects, whether it’s gardening, medical, technical, any subject you could name. No one could know it all. Your neighbor is only confident she can delve into most any gardening question and come up with an answer. That’s what master gardening training does for a person.

If you are hoping to use garden soil in your vegetable growing in containers, you might find that most pots will be too heavy to lift. Generally, it’s not a good idea for more reasons than just weight.

Commercial potting soil have been through a process that removes all the insects, weeds, stones, and prospective soil-borne diseases that might keep your plants from thriving.

Many bagged soils also have additives that add bulk but are lighter in weight, additionally they’ll aid in growing your vegetables.

I wonder if you might visit with your neighbor, perhaps if she explains her product you will learn the deferences,and perhaps prove to you the advantages of good potting soil. Ask if she might consider giving you a price break, especially if you tell her you’ll be a loyal shopper with her store. She might turn out to be a wonderful source of information, as most master gardeners are.

The master gardening classes for 2013 are coming up this fall. It might be so worth your time to look into attending them yourself. Take a look at the master gardener website,, or contact the master gardener coordinator, Erika Johnson, at

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