Homegrown: Hen and chicks, tree trimming

We had a nice pot of hen and chicks that we brought in last fall hoping they would winter over and we could set them back out this spring, but they just kind of faded away. I was wondering why that is.

— Todd

Actually, hen and chicks makes a fairly lousy houseplant. Most all of them are perfectly winter hardy here and are much happier spending the winter outdoors.

However, there are other succulents that may resemble hen and chicks that aren’t hardy and have to stay indoors through the winter.

If this is what you have, what they need are two things: lots and lots of bright light and not too much water.

It’s much darker inside the house than outdoors and sometimes making that transition is difficult. You’ll want to put plants like that right in front of a big window that gets bright, even direct sun for at least half a day.

Lack of light will lead to a weak, floppy plant that can struggle with insect, disease or other issues.

I’m not sure how you’ve been watering, but most problems I see with succulent types of plants in the house have to do with over-watering. When you water, soak the plants thoroughly from top to bottom. There should be water coming out the drainage holes in the pot.

Then, allow the soil to dry out fairly well before soaking it again.

I like to stick my finger down into the potting soil to see how moist or dry the soil it is. You’re not letting it get bone dry, but the soil should be showing some significant dryness.

One last tip about watering is if you have a saucer underneath the pot and water collects in it after watering, don’t let it remain there. That water will capillary back up into the soil keeping it saturated for an extended period of time.

With small pots, put them in the sink to water and let the excess water go down the drain. With bigger plants that aren’t as easy to move use a turkey baster to suck the excess water out of the saucer.

I recently had large trees trimmed (ornamental pear and mulberry). They did not seal the cuts. Are the trees in danger of insect or other problems?

— Norma

Generally, tree wound dressings are not necessary — they’re more to make you feel good than doing good for the tree.

There’s probably nothing really wrong with painting the wound, it’s just not needed usually.

There are occasions when painting the wound is warranted. This is mostly with willows since they are pretty susceptible to a couple of disease problems.

Here, I’ll recommend painting the wound with Amber or Orange Shellac that you can get at the paint store.

I don’t make a general recommendation of using the shellac because it will kill some of the living tissue at the wound which can delay healing.

This isn’t a big deal but why spend the money which only slows down regrowth a tad?

As long as they made good clean cuts, I’d just let it go.

How should I prune a bridal wreath spirea?

— Mary

Bridal wreath spirea (also known as Van Houtte spirea) should be pruned like other spring-flowering shrubs such as lilac and snowball.

That is, you selectively cut off individual larger stems down at the ground. It’s really more of a thinning process than pruning, removing the older growth to allow room for the younger, more vigorous sprouts to grow up.

The time to do this type of pruning is right after the plant is finished blooming later this spring.

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Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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