Family displaced by Tubbs fire wants to revive garden at new home

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Kevin asks: We have moved to a lovely (new to us) home since we were displaced by the Tubbs firestorm.

The previous owners developed a good-sized tomato and veggie garden, but most of the plants don’t appear healthy. I am wondering if they are lacking micronutrients along with other available nutrients.

Not knowing the garden history, we are unsure what has been added to the soil. Is adding feather meal and/or greensand a sound idea?

Our suggestion would be to have a soil test done to determine what your soil is lacking and recommendations as to what nutrients can be added.

Harmony Farms has this service for a cost. Contact them for soil testing instructions through their website.

So how would one use feather meal and greensand? Greensand 0-0-3 is considered a slow potassium fertilizer that will last for four to five years when it is incorporated into the soil.

Feather meal 12-0-0, on the other hand, is a byproduct of processed poultry feathers that are thoroughly cleaned, heated and ground. It is available to the plant for an extended time and is not used as a liquid fertilizer.

Here is a tip: There is a laminated informational field chart that is helpful in identifying plant ailments, diagnosing and treating nutritional deficiencies for all plant types. It is produced by Darwin’s Garden and can be purchased online.


Mary M. asks: Can you identify the name of this specimen that is the size of a small orange and has large multiple thorns on its stem; each can be 1 to 2 inches. It grows like a large thorny tree or shrub. When cutting open the fruit, it has numerous seeds (30) and is very bitter. Years ago Garth Hokanson shared small cuttings of this plant with my garden club. Unfortunately, I have misplaced its label.

A sample was provided, and the botanical name of this plant is Citrus trifoliata, commonly referred to as the Flying Dragon or Japanese bitter orange.

The plant is hardy to -10 degrees. Flying Dragon requires full sun and has twisted, contorted and thorny stems. It is deer resistant and is native to China and Korea. The rind can be candied or used as a fruit marmalade. It is traditionally used in medicine for allergic inflammation.

Why plant this curiosity if it is so thorny?

Flying Dragon has many attributes that make it a desirable plant for our climate: It is attractive to birds. It’s a butterfly host. It has winter interest because of its orange golf-ball-sized fruit. But most of all, it is a bizarre-looking plant that makes a great conversation piece in any garden.

Another curiosity for the garden: What is a porcupine tomato?

This plant is a fun addition to the garden that is actually a member of the tomato family (Solanum). Botanically, it is known as Solanum pyracanthum, and it is described by Annie from Annie’s Annuals as having “blue-green, fuzzy-lobed leaves (and) orange fuzzy stems that display fabulous fiendish upright growth, with thorns that emerge out of orange midribs on the foliage.”

In summer it is covered with purple blooms. The plant has a branching form that reaches a height and width of 3 feet by 3 feet. Plant in a contrasting 5-gallon container and do protect it from frost.

It is available through Annie’s Annuals. Be aware that the Solanum family is poisonous


Doug U. asks: I have a garden with several newer clumps of Sedum “Autumn Joy.” They are looking pretty sad; is it safe to cut them back to the ground now?

Yes, you can cut them now and they will come back in the spring with attractive new growth.


Rose Silva asks: I need to transplant a large Philodendron selloum that has outgrown its pot. I feel it may be difficult to accomplish due the size and weight of the root ball. Is it acceptable to prune the roots, thereby reducing its size and weight without any ramifications to the health of the plant?

Yes, your roots can be pruned conservatively, but do not plant the philodendron’s aerial roots into the soil because they will rot.

What are aerial roots? In the jungle, they are valuable in that they provide support for the philodendron. In the home garden you may cut them off if they become unattractive. But aerial roots are not designed to be planted in the soil. Some gardeners may refer to them as “clinging tendrils.”

Following is the transplanting process: Take the philodendron out of the pot, and using sharp pruning shears, remove excess roots and soil by carefully cutting around and under the roots. Remove roots that don’t appear healthy. Leave an adequate amount of roots that will fit into the larger pot and be able to support the plant.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to the Garden Doctors at The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at

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