Ciscoe Morris, Seattle Times garden writer, offers tips on harvesting garlic, cutting back hydrangeas and dealing with lilac suckers.
Q: I’m growing garlic for the fist time. How do I know when to harvest?
A: The time to harvest your garlic is rapidly approaching. If you haven’t already done it, cut back on watering. Heavy watering right up until harvest can result in moldy, stained garlic. Harvest when three or four green leaves remain on the stem.
Dig out the bulbs, remove excess soil and dry them in a well-ventilated place out of sunlight for about a week. Then remove the remaining soil by gently rubbing it off and braid the dry stalks, or store the bulbs in a mesh bag in a warm well-ventilated location.
Soft-neck garlic has milder flavor and stores for almost a year, while hard-neck is much stronger but stores for only half that long. By the way, don’t wait too long to harvest. If you leave garlic in the ground until all of the leaves turn brown, the cloves often separate and dirt gets in.
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Q: One of my most favorite plants is my oak leaf hydrangea. Over the years, it has grown leggy, and the blooms and leaves don’t cover it anymore. I have been told that I can’t cut it back, as it will kill it at worst, or it will never bloom again. Is this true?
A: Any type of hydrangea, including the oak leaf variety (Hydrangea quercifolia) can be cut practically to the ground in spring, and it’ll quickly grow back. The problem is that oak leaf hydrangeas, as well as mop-head and lace-cap varieties, flower only on growth that occurred the previous year.
If you whack your plant back that hard, you’ll get flowers again, but they may not show up for three years! Plus, you’ll get two branches for every one you cut, so pruning that hard can cause your plant to become an overcrowded mess.
The best way to prune any hydrangea that blooms on previous season’s growth is to symmetrically remove one-third of the oldest and tallest branches right to the ground, or where they connect to a branch near the ground.
Wait to do this until next spring, right when the new growth starts. Then if you want thicker growth down low, in early summer pinch back (by two-thirds) a few of the replacement shoots that will have emerged from the base of the plant. The result will be a fuller-growing, slightly lower, attractive shrub with fewer, but bigger, flowers.
Q: Is there any way to get rid of, or control somewhat, the runners and shoots coming from a lilac in our garden? I’m voting for a Bobcat rental — dig it all up and start again with something that stays in its own area. My wife has vetoed that. Suggestions?
A: Most lilacs, especially old ones, tend to sucker by sending up gazillions of shoots all around the base of the plant, and if you don’t remove them at least once a year, your lilac will become an unsightly thicket.
Other than cutting them down every spring, there are only two other ways to rid your lilac of the suckers. The first is the aforementioned Bobcat method. The other is to move. If those methods aren’t possible, buy a good pair of loppers, because nothing will stop them from coming up in ever-increasing numbers each year.
While you’re at it, buy a good file to sharpen your lopper blades as well. The average lilac lives for over 100 years.
Ciscoe Morris: firstname.lastname@example.org. “Gardening with Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.