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In the Garden

Q: My Fatsia looks dreadful. The leaves are yellow, covered with black mold, and riddled with holes. What can I do?

A: Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica) is a great plant to provide a bold, tropical look to a shady nook. The evergreen leaves are glossy, dark green and deeply lobed and can spread 16 inches across. Hardy to about 10 degrees, the shrubs can reach 12 feet tall. In fall numerous, small creamy-white flowers appear in roundish clusters followed by shiny black fruits that remain throughout winter. Unfortunately, Fatsias are not problem-free and need a fair amount of attention to look their best. The reason the leaves are turning yellow is most likely because your Fatsia is located in too much sunshine. Exposing these shade lovers to any but early morning sun results in chronically yellow leaves. The ugly black mold is growing on honeydew excreted by Psylla, tiny sucking insects. Control these troublemakers by blasting them off the bottom of the leaves with a powerful spray from the hose. Finally, the holes in the leaves are likely caused by weevils. Nematodes, environmentally friendly microscopic worms, available online and at nurseries, help control these rascals but are only effective when soil temperatures are above 55 degrees. Nematodes also only kill the larvae. To control the adults, go out with your flashlight after dark and put the “el kabotski” on the long-snouted, ¼-inch-long bugs that you’ll find feeding on the leaves. Bug-squishing expeditions may sound horrible, but the weevils actually make a very satisfying pop!

Q: What’s the trick to getting Fritillaria to naturalize? I’ve tried them a few times, but they never last many seasons.

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A: Fritillaria flowers make great additions to the spring garden because they come in unusual shapes, sizes and colors, quite unlike any other type of spring-blooming bulb. Although there are many varieties of these spring beauties, only a few seem to naturalize well in our climate, and even those are only successful if the conditions are perfect and they won’t be disturbed. If you have a moist area that drains well in a sunny location, a good choice is the checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris). This gorgeous spring bloomer develops 12-inch-tall grassy foliage topped with pendulous bell-shaped flowers, each intricately checkered with yellow, white, rose or burgundy. Keep them moist in summer. Checkered lilies spread by seed, so enhance germination by applying a thin layer of peat moss under the plants to help maintain moisture. If, on the other hand, your garden tends to be on the dry side, Michael’s flower (Fritillaria michailovskyi) might be the best choice. This one grows to 9 inches, with very attractive purplish-brown bells edged in sunny yellow. Michael’s flower will naturalize slowly provided it has excellent drainage and remains dry throughout summer once blooming is finished. Plant the bulbs of both of these species 6 inches deep in soil amended with bone meal and organic bulb food. Follow up by working an application of organic bulb food into the soil as soon as spring foliage emerges, and again when the blooms begin to fade. Finally, buy the bulbs as early as possible in fall. Plant them immediately and water them in. If they dry out before planting, you’ll likely never see them again.

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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