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In the Garden

Q: Every year, before my clematis blooms, the vines suddenly turn brown and die back to the ground. Is there a way to prevent this from happening?

A: You are suffering the heartbreak of clematis blight. This is a fungus disease that often shows up right when the plant is about to bloom.

It attacks the stems at ground level, killing all growth beyond lesions that occur at the base of the vines. The disease is caused by airborne spores and doesn’t affect the roots; hence the vines grow back, but rarely in time to bloom before winter dormancy sets in.

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There are a few things you can do that will help prevent this fungus disease. When planting clematis, place it at least 3 inches deeper than it came out of the pot. Keep the vines thinned out to improve air circulation and remove any infected vines immediately to prevent them from spreading spores to healthy vines. Avoid wetting the stems when you water.

Fungicides are registered to help control this disease, but you have to begin spraying as soon as new growth occurs in spring and continue spraying at the recommended intervals until the rainy period ends.

Some types of clematis are highly prone to this disease. If it happens every year, replace your susceptible variety with the highly resistant Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ or one of the spectacular, smaller flowering viticella varieties.

Q: I’ve had hardy bananas in my garden for three years but have yet to see fruit. What is the secret to get them to form bananas?

A: Hardy bananas need to grow tall in order to produce fruit. In cold winters, hardy bananas often die back to the ground. When this happens, they only grow to about 10 feet tall the following summer. Therefore, if you’re serious about getting fruit, it’s best to protect the stems from winter damage.

You can do this by wrapping the stem with burlap and covering the top with an upside-down garbage can. The problem with this method is that you won’t win any praise from your spouse nor your neighbors.

Alternatively, you can wrap the trunk with non-LED Christmas lights and run them anytime a freeze is predicted to keep the trunk warm. Bananas are different from most other tall plants in that the stems are made up only of rolled-up leaves. In winter, the leaves within the stem freeze down from the top.

In spring, I climb up a ladder and begin pruning inch by inch down from the top until I run into healthy pale-green leaf tissue in the mushy stem. If you protected the stems or if we experienced a mild winter like our last one, little damage occurs and new growth will emerge from high up near the top.

Fertilize generously with organic tomato food every six weeks and water regularly. Then if we luck out and get a hot, sunny summer, your bananas will grow to over 20 feet tall and will form fruit.

Be aware that the bananas are for show and definitely not for consumption. If you eat one, you’ll never need to eat another prune for the rest of your life. They’re so high in fiber, they taste like plastic.

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

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