Growing Things: A wild thunderchild

While it is possible to adjust the soil pH to inhibit the disease altering the pH could also change the optimum growing conditions for the potatoes and affect yields. It can also be costly to change the pH.

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Q We have a Thunderchild crabapple tree that we planted three summers ago.  We noticed that all kinds of shoots are pushing through the ground. It almost looks like a bush surrounding the base of the tree.  Is there anything we should do with these shoots or do we just let them grow.  By the end of the summer, some of them were a metre tall.

Also, I received a Calathea for Mother’s Day last year. It is a tropical houseplant. It bloomed during the summer but now that fall is here, the blooms have shriveled up and turned brown. Some of the leaf edges are also brown. Is there anything I should do with the plant now that winter is approaching? Should it be cut back? Do I still fertilize?

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A You should be pruning back the suckers that are growing at the base of your Thunderchild flowering crabapple. Cut them down right to ground level. Letting them grow takes energy away from the main plant. Simply take a sharp pair of pruners and cut off the suckers. There is nothing that you can do to prevent this growth.

Calatheas prefer bright but indirect sunlight. Direct sun may burn the leaves. They also like to be kept moist but not wet. Stick your finger in the pot to test. If the top few cms are dry but still moist below the top layer it is time to water. Calatheas are a little fussy about the water as well. It should be at room temperature so let it stand for a bit before watering. These plants also require humidity to be happy. Place them on a pebble tray. This is a shallow tray filled with pebbles and then water is added to just below the top of the pebbles. Also, mist the plant frequently but use soft water.
Check this plant every spring to see if the roots have begun wrapping around the inside of the pot. If so, repot into a bigger pot.

Q I think that my potatoes developed potato scab this year. What can I do to prevent it in the future? Are some varieties more prone to developing scab?
A Common Scab of potatoes is a disease of bacterial origin. The symptoms may include tan to dark brown, rough-textured lesions on the tuber surface. The extent of the lesions depends on the extent of the disease. Scab is usually brought into the soil by infected tubers, and will survive indefinitely in the soil. Common scab is most severe in warm, quick-drying soils and increases through a pH range of 5.2 to 8.0.

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Scab is more of a cosmetic disease. It does not affect production. It is only the appearance of the potatoes that is affected. While it is possible to adjust the soil pH to inhibit the disease altering the pH could also change the optimum growing conditions for the potatoes and affect yields. It can also be costly to change the pH.

While eliminating scab is very difficult you can reduce its occurrence and severity in several ways:

  • try to plant scab free tubers or seeds
  • rotate the crops in the affected area for three to four years between potato crops
  • keep the potatoes well-watered during the formation of the tubers (four to six weeks after planting)
  • plant varieties that are more resistant to scab such as Norland (red) and Kennebec (white)

Q I want to work the existing cedar mulch ground cover into the soil surrounding various shrubs and tree and when that is completed add a new cedar mulch as a groundcover. My question is would cedar add detrimental effects to the existing soil? I have always used other small wood chips before (poplar, willow etc.) because they were available on the farm.
A There is some debate about the harmful effects of adding cedar chips or mulch to the soil. Some experts feel that the cedar may inhibit microbial action in the soil while others think that the cedar may inhibit plant growth. Personally, I would not work the cedar into the soil. I would simply add the new mulch on top of the existing mulch as long as the total depth of the mulch does not exceed 7.5 cm.

Every week, Growing Things Outdoors runs online at or, if you prefer an epaper format,

Learn more by emailing your questions to [email protected], reading past columns at or my book Just Ask Jerry. You can also follow me on Twitter @justaskjerry01.

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