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Ask Dayle

6/5/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Dayle Davis

This lavender bush has yet to turn green and most likely did not survive this past winter’s cold conditions.
Staff photo
Q: I’ve had a lavender plant for several years that has always done well. This year, it’s still brown. Do you think it’s dead since there is no green on it? I’m worried this past winter may have killed it.

A: Lavender is a lovely herb plant, but I don’t consider lavender a hardy zone 5 perennial for our area of Ohio because it simply won’t tolerate clammy clay soils and poor drainage. If winters are mild, lavender may survive nicely, but to truly grow to small shrub size, lavender likes it sunny and dry, with great sandy/gritty soil that has great drainage. It’s better to treat lavender as an annual in your garden. Still, don’t give up yet. I suggest shearing it back to its base and perhaps new sprouts may appear in a week or so. Before planting new lavender, make sure the site is in a sunny, elevated spot and amend your soil with lots of gravel, coarse sand or grit to ensure good drainage. Best of luck!


Q: There is a small tree in our front yard with branches that twist and turn. A neighbor said it is a “walking stick” tree. Can you tell me any more about it?

A: I believe you are referring to Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’, commonly known as Harry Lauder’s walking stick. It can grow to the size of a small tree, but Harry Lauder’s walking stick is considered an ornamental deciduous shrub that can grow 8 to 10 feet tall and wide. It grows well in average, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. ‘Contorta’ is a grafted shrub, which means that root suckers should be removed as soon as they appear because they won’t develop the same twisting shape as the rest of the shrub.

This shrub generates lots of winter interest in the garden because of its twisted and spiraling branches and twigs that become noticeable after fall leaf drop. Judicious pruning of crowded branches as the shrub grows and spreads will also help to accentuate the contorted form.


Q: My irises topple over from the rain or wind when the blooms are open. The whole plant seems to lift out of the ground. Is there something I can do besides staking every stem separately?

A: Iris is a perennial with stalwart flower stalks that usually hold their own against normal weather elements, although things can get a bit dicey in heavy storms. When this happens in my garden, I get out there as quickly as I can to cut the fallen flower stalks for indoor displays. Iris makes a great cut flower bouquet, with new buds opening along the stalk as the older blossoms fade.

And just like my garden, it sounds as though some of your rhizomes are planted a bit shallow if the whole plant is lifting. Try replanting the rhizomes a bit deeper in the soil to see if that help, but hold off performing this task until later in the summer.

The best time to divide and replant iris is in late July and August, when the iris begins to enter dormancy. Before digging, dividing or replanting, always cut back the fans of leaves to one-third their length. Cut in an upward angle from each side to meet at center top, ultimately creating a pointed shape of the fan.

Now carefully dig up the entire iris plant. Cut or carefully snap away all new rhizome offshoots, keeping any feeder roots intact. The main rhizome usually has become woody and run its course, so it should be discarded.

Divisions are planted using the same procedure as a new plant. Cultivate the planting site about 12 to 18 inches deep, incorporating lots of organic material. Next dig a shallow hole just deep and wide enough to fit the rhizome and its roots. The rhizome should actually sit on a small mound of soil in the hole, with its feeder roots spread out carefully over and down the side of the mound. Hold the rhizome in place with one hand as you gently push soil under and around the rhizome so that the feeder roots are underground but most of the rhizome itself actually sits just beneath the soil’s surface. It’s OK if part of the rhizome is exposed. Fill in the rest of the hole and water well. Small boulders placed on the ground in the midst of an iris planting also will offer support.

For more information, call The Ohio State University Summit County Extension Hotline Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon at 330-928-4769, ext. 3, and request Fact Sheet HYG-1240-92, “Growing Irises.”

Please note fact sheets are sent out free; there is a fee for bulletins. Many bulletins are available online at ohioline.osu.edu and can be printed from home or accessed at the public library.


Dayle Davis is a freelance writer and avid perennial gardener, with a B.A. in communications and course work in botany, geology and wildflowers. Davis is a master gardener emeritus under The Ohio State University’s Horticultural Extension. Readers can send in questions regarding lawn and garden issues, which could be featured in a future edition, as well as about the OSU Master Gardener program. Questions can be emailed to kcollins@akron.com, faxed to 330-665-9590 or sent to Leader Publications, 3075 Smith Road, Suite 204, Akron, OH 44333. Please do not send any leaves, seeds or other organic material. Inquiries about area garden clubs or groups should be sent directly to the particular organization in question.

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