Non-flowering plant needs "spa therapy" to bloom

QUESTION: "My hydrangea plant is healthy but has only put out one flower in last four years. Do I need a second plant to make it flower?" - Darlene
ANSWER: I guess you are thinking that you might need another plant for cross pollination in order to get your hydrangea to flower. In this case, I don't think you need a second plant. My suggestion is to wait until after it has bloomed (or should have bloomed) and then trim back the bush somewhat. Then, in the fall after leaf drop, mix one tablespoon of Epsom salts to one gallon of water and pour on the soil around the base of the plant and let it soak into the ground.
The following spring, you should repeat the process just as the leaves are starting to emerge. Regular readers know that Cheryl and I use this "plant spa treatment" to help stubborn plants bring forth more blooms. Keep in touch and let me know if it works for you.
In last week's column, I discussed some plants that will thrive in shaded areas where nothing else seems to grow. If you missed that column, you can find it at my Web site, Look for the column titled "Shade-loving groundcovers perfect for sun deprived gardens." Here's a question that my wife Cheryl answered regarding herb gardening in the shade.
QUESTION: Which herbs can I plant in fully shaded areas? I've read other sites that recommend parsley or chives for fully shaded areas. Do you agree? If not, which herb would you recommend planting in shaded areas, if any?" - Maria
ANSWER: I like to plant and play around with herbs, too. From experience, most herbs do like full sun, though some will also grow in a filtered shady area. My chives have always grown and done well in full sun. You need to be sure to not let the heads go to seed and drop or you will have chives popping up all over the place! Even though thyme generally requires sun, I have golden thyme under a wisteria covered arbor and sage has grown well there also.
Try the same herbs in sun and shade to see which ones will grow for your area. Herbs that are hard to control, such as mints, should be planted in containers or they will be growing everywhere.
Playing with plants is part of the fun and at the same time becomes a learning experience.
All of the questions in this column were originally addressed in a recent edition of my weekly e-newsletter. If you'd like a free subscription, simply send me an e-mail with your request.
QUESTION: "I have several Blue Spruces that are at least 20 to 30 feet tall. Every year they get a parasite that looks like soft brown cones that hang down from their small branches. If you know what these things are, could you advise me on how to rid the trees from these parasites? Thank you." - Jose
ANSWER: What you have there are known as bag worms. As soon as you see them appearing you will have to pull all of them off carefully, put them in a paper sack and take them away from the area to burn.
At least twice each season you will have to spray the trees and the ground under and around them with an insecticide such as malathion in order to keep your spruces free of bag worms. A word of caution: be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after spraying and leave any boots or clothing outdoors that might have been sprayed. Malathion has a low human toxicity but if it enters an indoor environment, it can break down into malaoxon which can be quite poisonous to animals and humans. You will eventually reduce the bag worm population, but I'm afraid they are here to stay.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit
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