Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 20 years experience in radio, television, print
DEAR JESSICA: Please share any information you have on the angel's trumpet plant and vine. My neighbor had some huge, beautiful ones and gave me seeds a few years ago. With little effort I grew a gigantic plant that became so invasive that I chopped it down and pulled it out of the ground at the end of the season, despite its beauty!
I planned on getting another and planting it in a different location, in a spot where I could get to it to prune more often and a spot where it wouldn't kill off its surrounding plants. I recall reading an article in Newsday last year about the hazards of the angel's trumpet and that it was not only poisonous (flowers, stems, leaves and roots) but was being used as a method of getting high. Before I get further into my plot plans for this season, can you tell me more? -- Rosemary Speciale, Islandia
DEAR ROSEMARY: The common name angel's trumpet has been used to describe both Brugmansia and Datura plants. Relatives of the tomato, both are tropical plants with hairy leaves and large, fragrant, funnel-shaped blooms.
Datura flowers, however, point upward; Brugmansia's hang down. Datura is an annual with herbaceous stems that is often seen in the wild and can grow to about 8 feet; Brugmansia is a perennial woody plant (treated as an annual in New York) that is often cultivated and can reach 24 feet tall under ideal conditions.
Both plants are poisonous and can be fatal if ingested, as they contain belladonna alkaloids. Skin contact with plant sap can cause an instant rash, and inhaling fumes from cut stems can result in a host of ills, including headaches, nausea, vision disturbances, rapid heartbeat and weakness. These toxic properties can threaten pets and wildlife as well as humans. In short, angel's trumpet is a devil of a plant.
Because of the size and rapid growth you described, I suspect the seeds you planted were Brugmansia, and you are correct: it is sometimes abused for its hallucinogenic effect. It has even been banned in some communities. The plant is a heavy feeder, requiring frequent applications of fertilizer to bloom prolifically, and needs a fair amount of water. To avoid runaway plants, you might consider restricting it to a container.
Making apple trees fruitful
DEAR JESSICA: When I moved into my home in Bellerose some 30 years ago, there was a beautiful 30-foot-tall apple tree in the backyard. I never took care of it, but it produced a lot of apples, most of which contained a rotten spot. The tree developed a fungus at the base of the trunk, and the guy who cuts the grass said the tree had been sick for a while and that it could fall on the house. I would have liked to save it but we had to cut it down.
I removed as much of the stump and root as possible and planted a dwarf apple tree in the same spot four years ago. I have been taking care of it, trimming it every year and making Orchard anti-fungus applications weekly. But it still has not successfully produced fruit. The tree flowers, but apples fall prematurely -- and they all have spots. -- Pedro Sanchez, Bellerose
DEAR PEDRO: Oftentimes, fruit trees will drop immature fruit as a means of reducing a too-heavy fruit load. Lack of pollination as well as some environmental conditions also can induce fruit drop. But you report rotted and spotted fruit, so normal fruit drop does not appear to be the case.
Fruit trees can be susceptible to a host of insect and disease attacks, and those experiencing problems should be treated regularly throughout the growing season with fungicides and insecticides, following package directions. Both are available in synthetic and organic forms.
Good sanitation is imperative to avoid spreading diseases, some of which can overwinter in the soil and infect new growth (or other plants in the area, such as your new tree) the following year. Be vigilant about cleaning up fallen fruit and leaves, and, at the end of the season, remove any unhealthy-looking fruit from the tree. In addition, I recommend you spray the tree (branches and truck) with dormant oil in late February or early March on a day when the temperature is above 40 degrees and no rain is in the forecast.
Rosemary will grow, but it doesn't like cold
DEAR JESSICA: As a wannabe farmer with a 30-by-16-foot vegetable garden in my yard, I find your info and tips useful, especially at this time of year when excitement begins to build for the upcoming season. My question: Is it a certain kind of rosemary that we grow here? Most of the seed catalogs I get don't recommend rosemary for zones above 6; I think we're in Zone 7. I grow upward of a dozen crops every year: basil, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, string beans, edamame, carrots and a few others, and would like to add rosemary to the mix, either in the garden or in a pot, if possible. -- Thomas Kane, Rockville Centre
DEAR THOMAS: You are correct: Rosemary isn't truly hardy here in Zone 7. We either grow it in a protected spot, mulch heavily in autumn and hope for the best (and sometimes get lucky), or bring it indoors for the winter and back out in spring. If you choose the latter, you can dig up in-ground rosemary, keep it as a houseplant during the off-season and replant it in spring, or keep it in a pot year-round, relocating it as the weather dictates.