Dear Problem Lady – September 2017


What do you know about using milk as a fertilizer, specifically on tomato plants? My neighbor insists that milk is a good fertilizer. He pours it around the base of his excellent tomatoes.
Horticulturally speaking, the amino acids, proteins, enzymes, and sugars in milk are the same ingredients that feed healthy communities of microbes, fungi, and beneficial bacteria in garden soil, once composted – as do composted fruits, vegetables, plant waste, manure, wood chips. How much good will milk by itself do? Relative in volume to organic fertilizer, milk is super expensive and, when decomposed, very low in necessary nutrients such as nitrogen. It lives on only in folk myth.

We saw a beautiful small tree that has delicate flowers with a heavenly scent. Best of all, it blooms in September, which greatly appeals to our garden’s needs. It also has exfoliating bark, like that of the crape myrtle, and shiny, slender, dark green leaves. Can you identify it from this photo?
This little gem is called a seven sons tree (Zones 5-9). It needs full sun. The name comes from its profuse but delicate white flowers in groups of seven, inside a whorl. The Latin name is Heptacodium miconioides, and it grows to a height of 10 to 15 feet tall, with a canopy spread of 10 feet.

I may have gotten a little rash on my hands and arms from trying to reduce the size of a giant fleece flower that we planted this past May. The problem is not the rash so much as the size of the thing. Don’t get me wrong – this fleece flower is stunning – a great white whale of a focal point. All eyes gravitate to it immediately. But will I survive?
Of course you will, just wear gloves. Fleece flower (Persicaria polymorpha) is hard to keep small. It stars in a garden like a shrub, getting taller and taller as it blooms all summer long. But it is actually an herbaceous perennial that dies back completely to the ground by the end of autumn. Next year, starting from nothing, it will again rise up and reign triumphant. It is not invasive, just big and a fast grower. 

When should I plant the bulbs for foxtail lilies?
Now – in August. These phallic-shaped, stunning seven-foot wonders come in myriad lovely colors, but the Problem Lady prefers white. Naturally they will dominate, and are best at the back of a bed, yet in full sun and with excellent drainage.


The next public meeting of the Capitol Hill Garden Club occurs Sept. 12 at the Northeast Public Library, corner of Maryland Avenue and Seventh Street NE. Meetings start at 7 p.m. and are free and open to all. Membership details: