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Garden Q&A

Decaying leaves make good mulch

Published May 12, 2007


Q: My camphor tree has dropped an enormous amount of leaves this year. Can I use them as mulch as I do oak leaves? Also, can you recommend a substitute for menhaden fish meal?

A: I have used camphor and other leaves for many years with no ill effects. Decaying leaves are an excellent, free way to add organic matter to our sandy soil.

Menhaden fish meal is a uniquely desirable source of all plant nutrients in balanced amounts and in slow-release form. Any feed store supplied by the Manna Pro Corp. can order it.

Some plants like coffee grounds

Q: I have heard that coffee grounds are good for plants. Which plants benefit?

A: Coffee grounds are often coveted by growers of acid-loving plants such as gardenias, azaleas and ixora and Irish potatoes. They are also a good source of organic matter for our sandy soil and compost piles. Coffee shops are often happy to give you free grounds.

Climbing roses grow well

Q: I live in south Cape Coral. I have a rose garden approximately 20 by 30 feet with 30 bushes on the north side of the house. I have been planting bushes from the fortuniana grafted roots. The bushes you mentioned in your April 14 article aren't grafted. The climbers: Climbing Old Blush, Climbing Cramoisi Superieur, Cherokee Rose, Francois Juranville, Leontine Gervais, Mermaid and Crepuscule. I have had little luck with any climbers. Would any of those climbers do well down here? Where can I find them?

You mention several fertilizers like fish meal, alfalfa pellets and Mills Magic rose mix. Where can I find them?

A: Those climbers do very well for me on their own roots, long term. Prepare yourself for extreme vigor, though! A good source of those roses is Antique Rose Emporium: toll-free 1-800-441-0002,

Mills Magic Rose Mix is available online at or at toll-free 1-800-845-2325. Local feed stores supplied by the Manna Pro Corp. can order alfalfa pellets, menhaden fish meal or Calf Manna. Sunniland dolomitic limestone and Palm 8-6-6 fertilizer (great for roses) can be found at Lowe's and other garden shops.

Wanted: tomato varieties

Q: You recently mentioned two heirloom tomatoes, Brandywine and Black Russian. Where can I find the plants?

A: Brandywine used to be a rare heirloom, but now I see it often on ordinary seed displays. I grow my tomatoes in fall and winter to avoid the humid heat.

An excellent source of both varieties and many other rare and exotic tomatoes is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Call (417) 924-8917 or visit

John A. Starnes Jr., born in Key West, is an avid organic gardener and rosarian who studies, collects, cultivates and hybridizes roses for Florida. He can be reached at

[Last modified May 11, 2007, 12:48:45]

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