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Putrid plant returns to D.C.

Saturday - 7/13/2013, 12:03am  ET

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Titan arum to bloom at U.S. Botanic Garden. (WTOP/Mike McGrath)

Stinky plant flowering

WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath

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UPDATE: Friday - 7/12/2013, 11:59 am ET

The titan arum is about to bloom. The U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory will have extended hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 14 and Monday, July 15. For more information, visit the United States Botanic Garden website.

EARLIER: Friday - 07/12/2013, 10:35 am ET

WASHINGTON - Here's a story that stinks worse than some of my bits. As I write this, the famed titan arum is predicted be currently in bloom at the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Also known as the "corpse flower" or "stinky plant" for the horrible scent it gives off to attract the flies that pollinate its flowers, this rare, unusual and amazingly huge plant native to the rain forests of Sumatra went on display Thursday, with peak bloom anticipated to occur this weekend.

But if you want to see - and perhaps smell — this amazing plant, don't delay. Once fully open, it will remain in bloom for only 24 to 48 hours, and it may be decades before it blooms again.

The last specimen to bloom at the USBG put on its stinky show in 2007.

The U.S. Botanic Garden is typically open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, but the folks there tell me that they may stay open later this weekend if that famously fetid fragrance fills the air. For the latest news, including updated photos and hours of operation, click here.

As always, admission to the USBG is free. Parking is a bear, and not a nice cuddly bear, so you are urged take the Metro or other public transport.

September is the perfect time to plant a tree

Maria in Bowie is "looking for some friendly planting advice for a Dogwood Tree."

She writes: "I want to plant a dogwood this fall, in late September, around the 22nd or so. My thinking is that this will put us past the high heat and dry period. But will that allow the tree enough time to develop a good root system for the winter?"

Your timing is absolutely perfect, Maria. Trees and shrubs planted in the fall have a much better survival rate than spring when high heat and summer stress can quickly follow the planting. And your plan allows lots of time for the roots to get settled in - pretty much just like the timing window for garlic and spring bulbs.

When you plant any tree:

  • Be sure to remove and discard any wrappings. Never put any part of a burlap covering, metal cage or plastic in the ground.

  • Plant high, not low. You want to see the top of the root flare above the surface of the soil, not a lollipop.

  • Don't improve the soil in the planting hole. If you do, the roots won't spread out beyond the hole, and the tree will be unstable.

  • Mulch the surface with an inch of compost - no wood or bark, and no other form of fertilizer.

  • Water deeply right after planting by letting a hose drip at the base of the tree for several hours. Repeat every three days for the first month or so unless we get good rains during that time.

Oh, and dogwoods do best in areas with morning sun, afternoon shade and unimpeded airflow.

Two trees walk into a bar…

Laura, down on the water in beautiful Solomons, Md., writes: "The previous owners of our house planted a weeping cherry very close to a redbud. Probably not a problem when they were still small, but the redbud is now about 25 feet tall and the cherry close to 12. Can we safely take off the largest branches of the cherry every year without killing it? And do we need to seal the cuts afterwards?"

You can safely remove as much as 25 percent of each tree if you do it at the right time of year, Laura, and that's anytime from mid-winter through early spring. Not now or in the fall. Only dead or diseased branches should be removed from any woody plant from now through January.

You should never seal your pruning cuts. Studies show that wound sealers don't help a tree one bit, and may even harm it.

'How much wood can a tree rat chew…'

Hami from Lorton writes: "I am a new home owner and recently noticed that some type of animal is chewing the wooden roof of a shed where I store my gardening supplies. There is a tree close to the shed that I believe the animal uses to make its way to the roof. How can I find out what kind of animal is eating the wood and how can I stop it?"

Well Ham, my first thought when something evil is happening in the landscape is evil squirrels, which often get into the bad habit of chewing on wood, and are, well, evil. And the nearby tree makes it even more likely. Squirrels use trees the way we use the Metro.

For now, spray the roof with a deer repellent whose active ingredient is putrescent egg solids. Then consider replacing the wood with metal, or stapling some metal animal fencing or hardware cloth over the top.

Don't adopt dogs on a whim

Karen, a professional dog trainer in Prince William County, is taking me to task for something I said in a bit on battling moles last week.

She writes: "I've been listening to your advice for years and love your spots — however, I must ask you to stop recommending that people get Jack Russell terriers to control vermin. Terriers are high-energy dogs that demand a lot of attention — not to mention a 12-to-15-year commitment. They are also diggers that will tear up that lush lawn as they do their job."

Well, let me tell you something, Karen. I hate to be corrected! And, you are 100 percent right.

Even low energy dogs require a lot of love and care and I should not be recommending that people adopt dogs so casually. As you note, there is a big commitment involved. Thanks for keeping me honest.

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