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"Plant Doctor" Tom MacCubbin

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African Iris/Dividing

Question:Last year, I planted African iris that now need dividing. What is the best way to separate the plants?

Answer:As you are about to discover, these plants have dense, interwoven rhizomes that make them difficult to separate. Pry them apart with a square-bladed spade or cut the clumps apart with a sharp knife. Form clusters with six or more leaves to replant in the garden or grow in containers until space is available in the landscape. (4/10/2005)
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African Iris/Pruning

Question: My neighbors and I have large beds of African iris. The neighbors cut their plants way back after they bloomed. Is this what you are supposed to do?

Answer: Perhaps your neighbors can explain this drastic action, but it's not standard practice. African irises usually take care of themselves, but they will develop some old leaves and flower stalks that might need selective removal from time to time.
Maybe your neighbors felt a quick pass with the hedge shears would be a good way to give the plants a fresh start. Although the plants are sure to be a little unsightly for a while, they should recover. (9/11/2005)
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Agapanthus/Florida Betony

Question: My agapanthus bulbs have become entwined with the Florida betony weed. I plan to dig them up, remove the weeds and replant. Will this eliminate the weeds?

Answer: Such a noble attempt at weed control should have good results, but Florida betony is a tough weed to beat. The problem is many of the little white storage tubers that resemble rattlesnake tails often are left behind to restart the infestation.
Perhaps the best way to approach this weed-control project is to remove the bulbs and as much of the weedy portions as possible. Then, allow the site to set for a few weeks while any remaining weed portions begin to regrow.
Treat the sprouting leaves growing from the tubers with Finale, Roundup or a similar product, and then replant your bulbs when the weeds begin to decline. (2/18/2006)
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Question: Several beautiful container-grown amaryllis plants were given to me, and they have just finished flowering. How should I treat the plants?

Answer: When the weather becomes consistently warm, move the plants outdoors to a site that gets filtered to full sun. Keep the soil moist, and feed the plantings monthly with a 20-20-20 or similar fertilizer solution. During the fall, allow the soil to dry between waterings, and stop the feedings. Normally, amaryllis gives a repeat performance one year later during the spring months. (2/5/2006)

Question: Several of the amaryllis bulbs we planted in containers have flowered. Now that the blooms are gone, can we keep them in the containers outside or do they need to be planted in the ground?

Answer: It's up to you, but containers are such a convenient way of managing amaryllis in the landscape. When they are in bloom, they can be moved to any area where you would like color. They can be displayed in the home, on the patio or among perennial plantings. Then when the blooms decline, they can be set in a less-obvious location.
Container plantings need to be kept moist during the growing season, then allowed to dry a little between waterings during fall and winter. They can be fed monthly with a general garden fertilizer or a liquid solution April through September.
The other option is to add the amaryllis bulbs to a sunny or lightly shaded area of the landscape and give the plants normal perennial plant care. Allow the bulbs to remain drier than most perennials during fall and winter; this appears to encourage spring flowering. (2/26/2006)

Question: I have about 60 amaryllis bulbs, and the new leaves appear while the old leaves are still green. Do I cut off the old leaves or leave them on?

Answer: In mild climates, amaryllis keep their leaves for a year or more. If the leaves are yellow, floppy or in the way of other plantings, they could be removed. Usually the leaves provide needed greenery that can add to the landscape plantings and is trimmed from the bulbs only as it declines or is damaged by cold. (3/11/2006)
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Amaryllis/Dividing Bulbs

Question: Our amaryllis looked great this year, but the plantings have grown quite thick. When can we share some of the bulbs with our friends?

Answer: Amaryllis don't seem to be particular about when they are divided. When the flowers fade might be as good a time as any to dig and separate the bulbs. Because the bulbs continue to grow through the summer, they should be set back in the ground as soon as possible. If needed, you can remove the tops of the leaves to make planting easier. (4/16/2006
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Amaryllis/Foliage Loss

Question: I have a number of amaryllis that had green leaves until recently, when they declined. Will they recover, and when will they flower?

Answer: All those yellow-to-brown floppy leaf portions might not look pretty, but some great color is just ahead. Each winter is a little different, and this year many amaryllis lost their leaves when damp, cooler weather arrived.
Even though you would prefer a greener look, the loss of foliage often encourages better flower displays come spring. Many gardeners already are seeing the big plump buds pushing up from among the brown leaves.
Now is a good time to remove the leaf debris and get ready for a possibly better-than-average color display. (2/11/2006)
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Amaryllis Pods

Question: I have a bed of amaryllis and have noticed a knob forming after the flowers decline. Is this a seed? If it is, can it be used to grow more plants?

Answer: Many seeds are forming in the pods at the top of the amaryllis flower stalks. They're easy to germinate, but you have to wait about three years to see the first blooms.
If you want to give it a try, wait until the pods start to crack open to collect the seeds. They are ready to sow immediately in containers or in the ground. Select sunny to lightly shaded sites. Use potting soil in containers and any enriched garden site for the inground sowings. Scatter the seeds about an inch apart, and cover lightly with soil.
Keep the soil moist, and germination should occur within a few weeks. When the new amaryllis are 4 to 6 inches tall, they can be transplanted to individual containers or left in the garden until fall when they can be spaced out several inches apart to grow and flower. (5/21/2006)
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Question: I have some amaryllis that I want to move. Do I move them after they finish their spring bloom?

Answer: Gardeners seem to be successful moving amaryllis at any time of the year. If you could pick the best time, it probably would be around October or November when the growth slows and the bulbs begin the flowering process. Some research suggests digging the bulbs at this time helps them mature to encourage blooms during late winter and spring. (4/3/2005)
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Angel's Trumpet

Question: I recently bought an angel's trumpet tree that is growing in a container in a sunny spot, but it's dropping leaves. What care does this plant need?

Answer: Be an angel and help keep the leaves on this plant by making sure it has adequate water. Nothing makes the angel's trumpet lose its leaves quicker than dry soil. Water when the surface soil begins to dry.
Also make sure the plant has a large enough container. If the pot is too small, it's harder to supply the water needed for good foliage growth.
A sunny spot might not be the best location for the angel's trumpet. Most seem to do best in a filtered-sun location. You also might consider adding this plant to the landscape when the weather is a bit warmer. Care should be easier if the plant is in the ground. (2/5/2006)

Question:I have seen angel's trumpets with dense foliage and lots of blooms. Mine is scraggly and has few blooms. What does it need to grow and flower?

Answer: Angel's trumpets that flower better usually receive some shade during the heat of the day. They can grow in morning sun with afternoon shade or filtered sun all day. They also need to stay moist. Water during drought, and keep in-ground plantings mulched.
Angel's trumpets are also heavy feeders. Apply a light application of a general garden fertilizer to in-ground plantings monthly April through October. Feed plants in containers every other week with a 20-20-20 or similar fertilizer solution or use a slow-release product as instructed on the label. (7/24/2005)

Question: I just received some bare-root angel's trumpet plants. How deep should they be planted, and what care do they need?

Answer: Set the plants in the ground at the point where the color of the stem changes from green to a cream color. This lighter stem portion and the stem below were growing underground and again should be covered with soil. Angel's trumpet plants like the filtered sun but can survive in brighter locations. Keep the soil moist, and maintain a 3- to 4-inch mulch over the root system. They also need frequent feedings with a general garden fertilizer. Apply the fertilizer every six to eight weeks March through November, or use one of the newer slow-release products following label instructions. (3/4/2006)
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Apple Tree

Question: We saw apple and pear trees for sale in a local garden center. How well do they grow in Florida?

Answer: These fruit trees are a challenge for Florida gardeners who usually are spoiled by the almost carefree citrus culture. Both trees need yearly pruning and often sprays to mature their crops. You can produce good quality apples and pears using a free care guide available from your local University of Florida Extension office.
Start the plantings by selecting the best varieties for Central Florida. Recommended apples include Anna, Dorsett Golden and TropicSweet. The best pears include Floridahome, Hood and Pineapple. These flower and set fruits with the limited amount of cold received during the winter in local landscapes. (5/13/2006)

Question: I would like to grow apples in Orlando and have heard there are some low-chill varieties. What should I plant?

Answer: Apples do grow in Central Florida, but get ready for a little bit of work. Start by planting one or more of the low-chill varieties that fruit with just a little winter cold. These include Anna, Ein Shemer, Dorsett Golden and TropicSweet. With good care, they should begin production in three to four years.
Care is the critical factor with apples. They need a light feeding once in January and another in June. Also keep the soil moist and control weeds growing near the trunks. Plan to prune the trees before winter flowering each year to create an open branching habit. Then the real work is the frequent spraying needed to control pests late winter through midsummer. (2/20/2005)
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Asiatic Jasmine

Question: I am planning to cover a slope with Asiatic jasmine. Can these plantings be started during the fall, and do I need to till the soil?

Answer: Fall through winter is a great time to get your new Asiatic jasmine ground cover off to a good start.
This also could be an easy project because you don't have to till most soils. Simplify the project by first controlling the grass, weeds and other unwanted growths on the slope with Roundup, Finale or other herbicide that allows replanting after the present vegetation is controlled.
If you are planting on a steep slope that could easily erode, consider adding a landscape fabric or netting with a coarse weave that would allow shoots from plants to grow to the surface.
Otherwise, you can install the jasmine anytime the unwanted vegetation on the slope turns brown.
Make the installation easy by digging a hole and planting the jasmine through the declining vegetation.
Asiatic jasmine are rapid-growing plants with underground shoots, so they can be spaced 3 or more feet apart. If you wish, add a thin layer of mulch, and this cool-weather project is finished except for normal care. (11/13/2005)

Question: I would like to establish an Asiatic jasmine ground cover. Would it grow if it were planted now, or should I wait a couple of months?

Answer: Winter is a good time to get your plants started. You might not notice a lot of aboveground growth until the warmer weather, but the plants can be busy sending new roots out into the surrounding soil. Cool-season plantings often appear much better prepared to begin growth than those added when warmer weather arrives. (2/4/2006)
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Asiatic Jasmine/Mulching

Question: We are going to plant a bed of Asiatic jasmine in a previously mulched area. Should we remove the pine-bark mulch before planting?

Answer: A thick mulch might help keep down the weeds and conserve water, but it also will restrict the Asiatic jasmine shoots that help fill in the bed. Reduce the mulch layer to about an inch and then add the jasmine plants. Shoots above and below the ground can navigate this thin mulch layer which should benefit the plants until they become established.
Asiatic jasmine plants grow vigorously during the summer. You can space the plants several feet apart and, with good care, expect them to fill the bed with foliage by fall. Keep the planting moist and feed lightly every six to eight weeks with a general garden fertilizer. (7/24/2005)

Question: I have a 2-year-old Asiatic jasmine planting that is still filling in the bare spots under my oak trees. Do I rake the leaves falling from the trees or leave them as mulch?

Answer: A light layer of leaves -- 1 to 2 inches -- can form a water-conserving mulch between the jasmine shoots. A thicker leaf layer could keep water from reaching the soil, and suffocate growths. It may be difficult to rake the excess leaves from between vining jasmine portions. How about using a blower? (6/19/2005)
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Asiatic Jasmine/Transplanting

Question: I rooted a number of Asiatic jasmine plants from cuttings. How do I know when they are ready to transplant into the landscape?

Answer: Give these plants a good start by growing them in 4-inch or larger pots until they establish a root system. When the roots start to wrap around the ball of soil, they are ready to transplant. While they are growing in the containers, keep the soil moist and feed them lightly every other week with a general garden fertilizer to encourage good root and shoot growth. (4/2/2006)
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Avocado Seed

Question: Every time I start an avocado seed in water, I forget whether the point goes up or down. Which is correct?

Answer: If the seed were planted in soil, it probably wouldn't matter if it were right side up, on its side or upside down. The roots and shoots would still somehow know how to grow. But because the seed is set over water, it's best to get the planting properly oriented.
Maybe you could picture the seed as a little space capsule with the broad bottom resting on the Earth and the pointed side looking toward the sky. This could help with future plantings. Just suspend the large but flattened bottom portion of the seed so it rests slightly in the water, and it should sprout roots and shoots in a matter of weeks. (4/15/2006)
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Avocado Tree

Question: I have a 3-year-old avocado tree that is growing as a bush. Is there some way to make it grow more skyward?

Answer: Help your tree grow sky high by selecting one dominant branch to become the central leader. Add a support to the tree trunk to keep the limb in an upright position. Then tip back any limbs that are competing with this central shoot.
Allow the tree to keep the central leader until it's about 20 feet tall. At this time, remove the top foot or two to encourage branching and a rounded growth habit. This keeps the fruits low and makes the tree easier to manage. (10/16/2005)

Question: My avocado is 6 feet tall and growing in a 5-gallon clay pot. The leaves turn brown starting at the tips and eventually fall off. What is happening to my plant?

Answer: As one college professor used to say, water is deficient. All the symptoms point to a plant that is running out of water -- most likely because the container is too small. A 6-foot avocado tree needs room for the roots to roam and lots of soil to hold a reserve of water.
You have several choices that would help restart the green leaves for your plant.
Make sure the soil in the smaller container remains constantly moist. This could take waterings several times a day.
Give the plant a larger container.
Find an in-ground home in a warmer portion of the landscape. (2/26/2006)
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Avocado Tree/Ringing

Question: An avocado tree I raised from seed is about 10 feet tall but has not produced fruit. I have been told to cut around the trunk to make it bear fruit, but this sounds absurd to me. What should I do?

Answer: As unreasonable as it might sound, ringing trees and vines has been used to encourage fruiting, but it also makes wounds that might become infected. The idea is to prevent foods manufactured by the leaves from moving down the trunk to the roots. In some cases this seems to fool the plants into thinking they are ready to begin fruit production.
Ringing or other trunk-damaging techniques are usually not used in home fruit production and might be risky if you have only one tree. Perhaps it's better to wait a year or two more until your tree is mature enough to bear fruits on its own without the trickery. (11/6/2005)
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Question: I have some large old azaleas that are starting to deteriorate and become covered with moss. What can I put on them to restore them to health?

Answer: It would be nice if a single treatment could restore the health of old azaleas, but there is usually a little more work to do. Start by removing any dead or declining limbs. Then cut some of the oldest shoots back to the ground to allow vigorous sprouts room to grow. One treatment you could apply at this time is a natural copper fungicide to prevent diseases from entering the cut portions.
Continue the rejuvenation by checking the soil acidity and adjusting to an acid pH in the 4.5 to 5.5 range as needed. Establish a 3- to 4-inch mulch layer over the root system, and keep the soil moist. Also, feed with a general garden fertilizer once monthly in June, August and October. (5/15/2005)
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Azalea/Lace Bug

Question: All of a sudden, my beautiful Formosa azaleas are getting dark spots on the leaves, which also have a white look to them. My neighbor said it is a fungus. I've treated the plants, but they still look bad. Now what?

Answer: Give your neighbor at least half-credit. The dark spots are likely the cercospora leaf spot fungus that often shows up to mar the foliage after a hot and moist summer. When you see the spots, it's usually too late to stop much of the damage. Perhaps you can anticipate the fungus infestation next year and make the fungicide application in August or early September to prevent the return.
The white to yellowish appearance to the leaves is caused by lacebugs. Turn the leaves over, and if you see dark spots on the undersides of the leaves, it's likely the insects sucking juices from the foliage. These pests can be controlled with an oil spray or an insecticide that contains Merit or one of the new synthetic pyrethroids available from your garden center. (12/4/2005)

Question: My beautiful azaleas have suddenly become a mess. The tops of the leaves have a speckled yellowish look. What should I do?

Answer: A speckled azalea may make an interesting new variety, but not if it's caused by an infestation of lace bugs. It's hard to find an azalea planting without some of these pests sucking the juices out of the leaves to produce the small yellow dots.
Your letter went on to mention the brown spots on the bottom of the leaves -- another sure sign of lace bugs. This coating is a combination of excreta and egg masses that's waiting to produce the next generation.
One good natural control is an oil spray available from your local garden center. This acts as a contact insecticide so you have to do a good job of hitting the undersides of the leaves and the stems. Another control is the systemic insecticide Merit. This can be found in the Bayer Tree and Shrub Insecticide that is applied as a drench to the soil surface; follow label instructions. (5/21/2006)
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Question: We trimmed back the azaleas after they flowered. The leaves that are on the plants have a gray-green color. What is causing this discoloration?

Answer: Most likely lacewings are feeding on the foliage. Turn over some of the leaves and look for brown spots about half the size of a pinhead on the lower portions. You also might see some of the adult insects with lacelike wings.
A control is needed to allow the azaleas to regrow green leaves. If there is evidence of lacewings, use a natural oil spray to obtain control. You may need to apply the spray several times as instructed on the label to reduce the population significantly.
Another synthetic insecticide control is Merit. It is found at garden centers under the Bayer label as a tree-and-shrub insecticide to apply on the soil under the plantings. (7/3/2005)
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Azalea/Leaf Spot

Question: All of a sudden, my beautiful Formosa azaleas are getting dark spots on the leaves, which also have a white look to them. My neighbor said it is a fungus. I've treated the plants, but they still look bad. Now what?

Answer: Give your neighbor at least half-credit. The dark spots are likely the cercospora leaf spot fungus that often shows up to mar the foliage after a hot and moist summer. When you see the spots, it's usually too late to stop much of the damage. Perhaps you can anticipate the fungus infestation next year and make the fungicide application in August or early September to prevent the return.
The white to yellowish appearance to the leaves is caused by lacebugs. Turn the leaves over, and if you see dark spots on the undersides of the leaves, it's likely the insects sucking juices from the foliage. These pests can be controlled with an oil spray or an insecticide that contains Merit or one of the new synthetic pyrethroids available from your garden center. (12/4/2005)

Question: My azalea bush has black spots all over the foliage. What should I use to obtain control?

Answer: A little spring growth might help hide the blemishes produced by cercospora leaf spot, a common fungus that attacks the azalea foliage during summer and fall. By spring, the plants should be changing out their foliage and producing new leaf growth that makes them look a lot better.
If needed, a fungicide could be applied, but you might save the treatments for later in the year when the much-smaller blemishes are first noted. (4/16/2006)
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Question: I have not fertilized or trimmed my azaleas. Is it too late to care for these plantings?

Answer: Resume your good-care program with a fall feeding during November.
If you know the soil in the planting site is acidic, you can use any general garden fertilizer; otherwise, it's best to select an azalea-type product.
Major pruning time ended several months ago, but you can still remove some out-of-bounds shoots. If you trim any more, you likely would remove the buds that produce blooms late winter through spring. Pruning should be completed as soon as possible after flowering and before the end of June. (11/13/2005)

Question: Our azalea plants have grown a few extra-long shoots. Can I remove these stems without affecting the blooms for next spring?

Answer: Such shoots seldom set buds for spring bloom during the first year of growth. You can remove these shoots without worrying about affecting next year's colorful displays. (8/14/2005)

Question: My clump of azaleas is more than 30 years old, has never been pruned and now stands 12 to 13 feet high. Will a severe pruning kill them?

Answer: Not pruning these tall, aged azaleas is more likely to cause their decline than a good trimming. Older azaleas are normally full of declining shoots that allow fungal organisms to enter the lower stems and destroy the shrubs. Enjoy the late-winter color and then begin the rejuvenation prunings as the flowers fade.
Start by eliminating declining shoots and then remove up to one-third of the older main stems back to the ground. Thin remaining weak, twiggy portions, and then cut the plants back a few feet below the desired height. Complete the pruning by applying a copper-containing fungicide to prevent fungal organisms from entering the wounds. (2/19/2006)

Question: My azaleas have just finished blooming. Should I prune them now or wait until June or July?

Answer: Anytime between now and the end of June would be a good time to trim azaleas. Perhaps sooner is better so you will not be wasting the plant's time producing a lot of new growths that might be pruned in a month or two.
Remove the dead or declining stems first. Then trim out some of the older wood to near the ground to make room for vigorous shoots. Complete the pruning by removing shoots that may be out of bounds or must be removed to develop more compact plants. (3/13/2005)
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Question: I have azalea bushes that, when in bloom, are beautiful, but otherwise they look scraggly. The leaves are sparse and light green. How can I make them greener and fuller?

Answer: Start the revival by checking the soil acidity. Azaleas are only at their best when the soil pH is within the 4.5 to 5.5 range, which is quite acid. Many soils have a higher than desirable soil pH and benefit from the addition of soil or agricultural sulfur as determined by an acidity test.
Next, make sure the planting remains moist with waterings up to two times a week during the hot, dry weather. Also, maintain a 3- to 4-inch mulch layer over the roots. Feed azaleas once monthly in April, June and August with a general garden fertilizer or an azalea product found at local garden centers.
Once the plants resume good growth, encourage branching and additional foliage by pinching out the tips of the shoots. This can be continued through the end of June. Also, azaleas prefer filtered-sun locations; often, plants growing in full sun are naturally a yellow-green color. (5/8/2005)
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Question: Three weeks ago, I transplanted 12 azaleas from containers and now notice some of the leaves are turning yellow even though I water them every other day. What should I do?

Answer: Some yellow leaves are normal on all azaleas at this time of the year, but this planting also might have dry soil. Even though you seem to be providing adequate water, dig down and check the root balls. Pull a portion of the root ball apart, and reach inside to feel the soil. Often, water runs around the outside of the root balls, and the plants are left too dry. This results in the yellow leaves.
If the root balls are dry, build a berm of soil around the outer edges of each to capture the water and direct it down through the root systems. Then begin watering by hand for a few weeks before returning to watering every two to three days. (1/22/06)
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Bahia/Iron Deficiency

Question: I have bahia grass and have noticed big patches with a lime-green color. What can this be, and what should I do?

Answer: Let's hope all you have is an iron deficiency, but you need to check to be sure. First walk across the affected areas. If the soil is soft to loose, there likely are mole crickets causing the decline.
Also dig up a section of the affected sod about 1-foot-square and look for white grubs. If either of these pests are present in the root zone, they likely are chewing the roots to cause the yellow-green look. Mole crickets and grubs can be controlled with insecticides found at your garden center.
When you have eliminated the possibility of insect pests, an iron deficiency is most likely the problem. This is easily cured with an iron-only product available from your garden center. Keep the soil moist and delay additional fall feedings until the lawn regreens from the iron treatment. (10/16/2005)
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Question: I think my bahia lawn is being taken over by clover that has three leaves and a small yellow flower. What can I do?

Answer: It may look somewhat like clover, but chances are your weed is an oxalis known as yellow woodsorrel. Both weeds are controlled in bahia lawns with a herbicide that contains 2,4-D, Dicamba and MCPP or similar ingredients.
Obtain the best control by following the label instructions carefully. Probably the liquid formulations are best and can be uniformly misted over the foliage of the weeds and grass. (4/24/2005)
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Question: Our bahia lawn is shot, and we are about to resod. The old sod and weeds will be killed with Roundup before we resod. One company says it will lay the new grass over the old sod, and another company says the ground should be tilled first. What is best?

Answer: Some companies lay sod over the debris, but it's risky and meets with varying degrees of success. If you are investing in a new lawn, why not spend a little more time preparing the soil properly to ensure good rooting and survival?
The University of Florida Extension suggests you prepare the site by the numbers.
1: Remove the weeds and associated debris.
2: Till the soil 4 or more inches deep.
3: Obtain at least a soil acidity test, and adjust the pH of the site if needed. Then you can wet the ground and lay your sod to establish a new lawn. (4/3/2005)
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Question: A light green grasslike growth is flourishing in my St. Augustine and bahia lawns. It forms tufts with small green balls on top. Is this a weed or just a strange Florida grass?

Answer: It looks so good that many consider this upright, shiny and vigorous growth part of their lawn. Others more appropriately call this sedge and consider it a weed.
Your fine specimens are commonly known as green kyllinga which grows from underground runners to fill in among the grass blades.
Sedge grows best when there is excessive moisture.
Its growth is often a sign of overwatering.
Sedge also flourishes in landscapes because of summer rains. It might even be considered a substitute ground cover, except it dies back during the winter months to expose bare ground.
If you don't like this green mingling with your turf, several controls are available at local garden centers.
Herbicides that selectively remove sedge from Florida lawns include Basagran, Image and SedgeHammer.
Make sure your lawn type is listed on the label and follow the directions carefully. (5/20/2006)
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Question: Last year's hurricanes turned a shady spot into a sunny area that has now grown weeds. We would like to seed the area with bahia grass. Is there still time?

Answer: Yes, but hurry. Bahia grass grows more slowly during the fall. Seed within the next few weeks to take advantage of the warmer weather and lingering rainy season.
Control the weeds with Roundup, Finale or a similar herbicide that allows replanting after the weeds decline. Rake out the debris and loosen the soil. Then sow the bahia seed. Either rake it into the upper half inch of soil or cover it with a light scattering of topsoil. Keep the planting site moist, and you should have a bahia lawn for fall. (9/11/2005)

Question: My yard is mainly weeds and bare spots. I plan to seed the area with bahia grass. Should I till the ground first?

Answer: Gardeners wish that merely tossing out bahia gass seed would guarantee a great lawn. Perhaps many have been spoiled by the fall ryegrass sowings that grow a green lawn with just water and fertilizer. Establishing a bahia lawn is going to be more like work.
Your bahia sowings need a weed-free, prepared planting site. Control the weeds with a nonselective herbicide such as Roundup or Finale, and when the weeds and old grass decline, rake out the debris. Till the soil and lightly apply a general garden fertilizer. Then and only then is the ground ready for planting.
Scatter the bahia grass seed over the soil and rake it in a quarter- to a half-inch deep. Then keep the soil moist
The seedlings should start to appear in 14 to 21 days and need waterings whenever the surface soil begins to dry. Apply fertilizer again in six to eight weeks to help the grass grow a dense lawn. (3/26/2006)

Question: We are going to start a lawn and would like to grow bahia. How is this done from seed?

Answer: First, eliminate the weeds. An application of Roundup, Finale or similar herbicide that allows planting after use should give the needed weed control. After the weeds turn brown, rake or till the ground to loosen the soil and remove the debris.
Scatter a light layer of a general garden fertilizer over the ground and work it into the upper inch or two of soil. Then sow the bahia seed, and rake it into the ground up to a half-inch deep. Keep the soil moist. The seed should germinate within 21 days.
Encourage seedling growth by watering when the surface soil begins to dry. The soil must remain moist until the new turf establishes an extensive root system. Gradually reduce the waterings to no more than twice a week.
Apply a lawn fertilizer one month after the seedings begin growth. Additional fertilizer can be applied lightly throughout the summer. The lawn likely will not be well-established until fall when normal bahia care can begin. (6/19/2005)

Question: We put down Argentine bahia grass seed three weeks ago and have not seen a blade of grass, even though it was planted properly and kept moist. What could be wrong?

Answer: Let's hope it was just the cooler days during March that delayed the germination. By now, if the seed is going to come up, you should be seeing some little green shoots. Bahia needs warmer weather to grow best. Just keep the soil moist, and keep your fingers crossed. Growing a lawn from seed is not as easy as it sounds. (4/16/2006)
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Bahia/Stinging Nettles

Question: I have stinging nettles in my bahia lawn. How can I control these weeds and keep them out of the grass?

Answer: Several weeds often are referred to as stinging or burning nettles, which can make going barefoot a painful experience. Luckily, most liquid herbicides made for use in bahia lawns can get them under control.
Select a product that's recommended for broadleaf weeds. Then apply as instructed on the label for bahia turf.
Note that the label gives the amount to mix with water and the area that should be covered with the spray. Failure to apply the proper amount often allows the weeds to survive the treatments. (2/11/2006)
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Bald Cypress

Question: We lost the trees the builder planted in a damp area of our yard. What trees grow in wet areas?

Answer: Most trees don't like wet feet, but a few do grow in swampy areas and might flourish in these problem spots. One that's often found in boggy sites but also grows in dry areas is bald cypress, a deciduous but evergreen-looking tree with attractive fernlike foliage during the warmer months. This native tree grows to 80 feet tall and half as wide.
Another native tree for the wet area is loblolly bay growing to 40 feet tall and 15 feet wide. This is a true evergreen with a dark-green, broad leaf. The tree comes with a bonus of white blooms for the summer season.
Trees that could survive on the edge of the wet spots include dogwood, dahoon holly, red maple, river birch and Southern magnolia. Each needs well-drained soil to begin growth before sending out roots into the wetter zones. (1/8/2006)
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Question: About six weeks ago the banana tree in my backyard started to produce its first stalk of bananas. When will I see edible fruits?

Answer: We will keep our fingers crossed, but this quest for a first harvest is almost sure to have an unhappy ending. Bananas that begin the fruiting process during the fall months seldom mature their fruits because of the cold winter weather.
The foliage usually turns yellow, which stops good fruit production, when temperatures dip into the lower 40s; this occurs most years. At 32 degrees, the plant foliage burns back or freezes. Even if the banana fruits make it through the winter, they usually have a cardboard texture and taste when they turn yellow. Perhaps next time your plants will start flowering by early summer so the fruit can ripen under warmer conditions in about five months. (10/30/2005)

Question: My 7-year-old son and I planted a banana tree about two years ago that finally produced a bunch of bananas. When are they going to be ripe?

Answer: Keep your eyes on the first hand of bananas that formed. When it starts to turn yellow, it is time to harvest the entire stalk and hang it in a shady spot to finish ripening. Remove the individual bananas as they turn yellow, typically over a period of a week or two.
During the warmer months, bananas are ready to eat in about five months after flowering. (8/21/2005)

Question: A friend gave me a banana tree, which quickly grew three shoots. When will I get enough fruits to stop buying bananas?

Answer: Better stay friends with your produce manager; local banana plantings hardly ever produce more than a few weeks' supply of fruits a year. In fact, some home plants are enjoyed more for their ornamental foliage than for an edible crop.
During most winters, banana plantings are damaged by cold before they can become mature enough to produce yellow hands of fruits. Even temperatures just below 40 are enough to make leaves turn yellow and halt good production. Many plants grow well during the warmer months only to flower during fall, which is too late to produce tasty fruits during the colder weather ahead.
Gardeners are most successful with bananas after a mild winter where the plants survive and flower by early summer. The plantings are also more reliable when established in warmer locations on the south sides of lakes or between buildings within cities. 2/26/2006
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Bean Seedlings

Question: I started bean seedlings indoors in containers a month ago and put them outside recently on a south-facing patio. The plants lack vigor, and the leaves are turning from smooth green to dry and brown. What went wrong?

Answer: Outdoor life can be a shock to plants that have been started inside the home. The monthlong stay indoors allowed the plants to develop thin leaves that have been burnt by the much higher sunlight levels on the patio. Restart a planting of beans in the same containers but outdoors, and they should grow durable, sunproof foliage. (2/25/2006)
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Benjamin Fig/Thrips

Question: The leaves on my Benjamin fig are curling up and look distorted. Inside the curled leaves are tiny black bugs. Is there a pesticide I can use to prevent this damage?

Answer: Benjamin figs have become the home for thrips. These are tiny insects usually brown to black when mature. They are about the diameter of a sewing thread and about a millimeter long. Thrips feed by rasping and sucking the juices from the leaves. When feeding on the figs, they also cause the leaves to curl. Usually you have to unfold the leaves to find the thrips inside.
Thrips can be controlled with a natural oil or soap spray. The trick is to hit them with the spray as they are usually well-concealed within the leaves. Controlling this pest may be the job for one of the more residual synthetic products available at your garden center that can affect the insects as they move about or feed. (8/28/2005)
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Bermuda Grass/Invading St. Augustine

Question: I have a patch of Bermuda grass in my St. Augustine lawn. Is there a way to get rid of it?

Answer: If it's green, mow it; otherwise, you will have to kill the entire patch of lawn to eliminate the Bermuda grass. All herbicides available to home gardeners treat Bermuda grass and St. Augustine alike. But, if you don't mind a little brown for a few weeks, spot-kill the patch with Roundup, Finale or a similar product and then resod with fresh, weed-free turf. (5/29/2005)
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Bird of Paradise/Flowering

Question: A friend gave me two container-grown bird of paradise plants that I added to the landscape six months ago. My friend said they never bloomed, and they have not produced a blossom for me either. Is there a secret to getting the plants to flower?

Answer: Some things just take time, and bringing a bird of paradise into flower is one of them. First, make sure the plants have a sunny site. They need about three years to become established in a new location and to get into the flowering mode.
You can help by keeping the soil moist and feeding the plants lightly every six to eight weeks for the first two years with a general garden fertilizer during the warmer months.
At year three, put the plants on a leaner diet. Don't let the plants continue to enjoy the good life, or they might grow foliage forever. Restrict waterings to the dry times, but maintain a 3- to 4-inch mulch over the root system. Also, keep feedings to once monthly in March, June and September using a low-nitrogen, blossom-boosting product. The plants should get the idea and soon start to pop out the flowers you are waiting to enjoy. (11/27/2005)

Question: We have a bird of paradise that has not bloomed for several years. It gets the afternoon sun. What can I do to encourage flowers?

Answer: It's not what you do but what you don't do to bring bird of paradise plants into bloom. If the plants are healthy and growing well, put them on a lean diet to encourage flowering.
These plants can take advantage of too much of a good thing. Keep waterings to only the dry times and reduce feedings to light fertilizer applications two or three times a year. The plants should soon get the message and pop out the blooms. (4/23/2006)

Question: I moved to Orlando about 6 months ago and brought an older bird of paradise plant with me that has been growing in a container. It has not flowered for several years, looks weak and the leaves are curling inward. What should I do?

Answer: Perhaps your bird of paradise needs a new home. Remove the plant from its container, and check the root system. All symptoms point to a rotting or pot-bound plant.
Perhaps the best treatment is to remove some of the old soil from around the roots and give the plant a larger container only if needed. Replace the soil, and give the freshly potted plant a filtered-sun location in which to recover. Keep the soil moist, and feed monthly with a liquid-fertilizer solution. As it begins to recover, the plant can be moved gradually to a sunny location where it flowers best. (5/6/2006)
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Bird of Paradise/Pruning

Question: I have a 6-foot-tall bird of paradise in front of my house that blooms fine, but its leaves and stems are interfering with other plants. Can I cut it back? If so, when?

Answer: Pruning probably won't be the answer to your out-of-bounds problem. Bird of paradise plants are naturally tall- and wide-growing plants. You can cut off a few leaves if you wish, but the plant usually responds with another flush of tall- and wide-growing shoots. Perhaps the best answer is either to divide the plant or move it to a location where it has additional room to grow. (1/8/2006)

Question: A bird of paradise is growing in front of our window, and I don't want it to get too tall. Because the plants produce stalks from the ground, what is the best way to prune?

Answer: Just for a while, you probably can remove the leaves that peek up over the windowsill. But as you have noticed, the growth of the bird of paradise is different from many plants; the leaves, stems and flowers come from one shoot from the ground. If you cut the shoots back too far, you remove the leaf and flower buds too.
Soon you likely will have to remove some of the taller shoots. This might not be bad as it opens up growing space and allows new vigorous stems to arise from the base of the plants. But, if possible, keep the thinning to a few stems. The growths need time to mature before they begin flowering. (3/19/2006
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Bird of Paradise/Yellowing

Question: We moved our white bird of paradise a few months ago, and now it appears to be in shock with yellowing leaves. Should we remove the declining leaves, and does it need anything besides water?

Answer: All leaves, including the yellow ones, can manufacture food needed for growth. Allow the leaves to remain on the plant until new green ones start to appear.
Also, after several months of growth in the new site, your plant is ready for a feeding. A light application of a general garden fertilizer is all that is needed. Repeat the application every six to eight weeks through fall. (8/21/2005
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Blue Lake Grapevine

Question: I have a Blue Lake grapevine growing on a trellis. Should I prune this vine? If so, when and how?

Answer: Rein in the plants to obtain good growth and fruits with a mid- to late-winter pruning. Blue Lake is a type of bunch grape, and the vines are renewed each year. Save four to six of the best shoots from last year, and use these as the main vine portions to keep on the trellis. Remove all other vine portions. Contact your local University of Florida Extension office to obtain a free bulletin on bunch-grape care. (11/20/2005)
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Question: We produced our first garden this year and need to know when to harvest the broccoli. The head is several inches in diameter. Is it ready to eat?

Answer: Selecting the broccoli at just the right time is a guessing game. You don't want to cut the clusters of buds, commonly referred to as a head, too soon because they will be small and soft. Then again, you don't want it to burst into bloom either.
If the plants are big and healthy, the head of broccoli should grow to about 6 inches in diameter before it is removed. If you see yellow flowers starting to open, you have waited too long. Even at this stage, though, the head should be cut and cooked. It will still be quite tasty. (1/8/2006)
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Bromeliad/Container Gardening

Question: How can I grow bromeliads in an air-conditioned apartment? I have a large pot of them, but little by little, they are dying.

Answer: Move the container of bromeliads away from the air-conditioned breezes and to a bright location but out of direct sun. If the plants have central cups of foliage, keep them full of water. Also, try to raise the humidity a little near the plants by setting the containers on a tray of moist pebbles. Otherwise, bromeliads need minimal care.
Touch the soil in the container, and when it feels dry, it's time to water. Moisten the soil until water begins to run from the bottom. You can just about skip feedings in the home. Once or twice a year, mix a 20-20-20 or similar product at a quarter of the normal strength. Use it at a watering and allow just a little to enter the central cups as you also wet the soil with the solution. (10/9/2005)
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Bromeliad/Sunny Location

Question: I would like to grow bromeliads in sunny locations. I have heard those with a few thorns on their leaves grow best. What should I plant?

Answer: After the hurricanes, many trees had to be eliminated, and residents soon discovered most bromeliads need a shady site. Just a few can survive full-sun locations, but it's doubtful you can use the thorns of the leaves as a guide. Bromeliads that need shade also often have thorns or spiny projections along their leaves.
One of the thorniest that loves the sun is called pinguin, a member of the genus Bromelia. It forms an impermeable plant growing to 3 feet tall and wide that eventually develops a bright red inflorescence. It resembles the pineapple plant, which is another sunny-site survivor that often has spines along the leaves. Pineapples produce fruit best when grown in full sun.
Other bromeliads that prefer the sun but are not seen as often in home gardens because of their cold sensitivity are dyckias. These, too, are full of spines and might be grown in containers, which can be moved indoors during winter. They form rosettes of foliage with dark green leaves. (4/30/2006)
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Butterfly Bush/Pruning

Question: My butterfly bush made it through the winter, but it has many brown to black shoots. Can I prune them? If so, when?

Answer: Don't delay any longer. Cut the dead or declining shoots back an inch or two into healthy stems. Then reshape the plant as needed. (4/29/2006)
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Butterfly Gardening

Question: I have a small space and would like to attract butterflies. Could I grow plants in containers? What types?

Answer: Butterflies would be just as happy to visit a container planting as a big bed of color. You could plant a single species of a flower in each container or create a wildflower collection in a large planter.
Bright-colored blooms are always a temptation for butterflies. Plants that are reliable butterfly attractants include butterfly weed, coneflowers, coreopsis, gaillardia, lantana, pentas, phlox, Stokes aster and whirling butterflies. Consider clustering several of these in one large container to accent the patio. (4/10/2005)
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Question: I have never heard of caladiums flowering, but my sister in California say she has some with blooms. Do they flower locally?

Answer: Most local caladiums produce as many flowers as their West Coast relatives, but they are often hard to see because the more colorful foliage overshadows them. What is commonly called a flower is an inflorescence.
It has a cream-colored hood that conceals the real flower portions. The inflorescence is usually produced after caladiums grow a number of leaves, which can make it hard to see. (11/13/2005)
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Question: I am planning to feed my caladium plantings as they begin to grow. Will it matter whether I use a liquid or granular fertilizer?

Answer: Assuming you will be watering the caladium plantings to encourage spring growth, it should not matter what form of fertilizer is used. A liquid fertilizer may move faster into the root zone because it's in solution. The nutrients in a granular product have to be wet and then washed into the soil. With a good watering after fertilizing, you should not see a difference between the products.
This year, you might take a different approach to feeding and apply a slow-release fertilizer. These products meter out the nutrients to feed the plantings for several months. Slow-release fertilizers are Earth-friendly products that help make maximum use of your plant-feeding dollars. (4/17/2005)
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Question: Some of my caladiums are being crowded out by nearby shrubs. Is there any reason they cannot be transplanted at this time of the year?

Answer: Caladiums do not seem to mind relocation at any time of the year. Gather a clump of the plants with intact foliage, and move them to a spot where there is more room to grow. The move may hasten leaf decline, which occurs naturally anyway during the fall. The underground tubers should survive and be ready to resume growth during March or April. (10/16/2005)
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Calla Lily/Yellowing

Question: The leaves on my calla lilies are turning yellow and falling over. Should they be cut off? What care do the plants need?

Answer: Many calla lilies are beginning a rest period that usually lasts until the warmer days of spring. Declining foliage can be removed from these lilies. Other calla selections keep growing into fall and winter as long as the weather remains warm. These are given the same care as perennial gardens or container-grown flowers. (9/18/2005)
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Camellia Buds

Question: We have two camellia plants that are covered with buds, but as in the past, they fail to open. Is there a special fertilizer we can use to force the blooms?

Answer: Plants with a consistently poor flowering habit are probably not going to change their ways with a sprinkling of fertilizer. Your plants are likely late-season bloomers that do poorly in local landscapes.
Central Florida's weather becomes too warm before these camellias get into a full flowering mode. Consequently, they begin growth at the expense of the blooms. Why not lift and send these plants on their way a little farther North to a gardening friend? There, they can get the extended cold they need and be better performers. (3/25/2006)
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Camellia/Root Bound

Question: I planted camellias more than 12 years ago, but they have not grown much and produce only a few flowers. What do they need?

Answer: It's an old but common camellia problem. Chances are the root systems are still in a tightly interwoven mass about the same size as the pot when they were planted. Dig down and take a look.
If pot-bound, you still might have a chance to promote better growth if you lift the plants and reset them in the ground. This time, loosen the outer roots to encourage growth. You are taking a risk that the plants may not survive, but they are not going to grow any better without resetting either. (4/10/2005)
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Camellia/Tea Scale Insect

Question: I have noticed a white material on the undersides of camellia leaves. What should I do?

Answer: If you look closely, you are likely to see that the top of the leaf directly opposite the white stuff is starting to turn yellow. Blame the piercing, sucking tea scale insect. Get control as soon as possible because the crawler stages will be moving out soon to infest leaves that formed during the spring.
Apply a natural oil spray available from your local garden center. Make sure you hit the undersides of the leaves. One treatment may be all that's needed, even though the scale take months to slough off. If the scale begins to spread, another treatment will be needed. (7/3/2005)

Question: My camellias have a white, dustlike powder on the undersides of the leaves that is causing them to turn yellow and drop. What should I do?

Answer: Camellias are almost guaranteed an infestation of tea scale, a common insect pest. Many plantings seem to have a continuous infestation of these piercing, sucking insects.
Oil spray can help eliminate the scale, but you have to treat the undersides of the leaves where the insects feed. Even after the leaves have been treated, the waxlike scale debris often lingers until the leaves drop. Most gardeners have a difficult time doing a thorough job of spraying, and some scale insects remain alive to restart the infestation. Additional sprays usually are needed. (5/13/2006)
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Question: We have a camellia that was planted in the shade about four years ago when it was about 18 inches tall. It has not grown one bit. We are thinking about transplanting it to another area. Is this a good time?

Answer: Most likely, your plant remains pot-bound. This is a common camellia problem in which plants are set in the ground without altering their tightly wound root balls. Transplanting now might save its life.
Lift the plant from the soil, and check the root ball. If the roots are entwined, pull them apart to encourage their growth into the surrounding soil. Also, try to find a filtered-sun location preferred by camellias. Keep the soil moist, and your small plant could sprout new healthy shoots for spring. (2/19/2006)

Question: Should I move a camellia now that is about 4 feet tall and blooming or wait until it has finished flowering? How much soil will I need with the roots?

Answer: Now is still one of the better times to move small plants. It's possible digging the plant may cause the flowers to brown and drop, but you are more likely to be assured a successful transplant during the cooler weather.
Start the move by moistening the soil to help hold the soil together around the roots. With small plants, a root ball of about 18 inches in diameter and a foot deep should be adequate. Make the cuts downward around the plant with a nursery spade to form the root ball. Then dig under the root ball to lift the plant and move it to the new location. (4/3/2005)
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Camphor Tree/Roots

Question: Two large camphor trees with ugly roots are growing in our yard. How many of these roots can I remove without harming the tree?

Answer: Last year's hurricane season taught us a good lesson: Don't prune the roots. At least, don't remove the roots of a tree until you have the advice of a certified arborist. Every root, especially the larger ones, is helping to support your tree.
Many trees appeared to topple during the summer storms because roots were cut to make room for underground cables, sidewalks, driveways and irrigation systems. Arborists may agree to cut the roots to allow better use or maintenance of the yard, but they also likely will recommend pruning to reduce the effects of the wind.  (5/29/2005)
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Question: I have beds of cannas that have been doing well. What can I expect this fall, and should they be cut back?

Answer: Expect lots of colorful blooms until the cooler days of fall. Usually by late November, growth slows and the leaves develop lots of blotches. Most gardeners allow the plants to continue into winter when growth stops and frosts cause the plants to die-back to the ground.
Around the end of February, the remaining top portions can be removed. If needed, the rhizomes can be dug, divided and replanted during the warmer days of March. (10/16/2005)
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Question: The canna lilies look as if they are almost finished blooming. Should I cut the stems, and if so how much?

Answer: If you can no longer tolerate the brown, go ahead and remove the declining stem portions. However, you might wait a few weeks longer until the cool weather is over, and then trim all shoots to the ground. If needed, this is also a good time to divide the older clumps of cannas just before they begin spring growth as the warmer weather returns. (3/4/2006)
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Question: My son and I bought a cantaloupe plant because we love to eat the fruits. Where should we put the plant, and what should we know about the care?

Answer: Although a fresh, ripe homegrown cantaloupe is a real taste treat, getting these fruits to maturity is quite a challenge. Start the planting by setting your transplant in the ground in a sunny location where it has plenty of room to grow. Cantaloupe plants often grow 6 feet or more in diameter. Then keep the soil moist, and feed once a month with a general garden fertilizer.
So far so good, but here is where the problems begin. You like the cantaloupe fruits, and so do the insects. When the fruits form and begin reaching maturity, the pickle and melon worms find them in the garden. You have to be ready to defend your crop with an insecticide.
This is a good time to reach for natural Thuricide insecticide to keep these caterpillarlike critters under control. Apply frequently as instructed on the label and you will enjoy the fruits of your labor. They will turn orange when ripe on the vine. (4/16/2006)
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Question: The carnation plants I bought this past spring are turning brown and dying. What can I do to save the plants?

Answer: Carnations are cool-season flowers that are not going to take kindly to Florida's hot and humid late-spring through summer weather.
Most decline as you have noticed, signaling the time to replant with summer color. (6/26/2005)
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Question: My cauliflower plants have finished producing large white heads. Will they continue to produce more edible portions?

Answer: All you get from one cauliflower plant is one head of the white bud clusters to harvest, steam and smother with cheese. Well, the cheese is optional. Unlike its relative, the broccoli, which seems to bear forever, cauliflower produces one harvest, and then it's time to pull the plants and produce another crop.
Consider Okra, Southern peas, Sweet Potatoes, Chayotes or other summer plantings. Cauliflower planting time arrives in October and continues through February. (7/3/2005)
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Chinch Bugs

Question: An area of our lawn had chinch bugs, but some good grass remains. Will the affected area come back on its own, or should we replace the turf?

Answer: You could wait and see what grows back, but realistically, the weeds normally win in the end. Save yourself a lot of grief and resod this area as spring growth begins.
To make sure chinch bugs don't creep in from the edges, apply a lawn insecticide around late March to ensure that these pests are under control. (2/19/2006)

Question: We sodded our lawn in November, and it looks great right now. What should we use to prevent insects like chinch bugs from causing the lawn to decline again?

Answer: Earth-friendly approaches to insect control are gaining in popularity. Out are the traditional spray programs to prevent insect attack, and in are monitoring techniques to control lawn pests as noted.
Possibly the best prevention technique is to walk through the landscape to detect symptoms of turf decline. Now that you know what a good lawn looks like, stay alert to yellow spots that begin to turn brown. This is the first symptom of chinch bugs. Then look for the pinhead-sized critters.
Gardeners are just beginning to realize there are many good bugs in the lawn. Many lawns will not need a spray this season, so why make costly, earth-damaging and unnecessary treatments? (7/10/2005)
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Christmas Cacti

Question: My beautiful Christmas cacti are dropping whole stems that appear to be rotting. What can I do to save the plants?

Answer: A stem-and-root-rot problem can spoil anticipated flower displays for the holiday season. Try to salvage this year's color by reducing waterings to only when the surface soil begins to dry. This might dry up the rot problem. The holiday cactus is tough and likes to stay dry this time of the year.
If the rot problem appears to be extensive, repotting is needed to remove some infested soil. Replant in a loose potting mix. Clean the original container with a solution of one part household bleach to 10 parts water or obtain a new container the same size or slightly smaller. Holiday cactuses also like to be pot bound.
You also could apply a fungicide, but the products that give control are normally more expensive than the cost of several new plants. If needed, contact your local extension office for a list of root-and-stem-rot products that would be effective. (12/18/2005)
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Christmas Cactus/Transplanting

Question: My Christmas cactus is in a 7-inch pot and growing over the sides. Is it too late to transplant it to a larger container?

Answer: A Christmas cactus, also commonly called holiday cactus, seems to like a cramped lifestyle. It grows best when the roots fill the containers and become a little pot bound. Presently, the plants are entering a flowering phase in which growth slows, and they won't need a larger container.
Even though your plant might overflow the container, it's probably best not to transplant it at this time. Also, water only when the surface soil becomes dry. If you provide too much water or use a too-large container, root-rot problems could develop. If transplanting is needed, wait until spring growth begins and give the plant a container that is only 1-inch in diameter larger. (10/23/2005)
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Question: Can you think of any reason why a citrus tree won't bloom? Our tree is three years old and about 8 feet tall.

Answer: Perhaps your citrus tree needs a little more time to mature. Gardeners cannot count on reliable production from home trees until they are 5 to 7 years old. They spend the early years growing limbs and foliage.
Another cause for a failure to bloom is a light level that is too low. Citrus trees shaded by buildings or other trees have poor flowering and growth habits. Make sure your citrus tree is in the full sun for the best production. (5/1/2005)

Question: Our citrus trees are 5 years old and always have been loaded with blooms, but this year they didn't flower. They get fertilizer and nutritional sprays, and the leaves are dark green. What should I do?

Answer: Even citrus trees need a break from time to time. It's not abnormal for trees, and especially young ones, to have a bloom-free year. Make sure you are not overfeeding or overwatering the trees. Too much good care could pop out excessive stems and foliage and delay fruiting for a year or two. (5/6/2006)
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Citrus/Blooming/Young Tree

Question: I have planted several citrus trees that produced blooms and now have a few small fruits forming. Should I remove the fruits?

Answer: You might save a fruit or two on each tree to make sure of the variety, but most should be removed to encourage additional growth from the trees. When a fruit forms on young trees, the associated limb usually stops growing. Thus it takes longer to produce the bigger trees capable of bearing the larger crops.
Most likely, you won't have to remove many fruits because young trees drop their fruits for the first few years. Also, even when the fruits remain, they are often atypical and a disappointment to growers. It's best to allow the trees to remain fruit-free for at least three years. (4/3/2005)
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Question: Our landscape has a number of citrus trees of different varieties. All have just finished flowering, but some still have fruits from last year on the tree. When should the trees be fertilized?

Answer: Even though your citrus trees have different fruiting habits, they are all fertilized at the same time. The first feeding of the year is in March, but go ahead and make the spring application now.
Apply 1/4-pound of a citrus fertilizer for each inch of tree circumference measured 6 inches above the ground. Scatter the fertilizer under the spread of the tree and out past the drip line. Repeat the application once monthly in May, August and early October. (4/9/2006)
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Citrus/Fruit Production

Question: I have a 4-year-old orange tree that flowers every spring, but when the fruits reach the size of small marbles, they fall off. What should I do to save the crop?

Answer: Some gardeners get a few fruits from their 4-year-old trees, but most wait five to seven years for production to begin. Extension agents even suggest you remove the fruits for the first two to three years to allow the trees to put all their energy into sturdy limb growth.
This helps the trees to hold the bumper crops you expect. Just give your tree normal care, and it eventually should be a good producer. (5/6/2006)
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Question: About 15 years ago, I bought an orange tree for the yard that has produced only sour fruits. I was told to put laundry detergent around the tree, and water it in, but the oranges are still sour. What should I do?

Answer: Obviously, the detergent trick did not clean up this problem. And I don't want to sour you on a 15-year investment, but your tree is going to continue producing puckery fruits unless it's grafted with a new desirable variety. Because there are few if any grafters for hire, you probably will have to learn the technique yourself. Call your county extension office for a free guide to grafting procedures for citrus trees. (8/28/05)
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Question: I have chips from a tree stump that I had removed from my yard. I would like to use them to mulch around the base of my grapefruit tree. Would this help control the weeds?

Answer: Certainly the mulch should help with weed control, but it also might create conditions unfavorable for the grapefruit tree. It's best to keep mulches, grass and ornamental plantings several feet away from the trunks of citrus trees. The extra moisture maintained within the mulch encourages a disease called foot root that causes the trunks to decline.
Perhaps the best advice is to add the chips to a compost pile or scatter them lightly over other previously mulched areas. Fresh wood chips bind up nutrients as they decompose and make it hard to know how much fertilizer to use when feeding plants in the mulched areas. If the chips are added to a compost pile, they can decompose and be ready as a nutrient-rich soil additive in four to five months. (1/22/06)

Question: I have heard you are not supposed to put mulch around citrus trees, but how about pebbles?

Answer: Mulch, pebbles, flowers and even grass are best kept back from the bases of citrus trees. All tend to keep the bases of the trees moist, which encourages a disease called foot rot that destroys the trunks. If you would like to use a mulch or a planting near the trees, keep each several feet from the base. Otherwise, pebbles are fine. (2/4/2006)
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Question: I have citrus trees I would like to trim. When is the best time to prune, and how much can I remove?

Answer: If it's only light trimming that's needed, you have until the end of October to do the work. Most gardeners like to complete needed pruning during early fall so new growths that might be encouraged can mature before winter. Major pruning is performed before spring growth. (9/11/2005)

Question: I have a small lime tree that has never been trimmed. Does it need pruning, and, if so, when should it be done?

Answer: Citrus trees of all types need little pruning. Some grooming could be done at about anytime. This might include the removal of limbs growing outside the normal spread of the tree, branches that have become entangled or shoots growing from below the graft. Seldom do citrus trees need extensive pruning, but if you want to reduce height and width, it is best performed in mid-February just before spring growth begins. (12/18/2005)
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Citrus/Rust Mites

Question: Unlike in previous years, our citrus fruits' skins were dark. When they were unripe, the fruits looked black, and when ripe, they were brown but still tasted good. What caused the change?

Answer: Still good for juice but probably not what you want to share with friends, your citrus fruits were affected by rust mites. These pests are tiny, and when present in large numbers, they can suck the juices from the peels to cause the discoloration. Normally the first damaging mite populations start during late spring and can continue through fall.
Most gardeners who have problems with mites mark their calendars to apply a natural oil spray to their trees in late June or July. This reduces the mite population and is normally the only spray needed. Make sure you follow the label instructions, as this is a warmer time of the year, and cautions found on the product should be noted. (3/5/2006)
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Question: We have a 12-year-old orange tree with a black sootlike growth on the leaves, and the oranges appear dirty. The tree also has a white growth on the limbs. Should we remove the tree or is there a treatment?

Answer: Save the tree and apply a natural oil insecticide to remove the mold and the insects that encourage dark fungal growth on the leaves and fruits. The mold feeds on excreta from piercing, sucking insects including whitefly, mealybugs and cottony cushion scale. The white on the trunk of your tree is likely snow scale, another pest that is controlled with the oil. Be sure to treat all portions of the tree to eliminate these pests. (1/22/06)
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Question: A 2-foot-tall, spike like growth is sprouting from the center of my citrus tree. Should I cut it out?

Answer: Called water sprouts or suckers, these vigorous shoots often grow out of bounds. If needed to form a new limb, the shoots can be left in the tree. Otherwise, they are tipped back or eliminated to give the tree a more normal growth habit. (10/16/2005)
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Coconut Palm

Question: My husband wants a few coconut palms for our Central Florida landscape, but I know they are meant for South Florida. Any advice?

Answer: Unless a new house or a new husband is a possibility, try to be gentle and kind in explaining coconut palms do not grow in the typical Central Florida landscape. A few have been added to local landscapes, but during winters when temperatures dipped to 32 degrees and below, these in-ground plantings were eliminated.
If your husband insists, suggest that the palms be grown in large containers that he could move to a warm location when cold warnings are sounded. Or at least he could tilt the pots on their sides and cover to provide protection.
You also could pick the warmest spot in the landscape and get set to build a tent over the palms during freezing weather. None of this sounds like much fun, but you likely would keep the coconut palms. (2/5/2006)
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Cold Damaged Plants/Pruning

Question: The ornamental bananas, philodendrons and similar plants growing around our pool were damaged by cold. Should we prune them back? If so, when?

Answer: When you can't stand the brown, that's the time to prune. By now, all major cold is over, and you can remove the winter damage. Cut the large leaves from these tropicals back to the main stems. If the stems are damaged, they might have to be removed too.
Philodendrons, most vines and woody plants have buds along the stems that if untouched by the cold can begin new growth as the warmer weather returns. Bananas have only one bud per trunk, and it's normally near the top of the plant. Removing much of the trunk would eliminate the bud. Thus if bananas have much damage, it's best to cut them back to the ground to allow new shoots to grow. (3/12/2006)
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Confederate Jasmine/Pruning

Question: I have a Confederate jasmine vine that is growing wild. How should I trim it?

Answer: Feel free to be as brutal as you must. The Confederate jasmine is a tough plant, and it can take a severe trimming once in a while. Most gardeners would trim the plant back several feet beyond where you want the growth to begin. It can be shaped like a hedge. Throughout the growing season, you also can remove long, lanky vine portions as needed. (6/5/2005)
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Confederate Jasmine/Shade

Question: I am looking for a vine that grows in the shade and will bloom a lot. What do you suggest?

Answer: Vines and shade normally don't mix. The plants are usually sun lovers that need the high light levels to keep their leaves and to flower. That is why you find them rambling over shrubs and climbing to the tops of trees.
One vine, the Confederate jasmine, likes sun and shade. It's an evergreen and maintains leaves throughout the plant. The vine opens fragrant white blossoms for about a month during May. Other vines that tolerate light shade include the bower vine, calico vine, queen's wreath and Carolina yellow jessamine. (2/27/2005)
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Container Plants

Question: I have lost many plants trying to add them to pots. What steps should I take to be more successful?

Answer: Start the move to new containers with fresh potting soil. You want a loose mix that provides plenty of aeration but holds moisture too. Avoid mixtures that are composed of mainly peat moss -- those keep the roots too wet and encourage rot problems.
Next, use a clean container. Scrub off adhering soil and fertilizer residues. Also soak the pot you are reusing in a mild bleach solution for about 10 minutes and allow it to air-dry before planting.
Finally, make sure the pot is not too big for the plant or plants. Too much soil together with a small plant or collection of plants can lead to overwatering and root-rot problems. It's better for the plants to be a little cramped in the container than to have endless room. (4/17/2005)
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Container Plants/Pool Area

Question: We have a deck-level planter near the pool that remains quite wet because of swimmers splashing in the water. What can I plant in this area?

Answer: You may have to take a new approach to growing plants in this wet location. An area that is constantly wet during the swimming season continues to cause root rot problems and plant decline.
Perhaps the best answer is to remove a 3- to 4-inch layer of soil and add attractive pavers or colorful rocks to the surface of the planter. Then add attractive container plantings that because of their height could avoid some of the splashing. They also would provide good drainage to grow the ornamentals you would like to enjoy poolside. (3/6/2005)
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Container Plants/Water Needs

Question: Most of the plants on our pool deck are in large containers. How do I know when to water and how much to give each plant?

Answer: Work just like a professional to tell when the plants need water by sticking your finger in the soil. If it feels moist, a bit slimy or cool, it's probably wet enough. If the soil feels warm and dusty, it's time for a good soaking.
Use a hose or a sprinkling can to rewet the soil until moisture runs from the bottom of the container. Because each soil is different and there are many sizes of containers, there is no way to calculate an amount of water. You want to moisten the soil thoroughly at each watering. It's then best to check the plants frequently to get to know their water-use pattern. (3/25/2006)
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Question: We are planning to restart a vegetable garden this month. In the past, we had limited success with corn. What is the secret?

Answer: Keep in mind that corn is a grass and that, like most lawns, flourishes only with adequate water and fertilizer. Most gardeners keep their plantings moist but forget to add an extra feeding or two. Perhaps the best way to feed this crop is with a 16-4-8 or similar lawn fertilizer. Feed lightly every three to four weeks, and you should grow the tall stalks with plump ears of corn you have been missing. (8/7/2005)
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Corn Plant

Question: I have a healthy corn plant that is getting ready to bloom. Is this a sign it could be dying?

Answer: Some plants do decline after flowering but not the corn plant, a tropical foliage plant, also known as a dracaena. The blooms are a bonus for the good care you have been giving the plant. Corn plants flower only if growing in bright locations but out of direct sun. Most likely, you also have been keeping the soil moist, and feeding the plants every month or two, which also makes them happy.
Now, when the flowers open, you might get a surprise. They are fragrant, resembling a super-sweet gardenia, but some gardeners find the blooms objectionable. If needed, the flowering stalk can be cut from the corn plant or the plant can be moved to a more airy location. (1/1/2006)
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Corn Plant/Browning

Question: We have an ornamental corn plant on the patio, and the ends are turning brown. Are we watering too much?

Answer: You are going to have to do a little detective work to determine the cause of the browning; any factor that restricts water uptake could be the cause. Logically, check first to make sure the plant has adequate water. A large plant on the patio might need water daily during warmer months and every few days during cooler weather.
Make sure the container has good drainage. If the holes at the base of the pot are too few or plugged, the plant might be staying wet. This would cause the roots to rot and the plant to begin to decline. In this case, a new container or at least repotting would be needed.
A generous feeding also could cause the decline. Keep fertilizer applications to once a month during warmer times of the year, and don't feed during winter. To make feedings easier, consider one of the slow-release products that meter out nutrients to prevent plant damage and encourage good growth.(12/18/2005)
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Crab Grass

Question: I am planning to resod an area later this year that is now full of crab grass. Should I eliminate the crab grass now and just leave the ground bare until I am ready to plant?

Answer: Unless you like the looks of bare ground, why not keep the green until a little later in the fall? Crab grass is decent looking, but it's not dependable and has little resistance to wear or drought. Make sure you mow the grass to keep seeding to a minimum.
When sodding time does arrive, usually anytime between October and early May, remove the crab grass, till the ground and lay the sod. If there are other more perennial and harder to remove weeds in the site, a few weeks before sodding you might want to kill everything with a herbicide that allows planting after use. (9/25/2005)

Question: I have a big yard that is covered with crab grass, and I cannot believe all I can do is replace it with sod. Is there anything else I can do?

Answer: Mow it; it's green. Crab grass is a major problem in many lawns, and there is no easy control. If patches are small and intermingled with good grass, a natural contact herbicide marketed as Agralawn Crabgrass Killer can help. Repeat treatments are needed if the crab grass is well-established.
If lawn areas are nothing but crab grass, controlling the weedy portions is going to leave big bare spots. In such cases, the only alternatives are to add plugs or sod to fill in the voids. Sod would be the best choice because it also covers the lingering crab-grass seeds that are ready to sprout during the warmer weather ahead. (3/18/2006)

Question: I noticed crab grass starting to grow in my lawn. It appears I missed the time to apply a crab-grass preventer. Now what should I do?

Answer: The time to control crab grass from seed passes quickly, and many gardeners missed the opportunity to stop early germination. Many also had sprigs of crab grass left in their lawns from last year that also began growth during the warmer weather.
One product, AgraLawn Crabgrass Killer, available at independent garden centers, is labeled for crab-grass control once it is up and growing. This is a natural herbicide developed in Florida that is dusted over areas infested with crab grass. It acts as a contact herbicide, and repeated applications might be needed. Follow label instructions.
Once the crab grass is growing, another choice is to dig, or spot-kill the crab grass in the lawn and then add sod. It's probably best not to use plugs unless you want to do a lot of hand weeding; there is plenty of crab-grass seed ready to germinate in the bare ground. Most pre-emergence herbicides should not be applied until the new grass is established. (4/2/2006)
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Crab Grass/Asiatic Jasmine Replacement

Question: I am trying to find something to crowd out the crab grass. Could I plant Asiatic jasmine in a hot, sunny spot and expect it to survive?

Answer: Hot, sunny and even dry spots won't affect durable Asiatic jasmine plantings. There is just one trick, however; the plants have to be given good care until they are established in the site. This means keeping the soil moist until the roots fill the surrounding soil.
Perhaps the best way to establish the plantings is to spray the crab grass and associated weeds with Roundup, Finale or a similar product that allows planting shortly after use.
Then when they decline, plant the jasmine through the now brown, weedy plant portions. Add a thin layer of mulch and give the jasmine good care until established. (5/7/2006)
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Crape Myrtle/Blossoms

Question: My crape myrtle had lots of flowers until the rains blew them away. I can see what looks like buds, but they are not opening. Are there any blossoms left?

Answer: Crape myrtles are flowering machines, but besides blossoms, they also produce seed. When the blossoms fall because of rain, wind or just natural decline, they are quickly followed by the pods that look very much like potential blossoms.
Keep your crape myrtle in bloom during the summer by cutting off the seedpod clusters. Prune below the clusters back to a point on the stem that is as thick as a pencil or a small finger. After pruning, growths form with blossoms that open in about six weeks. Flowering often continues into early fall. (8/28/2005)
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Crape Myrtle/Lichens

Question: My crape myrtle has a growth that looks like a light-green scale. It's easy to peel off. Is it damaging the tree?

Answer: Don't waste a lot of time fretting over these green growths, and don't bother removing them from the trunks and limbs. Crape myrtles come with a marvelous self-cleaning action that each year clears the trunks of unwanted debris. Their bark peels, so the growths will be gone by summer.
Even if the crape myrtles weren't such tidy plants, there would be no reason to fear the varying green displays produced by the lichens you have noticed. These are formed by a friendly association between a fungus and algae growing together for mutual benefit.
Excessive accumulations of lichens might mean a plant is not growing quite as vigorously as it should, and it might be time to check its water and fertilizer needs. (2/11/2006)
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Crape Myrtle/Pruning

Question: After my crape myrtles finished flowering, I cut off the seedpods, and they produced new blooms. Now a number of small branches have seedpods. When and where along the stems do I cut them off?

Answer: Crape myrtles are opening their final blooms of the season, and all are forming seedpods for fall. There is no rush to prune the plants; the short days curtail growth and the formation of flower buds. Most gardeners at this time of year wait until late winter to do additional pruning.
When you are ready to start trimming, remove the seedpods back to a point along the stems about the thickness of your little finger. Crape myrtles do not need the drastic trimming you often see. Also, remove any of the smaller twigs among the trunks and unwanted growths sprouting from near the ground. (9/18/2005)

Question: Our crape myrtles need light trimming. When can we begin to remove the overgrowth?

Answer: Wait a little longer. Allow the trees to go through most of the winter in a dormant state; pruning encourages growth. You can begin the needed trimming around mid-February when most of the cold weather is over.
When pruning time arrives, be gentle. Most crape myrtles need only a light trimming to remove old seedpods and twiggy growths among the lower limbs. Also keep shrub clusters to between three and five main trunks to give them an attractive appearance and to allow room for spring growth. (1/22/06)

Question: I have a small 3-year-old crape myrtle, and I would like to trim out the small, twiggy stems. When is the best time?

Answer: Now is fine to do the trimming. The heavy pruning is reserved for the winter months, but the small, twiggy stems can be removed just about anytime. Also, don't forget to remove any shoots that may be sprouting from near the ground to compete with the major trunks.
While you have the pruners handy, consider trimming off the seedpods forming at the ends of the stems. This can encourage additional growth and some extended flowering into early fall. (8/21/2005)

Question: We see crape myrtles trimmed back to thick stems and those that are not trimmed at all. What should we do?

Answer: There might be many reasons for harshly pruning crape myrtles, but none of them is good. Probably, most trim the plants out of tradition, but it's not needed to have an attractive shrub or tree. Crape myrtles have a natural upright to spreading vaselike shape that is quite attractive.
Why not allow the crape myrtles to grow with minimal trimming and save yourself lots of work?
If you want, trim off the old seed heads and remove some of the small twiggy shoots along the main trunks. Also, remove shoots from the base of the plants, and keep only a few main trunks. (4/2/2006)

Question: It's already late spring, and we have not cut back our crape myrtles. Is it too late? What can we expect if we let them grow without pruning?

Answer: Expect a pleasing-looking plant with a natural, upright to arching shape rather than the stiff, formal, pruned look. The unpruned plants also tend to flower sooner and have as many or more blooms than the trimmed crape myrtles.
More gardeners are skipping the spring pruning or lightly trimming the plants to remove the old seedpods, small twigs and unwanted shoots forming at the base. During the growing season, some gardeners also trim off the seedpods as they form to encourage additional shoots and flowers throughout the summer months. (5/15/2005)
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Crape Myrtle/Shoots

Question: During Hurricane Charley, we lost our crape myrtle, and ever since, we have had shoots coming up from the roots. How do we get rid of these small shoots?

Answer: It's a bit old-fashioned, but cutting them out as they appear is still one of the best ways to eliminate unwanted shoots. As you discovered, crape myrtles sprout freely from the root portions that are left in the ground. You also could dig them up and use them to start plants if you wish.
If they are unwanted, you can use a brush killer to spot treat the foliage of the shoots as they appear; follow label instructions. Several brands available from garden centers include Bayer Brush Killer Plus, Roundup Poison Ivy & Tough Brush Killer and Ortho Brush B Gon.
Treating the shoots with one of these products should eliminate the attached root system. (4/30/2006)
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Crape Myrtle/Sooty Mold

Question: A recently planted crape myrtle has developed a sooty-looking mildew. What should we do to protect the remaining leaves?

Answer: It looks horrible, but the sooty mold on crape myrtle plants is usually ignored at this time of year. The leaves already are starting to drop, and soon the fungus-covered foliage is going to be gone as the plants enter a rest period for the cooler months.
Sooty mold lives on the excreta of aphid and whitefly insects. These insects won't be a problem until late spring or summer. If needed, an oil spray can be applied to control these pests as well as the sooty mold during the new growing season. (11/20/2005)

Question: My newly planted crape myrtle has black sooty mold on the lower leaves. Some leaves have fallen. What should I do?

Answer: It's the end of the growing season for crape myrtles, and what you are seeing is normal leaf discolorations and decline. Many gardeners also are noticing the leaves turning yellow and red, which might be an early hint fall finally has arrived. Such leaf loss is normal and cannot be prevented.
The black on the leaves is a fungus that results from the feeding of insects. By the end of summer, many crape myrtles have large aphid or whitefly populations that produce excreta to feed the sooty mold fungus. At this time of the year, the discoloration is tolerated. (10/9/2005)

Question: Our crape myrtle has developed what appear to be little white eggs and black soot on the leaves. Will spraying now affect flowering?

Answer: Crape myrtles are host plants for their very own aphids, which shed white skins as they develop. But other pests such as whiteflies also could be present and might give the appearance of eggs. Both insects give off excreta and cause the crape myrtles to drip sap which is food for sooty-mold fungus.
Look a little closer and you might find some good bugs at work on your crape myrtles too. Often ladybugs are feeding on the aphids. They might get a little behind in their work and allow the aphids to get ahead, which causes the sooty mold that you noticed. If you can wait a while, the ladybugs often get the pests under control.
When the pests and resultant sooty mold is unbearable, a natural-oil spray available from your garden center can control all the problems. Follow the label to prevent damage to the crape myrtle blooms and beneficial insects. (7/24/2005)
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Crinum Lily/Pruning

Question: I have several crinum lilies that have grown out of control and have some cold damage. Can I cut them back to the trunk without causing harm?

Answer: Crinums are very forgiving plants and won't mind the rejuvenation pruning. Cut off the brown leaves and any that have red blotches caused by a common fungus affecting these plants. The foliage can be cut back to the trunklike neck of the large bulbs that often extend a foot or more above the ground. (3/19/2006)
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Question: How can I get crotons to develop their color and full shape? Most of my plants have just a few leaves and lack color?

Answer: A lack of leaves suggests the light level is too low or there are pest problems. Check the leaves for thrips, mites or scales that might be causing premature leaf drop, and control if needed. Then make sure your plants are in bright light.
Generally, the more light, the brighter the foliage color. Crotons can tolerate shady sites, but the leaf colors are usually muted. If the plants need to be a little denser, prune the shoots back a few inches or more to encourage branching and additional foliage.
Help your plants grow their best with frequent feedings during the warmer months. Feed in-ground plantings every other month with a general garden fertilizer. Apply a 20-20-20 or similar product to container-grown plants every other week or use a slow-release product following label instructions. Also keep the soil moist. (7/31/2005)
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Question: I have crotons with ugly, faded lower leaves. When can I prune them and how much?

Answer: Regain the look you want by pruning the plants back to about a foot above where you want the growth and foliage to begin. Keep the soil moist, and feed the plants lightly each month. Also, apply a natural-oil spray to control the thrips, which are insects that rasp the leaves and suck out the juices. (7/24/2005)

Question: I have a bunch of crotons and have read they can be trimmed to develop fuller plants. How much should I remove?

Answer: Perhaps the better question is where do you want the dense growth to begin? If to the ground, the plants might have to be cut back severely. Normally, growth begins a foot below where you prune. If only the outer canopy needs to be thickened a little, simply prune off the ends of the shoots. Branching should begin a few inches back to give fuller and more attractive shrubs. (3/19/2006)
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Question: The leaves on our crotons are losing their color as though they had been bleached. What could be causing the decline, and what should I do?

Answer: You will need a magnifying glass to spot the critters, but cream- to black-colored thrips that are almost hairlike in diameter likely are causing the leaves to decline. They often are clustered near the veins and on the undersides of the leaves.
A natural oil spray available from your local garden center can give control; follow label instructions. (4/22/2006)
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Question: Fruits start to form on my cucumbers and squash plants, grow 3 to 4 inches long and then turn yellow and die. What should I do?

Answer: Have you seen any male flowers lately? Sometimes all that is missing is the pollen needed to ensure good fruit set. The male flowers will be the ones without rudimentary fruits in back of the blooms. Without pollination from these blossoms, the fruits found on the female flowers may start to form but then decline as you have noticed.
Next, check for bees and other insects that may be winging between the blooms. Most of the work moving the pollen between male and female flowers is done by insects during the early morning hours. If the insects are not present, the fruits are not pollinated and decline. Without these insects, you may have to do the bee's work with a small paintbrush early in the morning. (6/25/2006)
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Question: I would like to grow dahlias locally but cannot find out anything about their culture. Do they grow here, and what care do they need?

Answer: Florida gardeners don't seem to be dahlia fans, but the plants can grow and flower well in local landscapes. What probably ruins the fun is when the summer rains return to spoil the flowers or rot the rhizomes.
Part of the secret to good dahlias is getting an early start using rhizomes obtained from local garden centers or mail-order companies. Also, plan to improve Florida's sandy soils with lots of organic matter including manure. Once the plants are in the ground, keep the soil moist and apply a mulch. Feed lightly once a month with a general gardener fertilizer to produce the attractive and often large blooms.
One additional problem with Florida-grown dahlias is saving the rhizomes from one year to the next. Often the rhizomes rot in the ground during the rainy summer months, or after they have been dug, they rot during the long fall-through-winter storage. This means new rhizomes usually are needed each year, which can make this a more costly flower to enjoy. (1/29/06)

Question:I just planted dahlias and geraniums. Do I need to cover them during the winter to protect them from frosts and freezes?

Answer: You are wise to plan, but most dahlias and geraniums don't make it to winter. The summer heat, humidity and high soil-moisture levels usually cause the plants to decline and eventually rot.
A few gardeners are able to keep geraniums for another year. During the summer, they move them to shady spots where they are protected from the rains. The geraniums usually turn yellow and look bad, but they survive to begin green growth when the cooler fall weather arrives.
Most gardeners treat dahlias and geraniums as short-lived perennials and remove them when the plants begin to decline. (6/12/2005)
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Question: We bought delphiniums at a local garden center that were labeled as perennials. They have started to die. Will they come back next year?

Answer: Probably not, as most delphiniums are short-lived perennials. Florida is too hot and wet for the plants to survive the summer season; they just rot away. In a cooler, more Northern climate, they may last another year. (5/29/2005)
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Desert Rose/Caterpillar

Question: I found dozens of tiny caterpillars chewing the leaves of my desert rose plant. What should I do, and will the plant recover?

Answer: If the caterpillars are orange with black hairs, your desert rose is hosting a collection of oleander caterpillars. It might be hard to believe, but this different looking plant is in the same family as oleanders and mandevillas. Sometimes the caterpillars just skip over for a little visit on each of these.
One defoliation won't bother a healthy plant. In fact, it's not abnormal for the desert rose to drop its leaves because of drought and cool temperatures; so a few hungry caterpillars should be of little bother. It's a plant that's built for survival with thick storage stems stocked with food and water for the tough times. With a little care, the plant should leaf out and be in bloom again for fall. (10/9/2005)
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Dwarf Buford Holly/Tea Scale

Question: My dwarf burford holly has a white powdery substance on the undersides of the leaves. Can you identify this problem and tell me what to do to control it?

Answer: As you might have guessed, this is not snow, frosting or even powdery mildew. What Chinese holly and camellia growers are observing is tea scale, a common pest of both these plants. If left alone, it eventually causes the leaves to turn yellow, and the plants could decline.
Tea scale works from the undersides of the leaves to suck the juices from the foliage. If you look closely, you will see white and brown scale insect portions. Your best control is an oil spray available from your local garden center. Follow the label and be sure to hit the undersides of the leaves. Don't expect the scale to disappear rapidly, but it should not get any worse after the treatment. (6/12/2005)
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Dwarf Yaupon Holly/Pruning

Question: We just moved to a new house and have five dwarf yaupon hollies that are overgrown. How should I prune the plants to look like other smaller specimens in the yard?

Answer: Yaupon holly plants, sometimes referred to by variety name Schellings, won't mind a severe pruning if they are otherwise in good health.
You can cut them back as far as you like to within a foot or two of the ground. The farther back you remove the foliage and main stems, the longer it takes the plants to recover.
Resist trimming these plants to the same height to produce the dense rounded shrubs you see in many landscapes.
Guide the growth by selectively removing limbs with hand pruners. This results in more open shrubs with better air movement among the limbs, which will resist a common disease that frequently causes dead sections in local plantings. (5/14/2006)
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East Palatka Holly/Co-Dominant Trunks

Question: My 3-foot East Palatka holly seems to be growing slowly although it has a lot of berries. It also has two equal-size trunks. Should I remove one of the trunks?

Answer: Double trunks might make the tree look fuller while it is young, but they can cause lots of problems in later years. Keep the best, straightest trunk and remove the other. This is the only way to produce a strong, wind-resistant tree for the future. A solitary trunk can grow and become taller faster. Trees with competing trunks often split during storms as they grow older. (1/15/2006)
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Easter Lily

Question: My Easter lilies looked stressed, so I dug the bulbs and put them in containers and set them under the eaves of my home. What other care do they need?

Answer: No matter how bad the Easter lilies looked, it was natural for them to decline during the summer. The tops turn yellow and then brown around July, and the bulbs go into a resting stage until spring. About March or April, growths are noticed that produce blooms by May. You can leave the bulbs in the containers, if you wish, and keep them moist but not overly wet. But, the bulbs probably would be happier in a sunny garden where they would receive seasonal rains. (9/11/2005)

Question: I planted an Easter lily a few years ago after the holidays, and now it has several stalks, each with numerous blooms. It this normal?

Answer: Saved lilies are good repeat performers even though they usually miss the Easter festivities by a month or more when transplanted to the garden. You have a planting to be proud of, but it is typical of the rewards gardeners receive after a few years of good care.
In a year or two, you likely will need to divide the plants or flowering could be reduced. If needed, wait until the tops die back in a month or two, and separate the bulbs to increase the collection or share with friends. (6/12/2005)
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Question: My eggplants produced lots of flowers but no fruits this summer. The plants look good and are flowering again. Should I leave them a little longer?

Answer: Eggplants, like their relatives tomatoes and bell peppers, usually produce poorly during the summer because of the extreme heat. They often give lots of hope by producing good crops of flowers, but they never set fruits.
There is good news as the moderating fall weather should make conditions just right for the flowers now forming to set and mature their fruits. Leave the now-much-larger plants in the garden to produce a bumper crop.
Keep the soil moist, and add mulch to stretch the time between waterings. Also, feed the plants lightly with a general garden fertilizer once a month, and you should have eggplant fruits to share. (10/9/2005)
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Question: Whiteflies have invaded my eggplant bush. What can I do to combat them?

Answer: A little soap might clean up this problem, but it's best to obtain the insecticidal type sold at garden centers. These are tested products and won't burn or otherwise damage your plants when applied according to the label.
Sprays give little control of the adults that fly away when the plants are disturbed, but they do control the next generation forming on the undersides of the leaves. It is important to thoroughly spray underneath the foliage. Some gardeners also hang sticky boards, available from garden centers, near their plants to capture the escaping adults. (10/30/2005)
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Epsom Salt

Question: Somewhere I read you can put Epsom salts on plants to fertilize them. Will this help make my African iris bloom?

Answer: Only if the plants lack magnesium or sulfur -- the two elements found in Epsom salts -- will an application encourage better growth and maybe flowering. The addition of Epsom salts to the feeding program is more likely to make your plants greener than to induce blooms. Magnesium is a major element in the chlorophyll component of leaves.
African iris need a sunny spot to produce the best flower displays. Although the plants are drought tolerant and can go weeks without water, they grow best with weekly waterings. Feed lightly with a general garden fertilizer once monthly in March, June and August for nutritional needs. (4/17/2005)
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Question: I have noticed shrubs in my yard beginning to grow. Does this mean it's time to apply fertilizer? What should I use?

Answer: Sprouting buds and regreening shoots signal the start of spring in Florida no matter what the calendar says. This also means it's time to apply the first shrub and perennial flower feedings of the new year.
Any general garden fertilizer is usually fine, but you might select a product low in phosphorus, the middle number in the analysis. Also, look for a slow-release fertilizer that meters out the nutrients during the following months. Follow the label; each product is applied at a different rate. (2/25/2006)
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Fertilizer (Granular)/Saving

Question: When I apply a granular fertilizer, there is always some left in the bag. Can I seal the bag and save it for another time, or will it lose strength?

Answer: A resealed and dry fertilizer should last. Fertilizers are formulated as salts, and as long as they stay dry, they retain their nutrients and keep their granular consistency which makes them easy to spread.
If the fertilizer becomes moist, it's best used as soon as possible to keep it from clumping and becoming hard to apply to lawns and gardens. (2/11/2006)
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Ficus Tree/Freezing

Question: I have a 10-year-old weeping ficus tree in a container that I would like to plant in the ground. Can it be added to the landscape?

Answer: It sure can, but you might not want to plant it. Ficus trees are not reliably cold hardy and start to drop their leaves when temperatures dip much below the 40s. The limbs and trunk are damaged severely at freezing.
If the trees escape winter damage for several years, they can grow quite tall and wide. They also produce an extensive root system. If you still want to add it to the landscape, better keep it away from the home, sidewalks and driveway. (7/31/2005)
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Ficus Tree/Pruning

Question: I have two container-grown ficus trees that have developed lots of long branches. I would like to prune them without causing harm. Can you help?

Answer: Ficus trees and your hair have something in common. If given a bad trimming, they both grow back. So take the pruners in hand, and don't be afraid to remove the errant limbs.
Try to keep the overall shape of the plants in mind. Most ficus trees are upright to somewhat rounded. Remove limbs back into the interior of the plant to reduce the height and width but still keep the overall shape and good looks. You also can remove the tip of any shoot to cause branching and produce a fuller plant. (7/31/2005)
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Ficus Tree/Scale Insects/Pool-Side

Question: A sticky sap is dripping from schefflera and ficus plants growing in containers on our pool deck. Can we do something to control the drippings?

Answer: This sticky mess can have a happy ending if you find the real cause of the drippings. Most likely the sap comes from insects sucking juices from the stems and leaves of your poolside plants. Scale insects, which can be hard to see, are at fault and are the same color as the leaves and stems. When severe, you also may notice a black sooty mold fungus growing on the drippings to create yet another mess.
If you can move the plants off the deck, place them in a shady spot and spray them with an low-toxicity oil spray from your local garden center. They can be replaced after the treatment dries. If the plants must remain on the deck, use a mild soap solution and a soft sponge or cloth to wash the foliage and stems of the plants to eliminate the insects and sap. (3/6/2005)
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Ficus Tree/Thrips

Question: In containers, I have several ficus trees with leaves that have remained closed and are turning yellow. Tiny insects appear to be inside the leaves. What should I do?

Answer: Thrips, those tiny insects inside the leaves, appear to be calling many plants home. If they are not feeding in buds or flowers, they are sucking the juices from leaves. The hair-size white to black stages found on the ficus have been in local landscapes for about two years.
Control can consist of a natural oil spray if you can hit the pests. That's hard to do with the insects clustering inside the folded leaves. Many gardeners have resorted to the more residual synthetic pyrethroids found at garden centers to catch the thrips when they come out in search of new feeding sites (2/19/2006)
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Fig Tree/Propagating

Question: A friend has a good-fruiting fig tree and wants to give me a start. How do I propagate a plant to add to my landscape?

Answer: Starting fig trees is easy if you make the cuttings during the winter. At this time of the year the trees have lost most of their leaves and are in a dormant state. They will restart growth soon. Take a 12-inch cutting from a woody stem up to 3/4-inch in diameter that includes several nodes. Nodes are the areas where leaves once grew.
Treat the base of the cutting with a rooting powder available from a local garden center. Insert the cutting in an upright position by pushing the base several inches deep into a container of coarse vermiculite or a loose potting soil. Moisten and then enclose the cutting -- pot and all -- in a clear plastic bag.
Set the bag in a shady location and continue to moisten as needed.
Roots should form in about two months; at this time, remove the bag, and move the container with the growing fig to a sunny location. There, the tree will grow big enough to add to your landscape. (2/11/2006)
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Freeze Damage

Question: What should I do about all the plants that have been damaged by the recent freeze?

Answer: When you can no longer tolerate the brown, it's time to prune. It's probably best, however, to wait a few days or even a week or two before removing the declining plant portions. Often the damage is light and might result in the loss of only a few leaves that drop shortly after the freeze. Other plants might continue declining for weeks and eventually might need a more severe trimming.
Cold weather often does gardeners a favor and gets them outside to do pruning that should have been performed some time ago. You can remove the damaged portions back into healthy wood, or you can use this opportunity to reshape and reduce the size of overgrown plants. (2/18/2006)
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Question: The frogs are keeping me awake at night. Must I move to the desert to get a good night's sleep?

Answer: It will be a good move only if you like rattlesnakes, lizards and a few more desert critters. Frogs are beneficial landscape residents, feeding on lots of nighttime insects including mosquitoes. Many frogs gather near porch and window lights which lure insects. Turning off the night lights may help reduce the frog population in the yard.
When the frogs persist, and some surely will strike up the nightly serenades, try masking the noise when you are going to sleep. Playing recorded distractions can overshadow the chirping so you can get a little rest. (7/17/2005)
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Fruit on Ground

Question: Many fruits from our grapefruit tree fall to the ground before they can be harvested. Is it safe to eat them?

Answer: Better leave those fallen fruits on the ground or toss them in the compost pile unless you like off-flavors and maybe some bugs too. Unless you see the fruit hit the ground and can use it immediately, fallen citrus of any type is not edible. There is no use risking a tummy ache. (5/20/2006)
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Question: My gardenias bloom fine and have mostly green leaves, but they are never as full as other plants in the neighborhood. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: Two out of three near-ideal plant features isn't that bad, but there is nothing wrong with going for perfection. This year, after the plants flower, trim them lightly. Be sure to remove the ends of the branches to cause additional buds to break along the stems. Then feed your plantings three to four times a year and give them enough water to keep the soil moist to help them fill out and be at least equal to the plants in the neighborhood. (4/15/2006)
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Question: I forgot how to fertilize my gardenia. I put Epsom salts on the soil. Will that help?

Answer: It's a start but not a complete feeding. Gardenias have a high need for magnesium found in Epsom salts, but they also require the nutrients in a regular garden fertilizer too.
A good schedule for gardenias, which are heavy feeders, is to apply a general garden fertilizer once monthly in March, June, August and September. Try to find a slow-release product that provides maximum use of the nutrients and is less likely to pollute. (5/21/2006)

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Question: I think my gardenia needs to be pruned. How do you know when to trim these plants and how much?

Answer: Make your pruning decisions after the plants have produced their midspring display of flowers. The buds are forming now, and it would be a shame to miss their fragrant white blossoms.
You could remove any branch that's in the way of traffic or appears to be declining at any time. Major pruning usually occurs around May or June when spring flowering is over. Then the plants might get a light trimming to encourage additional shoots and reduce the height and width just a bit.
Gardenias can be large plants, and most gardeners place them where they can grow with minimal pruning. (1/1/2006)
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Gardenia Standard

Question: Our 30-year-old parson brown tree was removed because of citrus canker. Can I add a gardenia to this site, and how do I get it to grow like a tree?

Answer: A gardenia should love the site, but preparing the soil likely will be the problem. First, you have to remove as much of the citrus tree's root system as possible within several feet of the planting hole.
Move as far away from the old trunk as possible to add the plant and make digging and root removal easy.
Select a grafted gardenia that comes with a vigorous nematode-resistant root system. Now, decide how much of a trunk you want before the gardenia begins branching. Most gardeners allow their plants to grow large multitrunk shrubs that resemble small trees. But if you wish, lower limbs can be removed gradually to create the single-trunk-tree look with branching only in the upper portions. (5/1/2005)
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Question: I planted several dwarf gardenias a few weeks ago. Each one is developing yellow leaves. They get good care. What is wrong?

Answer: For each to be declining at the same time, there has to be some cultural problem, and most likely, it's a lack of water. Even though you water frequently, the water might be missing the mark by running around the outside of the root ball. Dig down and take a look; if the root balls are dry, you have found the problem.
Perhaps the best way to help the plants recover is to lift them and put them back in their original containers where they can get the water they need. When they recover, add them to the landscape, but this time create a berm around the root ball so water can be directed through the root system and into the surrounding soil. (10/30/2005)
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Question: I just moved to Florida and immediately planted a gardenia. I have given it good care, but the leaves are turning yellow and falling off. Should I give up and buy a new one?

Answer: Never give up, but you may want to dig down and check the root ball. The decline noted so soon after planting suggests a root problem. Most likely, the root ball dried and the water is running around the outside and off the ball.
One answer to the problem is lifting the plant and keeping it in a container until it recovers. Give it adequate water to rewet the root ball and feed lightly every other week. With some good care, you won't have to buy another plant, and this one should be ready for replanting by spring. (9/18/2005)

Question: Two gardenias planted a year ago are developing yellow lower leaves. I fed them three weeks ago and gave them iron, but they are still yellow. What is the problem?

Answer: Gardenias often change out their older leaves from late fall through early spring. It can be pretty dramatic when large quantities of leaves suddenly turn yellow and drop, but it's likely normal.
If the leaves turn yellow and hang on the bush, then your plant could be experiencing a magnesium deficiency. Gardenias are heavy users of this nutrient, and a one-time application of magnesium sulfate, also sold as Epsom salts, can help prevent or cure yellowing problems. Also, make sure the plants have a moist soil and a 3- to 4-inch mulch layer over the root systems. (4/2/2006)

Question: About three months ago we planted several gardenias. All are developing yellow leaves and dropping their flower buds. How can I help the plants?

Answer: Dig down and check the soil for water. All the symptoms point to plants with dry root balls. Often, after new plants are set in the ground, the root balls dry and are hard to rewet. If you find a dry root system, emergency actions are needed to save the plants.
Direct the water to the roots by building 4- to 6-inch berms of soil around the edge of the root balls. Then fill the berms with water once a day for several weeks. Gradually taper off the waterings to every two to three days until the rainy season returns. (4/22/2006)

Question: We bought and planted a gardenia a month ago, and some of the leaves are yellowing and the buds won't open. What can I do to help the flowering process?

Answer: Gardenias have to spend a little time with you before they become good garden companions, but you can do a few things to make them feel at home. The move to a new location can be a shock to the plants, and they often drop leaves and flower buds.
Help them make the transition by keeping the soil moist. This may mean daily waterings for the first few weeks and additional waterings every other day for a few more months. You may need to construct a berm of soil around the edge of the root ball to hold water and direct it down through the root system and then out into the surrounding soil.
Keep the plants happy by maintaining a 3- to 4-inch mulch layer over the roots and feed the plants lightly in March, June, August and October. Every month or two, check the gardenia foliage for scale insects and apply an oil spray if needed. (5/14/2006)
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Question: A few branches started to die on my geraniums, and, when I pulled one apart, I found a small worm inside. How do I treat this problem?

Answer: Caterpillars, commonly called worms, are the larval stages of moths and butterflies that like leaves and stems. Usually the ones that enter the stems are specific to this portion of the plant and might be referred to as borers.
Your quick action to remove the affected portions might be all that is needed to control the infestation. If more branches begin to decline, you can apply natural Thuricide or Conserve insecticides found at garden centers. Sevin, a synthetic insecticide, also gives good control. With all of these products, follow label instructions. (12/18/2005)
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Question: The back of my house faces due east and gets up to 10 hours of sun. Can I grow gladiolus in this area? Do the bulbs have to be dug out each winter?

Answer: Your glads should be glad to have this eastern exposure to grow their tall spikes of blossoms in a large assortment of colors. The plant seems to grow best spring through early summer in any spot that gets a half-day or more of sun.
One of the secrets to planting gladiolus is loosening the soil first and working in liberal quantities of organic matter. Then set the bulbs about 2 inches deep in the soil and a few inches apart. Once they start to grow, add stakes with string or a ring of wire around the plantings to give them support. They often become top heavy, and in the Florida sand might fall over, which ruins the blooms.
You have the option of digging the bulbs or leaving them in the ground when the foliage declines. If left in the garden, they still need to be dug and separated every few years to make room for the new bulbs that form from the original plantings. (3/18/2006)
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Golden Rain Tree/Root Problem

Question: We have an 8-year-old golden-rain tree that never has flowered. The leaves are yellow and the tips are brown. What can we do to make it healthy?

Answer: The leaf-decline symptoms suggest the tree has a root problem. Make sure the tree is in a well-drained site and not sitting in water during the rainy season. Then make sure some other treatment in the area is not affecting the growth.
Keep weed-control products well away from the root zone. Products used to control weeds permanently can cause the yellow-and-brown foliage you describe. Finally, check your feeding program. If the tree has been on a lean diet, applying a turf fertilizer without a weed killer could produce vigorous green growth. Your tree has to be healthy looking before it will flower. (7/31/2005)
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Question: We moved to a home with a grapefruit tree, and it's loaded with fruits. How will we know when they are ready to eat?

Answer: Lucky you. Grapefruits are expensive at the stores. Deciding when the fruits are ready to eat is quite simple. When they taste good, they are ready to pick.
Some Floridians wouldn't consider eating a grapefruit until March when they get super sweet, but not all residents are so particular. Most start sampling the fruits around November and add a little sugar, if needed, to take away the tart taste. As the season progresses, less sugar is needed because the fruits only improve in flavor.
Grapefruit can be left on the tree for many months, and if any remain as late as May or June, they are still sweet, juicy and edible. (1/1/2006)
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Grapefruit Tree/Pruning

Question: We have let our grapefruit tree get quite large. When is the proper time to prune so that future fruit crops aren't affected?

Answer: Citrus trees always have some part of fruit production going on, so it would be about impossible to prune the tree and not affect the next crop. Fruits are present almost year-round; flower buds start forming during the fall, and blossoms open during late winter.
The best advice is to let the grapefruit tree grow as much as possible with minimal trimming. If the tree grows out of bounds or too tall, February, before growth begins, is a good time to trim. You are sure to lose flower buds and maybe some lingering fruits, but at least you won't waste the tree's efforts producing shoots that might be removed later in the season. If severe pruning is needed, you can expect limited fruit production for a year or two. (2925/2006)
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Grapefruit Tree/Sooty Mold

Question: My grapefruit leaves and trunk are covered with a black sooty film. What is it, and how can it be eliminated?

Answer: You can thank some piercing, sucking insects for that mess on the leaves and stems. Most likely, scale insects, aphids or whiteflies are at fault. As they feast on the citrus portions, they also produce lots of excreta and allow sap to drip from the affected tree portions that encourages the growth of the black sooty mold fungus.
Eliminate the insects and the fungus with a low-toxicity oil spray available from your local garden center. One application that hits all the affected tree portions is likely to be all you need. Don't be surprised if it takes the sooty mold a few weeks or more to begin sloughing off; it's firmly cemented to the foliage and stems. (4/24/2005)

Question: This year my grapefruit tree has dead branches and a number of fruits covered with a black sooty fungus. What care should I give the tree?

Answer: Start the revival by removing any dead or weak limbs. Also look for branches with rotting portions that would succumb to winds or the stress of fruit production. Cut these affected portions back into healthy wood.
The black covering is a fungus called sooty mold. It's most likely affecting leaves and limbs because of insect activity within the tree. Often the pests are whitefly or scale insects that drip excreta and sap onto the tree portions to encourage growth of the fungus.
The insects and the sooty mold can be controlled with a low-toxicity oil spray available from your garden center. You might apply it after pruning and again in midsummer. 2/27/2005)
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Grapefruit Tree/Transplanting

Question: We have a pink grapefruit tree that is more than 2 years old and 8 feet tall. It's growing between two trees and needs to be moved. When is the best time to make the move, and how do we move it?

Answer: Wait a month or two , when it will be a less-stressful time of the year for the tree. Prepare the tree for the move by forming the root ball about a month before the tree is to be lifted from the ground. Make downward cuts in the soil to define the outer limits of the root ball. Your tree likely will need a root ball 2 to 3 feet in diameter. Do not dig under the tree, but sever the side roots and then keep the root ball moist until moving time.
On moving day, dig down in the ground to expose the previously defined root ball and then dig under the ball to loosen the tree. Wrap the root system in burlap or cloth and move the tree to the new location. Keep the planting site moist, and your tree should adjust rapidly to its new home. (10/16/2005)

Question: I have a red grapefruit tree that was planted about six years ago, and it has grown more than 5 feet tall. The leaves are yellow, and it is growing in an area that is soggy after rains. Can this tree be moved, or should I start over?

Answer: There is probably a new tree in your future. It's hard to give up on such an investment, but perhaps it's best to start over in this case. The yellow foliage and minimal growth of six years suggests there are major root problems most likely due to the extreme changes in soil moisture.
You could try to move the tree, but survival would be questionable, and growth likely will be minimal for a year or two during the recovery. (9/25/2005)
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Green Algae

Question: Large areas in the landscape have developed a green slimelike substance on the surface of the soil. Is this a fungus? How do we eliminate it? Will adding lime work?

Answer: That slimy, slippery coating is green algae. It's a problem in poorly drained soils, constantly damp soils and areas with shade or poor air circulation. Some gardeners try to solve the problem by adding lime, but it doesn't work and might make the soil less productive for other plants.
Control this problem by first correcting the cultural conditions that favor algae growth. Until the area has good drainage and dries between rains, algae is likely to be a constant problem. Some fungicides including mancozeb and a few copper-containing products are labeled to help with algae control, but it's a temporary fix unless the real causes are corrected. (3/11/2006)
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Ground Cover

Question: Our lawn is 8 years old, and the areas shaded by the house, fence and crape myrtles are now a combination of crab grass and sedges. What should I do before resodding?

Answer: Maybe you had better think about another ground cover. Such shady spots are often poor areas for turf, and resodding could result in another failure. If the area receives more than 25 percent shade, it's a bad spot for any grasses. Even shade-tolerant St. Augustines thin out and gradually decline.
Perhaps it's best to turn this area over to shade-loving plants. If you need another ground cover, consider ivy, cast-iron plant or Asiatic jasmine. You could develop a garden site with tropical plants that flourish in lower light levels or some more traditional shrubs including azaleas, dwarf yaupon holly or Indian hawthorns. (9/18/2005)
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Question: I lost a small area of my lawn because of grubs. When is the best time to treat these insects, and what should I apply?

Answer: White grubs, the larval stage of certain beetles, are becoming a prevalent pest of local lawns. Turf decline because of their root feeding often resembles damage caused by chinch bugs, nematodes and some diseases. Gardeners have to look below the grass among the roots and in the soil to check for the insects.
Remove at least a square foot of turf a few inches thick within the problem areas. Examine the root zones, searching for the plump white insects with three pairs of brown legs. If two or more grubs are counted in each square-foot sample, a treatment should be applied to the infested areas.
Winter is not the best treatment time because the grubs go deep in the ground. If you know grubs are the problem, consider delaying the treatment until warmer weather and use a lawn insecticide containing Dylox as instructed on the label. If grubs are a continual problem, preventive treatments using the insecticides Merit or Mach 2 can be applied during May, June or July; follow label instructions. (1/15/2006)
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Hawaiian Schefflera/Propagating

Question: I would like to start plants from my Hawaiian schefflera to add to the landscape. Are they easy to start from cuttings?

Answer: This is a plant any beginner can root from 4- to 6-inch cuttings. With the warmer weather, the stems will root quickly. Fill pots with vermiculite or a loose potting soil and moisten. Remove the lower leaves from the plant portions, and push the cut ends about 2 inches into the containers.
Set the containers in a shady spot, and surround them with clear plastic. Keep the foliage moist. Your cuttings should have roots and be ready to transplant into containers in about two months. Grow them in the containers until they are at least a foot tall and ready for the landscape. (5/1/2005)
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Hawaiian Snowbush/Pruning

Question: I have several snowbushes that have grown too tall and wide. I have been told to cut them back in fall and spring. Is this right?

Answer: Most likely the bushes won't care when you prune, but you might want the attractive green, white and red foliage to decorate your landscape during fall and winter. If pruned now, when it's cool, the recovery could be slow; the plants grow best during warmer weather.
Snowbushes are cold-sensitive; so you can expect frost or freeze damage during even the mildest winters. Perhaps it's best to wait until the end of February to remove older stems and cut back the plants to within a few feet of the ground. (11/20/2005)
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Question: I am growing a variety of herbs in 6-inch-deep containers, and the plants need transplanting. Can I successfully grow them in larger containers, or should they be planted in the ground?

Answer: Herbs are happy in any well-drained soil, but many don't like the summer rainy weather that lies ahead. Perhaps, at least until fall, it would be best to continue their growth in larger containers, which can be protected from showers when the rainy season begins. Otherwise, feel free to plant them in any sunny to lightly shaded garden site in a soil that drains quickly after the rains. (4/30/2006)
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Question: Our hibiscus plants have grown quite tall but are not flowering. We feed them every six weeks, and they get plenty of water. What makes them bloom?

Answer: Living too well has your hibiscus plants content not to exert the effort needed to produce the blooms. Your excellent care has the plants growing lots of stems and foliage at the expense of flowerbuds. It's time to put these plants on lean diets.
Reduce the feedings to only a few times each year. Apply a low-nitrogen, often called a blossom-booster, fertilizer once monthly in March, June and September if needed to produce growth. Water only during the dry times, and avoid major pruning unless needed to restrict growth. Your plants might be in bloom for fall. (8/21/2005)
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Question: Our hibiscus looks healthy and green but never blooms. It produces what looks like buds, but they never open. Should I cut it back?

Answer: Hibiscus can be shy bloomers, but if big, plump buds are forming, most should open. Recently, an insect known as a midge has been causing the buds to drop prematurely to spoil the flower displays. It's a small critter but can be seen in the yellow larva stage within the buds that fall to the ground without opening.
When the larva are noted, one of the synthetic pyrethroid sprays available from your garden center can be used to obtain control. These are marketed as general-use insecticides for the landscape. (10/23/2005)
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Question: My hibiscus needs trimming. Can the clippings be rooted?

Answer: Hibiscus are more difficult to root than the softer stemmed ornamentals, but you can do it.
Fill a few flower pots or similar containers with moistened, coarse vermiculite or perlite, and set them in a shady location to begin rooting.
Prepare cuttings from fresh hibiscus stems. Make the cuttings 4 to 6 inches long, and remove any flower buds. Dip the cut ends in rooting powder, and then stick the ends of the cuttings an inch or two deep in the containers. Space the cuttings so the leaves just touch.
Surround the containers with clear plastic and keep the cuttings moist with daily mistings of water. The cuttings should begin to show roots within two months and be ready to transplant to containers of potting soil a month or two later. (5/8/2005)
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Question: I added four hibiscus plants to the landscape last spring. I pruned a few long shoots but don't want to do too much while they are flowering. Can they tolerate a severe pruning? If so, when?

Answer: Hibiscus plants are still in full bloom and should continue to open buds until the first frosts or freezes of winter. If you can, delay pruning until late February when cold weather is usually over. Then you can trim the plants severely if needed.
The plants can be cut back a foot or so above the soil. Most gardeners, however, remove only a few of the older shoots and trim back stronger, healthy ones a few feet below the desired height so as not to delay the spring and summer blooms. (11/27/2005)

Question: I have a hibiscus bush that needs to be trimmed. When is the time to trim it, and how much?

Answer: Trimming to remove out-of-bounds shoots can be done anytime, but most gardeners delay major pruning until the cold weather is over in late February.
The plants are still producing attractive flowers which can be enjoyed until frost or freezing weather arrives. When pruning is needed, remove some of the older stems back to the trunk or near the ground. Then cut back the remaining stems to the de- sired height to begin spring growth. (11/20/2005)

Question: In early spring, I drastically cut back hibiscus bushes that had grown too large. Since the pruning, they have grown a lot but have produced no buds. What did I do wrong?

Answer: Relax, it's not your fault. Cantankerous hibiscus just act this way after heavy pruning. All they seem to do is grow for a while, and no one knows when they will flower. Your plants, however, seem to be taking an extra-long time to bloom and the wet summer hasn't helped.
Get your plants back in the blooming mood by watering only during periods of drought. Then reduce the feedings to once in spring, early summer and fall with a low-nitrogen blossom-booster-type of fertilizer. This minimal care slows growth and encourages blooms. (9/25/2005)

Question: I have several hibiscus plants that have grown tall. When can they be pruned, and how much can I prune them? I would like a well-shaped bush.

Answer: Tackle this pruning job in late February after the chance for a severe freeze is about over. First, remove some of the old stems back to the ground or to the trunk. Then decide how big you would like the shrubs to be after the recovery.
Complete the pruning by lowering the height to about 4 feet below where you would like the shrub to grow. Remember the more wood you remove and the lower the plant is pruned, the longer it takes it to regrow and begin blooming. (1/29/06)

Question: My hibiscus were once dense, but now they have lost most of their leaves, and the plants look spindly. What can I do to restore their beauty?

Answer: Hibiscus and the dry winter weather have not mixed well this year. Most likely, much of the yellow foliage and leaf drop noticed in local landscapes are because the soil is dry. Cool weather also might be responsible for some of the yellowing.
Now might be the best time to prune thin and unproductive shoots from hibiscus plants and remove older, damaged stems. Reduce the plants to a height and width you can live with for another year. Check the soil for moisture, and water as needed to encourage growth. (2/19/2006)
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Question: After being planted, the leaves on my hibiscus turned yellow and fell off. I want to try once more. What tips can you give me for success?

Answer: Water, water and more water, though the problem may not be a lack of water. It could be that the water that is applied just runs around the root ball without moistening the roots. This is a common problem with many plants.
Hibiscus plants fill their pots with roots and often are pot bound at purchase. Also the soils are organic and hard to wet once they dry. This is a bad combination that sets up the plants for failure unless special care is given at planting time.
Tease the roots of pot-bound plants apart a little. This encourages the new roots to grow into the surrounding soil.
Then as planting is completed, create a berm of soil or mulch around the edge of the root ball to catch and direct water down through the root system. Then it's your turn to water by hand frequently to keep the root ball and surrounding soil moist. (7/10/2005)
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Question: In a recent column, you mentioned a disease that affected hollies, just when we were thinking of planting a short hedge of the Burford type. The plants we selected look healthy. Will this variety be affected?

Answer: Starting with healthy plants is one secret to controlling the witches broom disease, also known as sphaeropsis, which is affecting many local hollies. But yes, it can affect the Burford selection of the Chinese holly, too. Much of the disease is spread through pruning, so if you have pest-free plants and use clean pruners when trimming is needed, the chances of getting a witches broom infection is minimal.
Of the common hollies, only the yaupon selections seem to have resistance, and the dwarf forms would make a good hedge, too. (10/23/2005)
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Question: Other than looking for berries, is there a way to determine if a holly tree is male or female?

Answer: Checking for the blue or pink booties probably won't work in this case. Neither are there any hints given by the limbs or the leaves. You have to wait until the flowers are produced to learn the true sex of your tree.
If you need help, take a twig with blossoms to your local extension office. The agent or master gardeners can help you look for the stamens in male flowers and the pollen-receptive pistil of the female blossoms. Also, if your holly has a varietal name, chances are you have a female plant. Named plants are usually marketed for their berry-producing abilities. (7/31/2005)
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Holly/Tea Scale

Question: We have a holly shrub that has been sprayed several times for a white cottonlike material under the leaves with no luck. Should we cut them back or try another product?

Answer: Fighting tea scale, the white stuff on the undersides of the leaves, can be a never-ending battle with Chinese hollies and camellias. An oil spray is a good control, but you have to hit all the scale, and this can be difficult.
Try to do a better job of treating the undersides of the leaves. Even when sprays are effective, the scale is slow to slough off and usually remains on the leaves for months.
You might remove some of the foliage, especially if the scale infestation is not too extensive. However, eliminating the affected foliage is usually a temporary control because scale eventually returns. (5/8/2005)
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Honeysuckle/Caterpillar Damage

Question: I just bought a honeysuckle plant and noticed several clear spots on the leaves and clusters of caterpillars. Would the caterpillars cause this damage?

Answer: The nibbled spots are produced by young caterpillars feeding. At first, they take small bites that remove only the epidermis of the leaves.
As the caterpillars grow bigger, expect them to take big bites and remove whole sections of the leaves. It's probably best to harvest and destroy the caterpillar clusters, unless you don't mind the damage.  (6/19/2005)
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Question: I have a shady area in my lawn and would like to try growing hostas. The local nursery said most selections do poorly in Central Florida. What do you think?

Answer: Many gardeners have fond memories of hostas with the solid green to variegated foliage from Northern landscapes. Most fail to give the vigorous expanding displays locally that are produced in the cooler climates.
Hostas sprout each spring in Central Florida and may produce the familiar white to lavender blooms, but the plants lack the Northern vigor. Throughout most of Florida, hostas might be grown as a specimen plant but not a ground cover.
Some good replacements that have the hosta look for the shady spots include peacock ginger and Amazon lilies.
They can be found at garden centers spring through summer. (5/1/2005)
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Question: I have flat, oval pests growing on the leaves of my indoor peace lilies and schefflera plants, and they seem to emit something sticky. How do I treat the plants?

Answer: This could turn into a horrible sight because sooty mold fungus loves that sticky stuff. If you are not seeing a black covering on the plants, you will shortly unless you take control of the scale insects feeding on the leaves.
Control could be as simple as using a soapy solution and an old toothbrush to loosen and remove the soft scale growing on the undersides of the leaves. If much of the plant is affected, this could take time. A good alternative is applying a natural oil spray available from your garden center.
It's best to move the plants outdoors into the shade and apply the spray as instructed on the label. When dry, the plants can be moved inside. (2/12/2006)
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Question: I have a healthy hoya that is blooming, and I would like to make some cuttings. Where would I make the cuts, and should the cuttings be rooted in water or soil?

Answer: A blooming hoya is a real treat, producing clusters of often fragrant white to pinkish waxlike flowers along the stems. You may want to delay taking cuttings until after the blooming period is over. Then remove some of the long stems and cut them into sections with two or more clusters of leaves. Keep the stem portions oriented as they would normally grow in the soil.
Finish making the cuttings by removing one cluster of leaves at the base of each stem and then sticking this portion an inch or two deep into the rooting media. Containers of coarse vermiculite seem to work best for rooting the cuttings, but a good potting soil also could be used.
Keep the cuttings moist, place them in a shady location and surround the containers with clear plastic to maintain the humidity that encourages rooting. The cuttings should be rooted and ready to transplant to permanent containers filled with potting soil in about eight weeks. (5/7/2006)
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Question: I received a hyacinth plant for the holidays, and now the flowers are gone. How do I keep it to enjoy the flowers another year?

Answer: Most gardeners treat pots of holiday hyacinths as a bouquet and toss the plants after the flowers fade but keep the container. If you enjoy a challenge, you might be able to bring the flowers back into bloom in a year or two.
Keep the plants in the container and set it in the landscape to grow for a while. By early summer, the plants decline and enter a rest period until fall. Around October, remove the bulbs, repot them and place the container with bulbs in the refrigerator for 12 weeks; make sure it remains moist. Do not keep fruit or vegetables with the bulbs.
At the end of the cold period, place the container of bulbs in a sunny spot and keep the soil moist as growth begins. Regretfully, forced hyacinths seldom rebloom the second year even in northern climates. They normally take two years of this kind of care to flower again. (5/20/2006)
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Hyacinth Bulbs

Question: I received a hyacinth-forcing kit as a gift that says to chill the bulbs for six to eight weeks at 40 to 45 degrees. Can we set them outside for the cold treatment?

Answer: Such a cold treatment needs consistent chilly temperatures to bring the bulbs into bloom, and Florida's weather might fluctuate too much. The best spot to give them the needed cold is in the refrigerator.
First, place the bulbs in a paper bag and set it in the refrigerator. After the cold treatment, follow the remaining instructions using the special hyacinth vases that came with the kit. This allows the base of the bulbs to sit in water while they are coming into bloom. (1/15/2006)
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Question: When I was a girl, I visited my grandmother who would always stand on the porch watering her hydrangeas. They were beautiful. Do you know what variety they might have been?

Answer: Your grandmother knew what it took to grow good hydrangeas in Florida -- lots of water. They are water hogs and need a constantly moist soil. The best spot for hydrangeas in the landscape is where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade to help reduce water stress.
Also, maintain a mulch layer and keep the soil moist.
Perhaps the flower color and shape of the blooms has changed a little since your grandmother's plantings, but the same hydrangea species are still available. The florist hydrangea is most common with pink or blue blooms. The color is regulated by the acidity of the soil -- blue in acid soils and pink in alkaline.
A second selection is native white- to pinkish-flowered oak-leaf hydrangea. Both like similar care and produce attractive displays. (3/26/2006)
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Question: I love impatiens, and they grow quite well for me. The problem is that they get too tall. Can I cut them back?

Answer: You have my permission to cut them back to about half their height. At this time of the year, impatiens should respond with a quick spurt of foliage growth and a new flush of flowers within six to eight weeks. Keep the soil moist, and begin light monthly feedings with a general garden fertilizer until the plants reach the desired size. (6/26/2005)
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Indian Hawthorn/Wax Scale

Question: My Indian hawthorns have small white sea urchinlike critters with spines on the leaves. Where they are present, there is a lot of sooty mold. What should I do?

Answer: It's not a pretty sight, but you have a wax scale-insect infestation. Indian hawthorns are one of this pest's favorite plants; the insects suck juices from the stems and drip excreta on the foliage, which is food for the sooty mold fungus.
Control scale and sooty mold fungus with a natural oil spray available from your local garden center. One application is likely all you need, but it will take weeks for the scale and black fungus to loosen and drop from the leaves. (3/4/2006)
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Italian Cypress/Pruning

Question: We have several Italian cypress shrubs that have grown quite tall. Can they be pruned back? If so, when?

Answer: Some gardeners have given these very upright shrubs a flat-top look to halt the growth, and the plants don't seem to mind one bit. It ruins the very upright pencillike shape, however, and the shrubs begin to grow a little wider. Don't prune the stems back past where they have green leaves. Italian cypress and similar evergreens seldom recover from bare-brown stems left after pruning. (2/18/2006)
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Question: I am planting ixoras and day lilies. Which of the two would look and grow the best planted next to a wall?

Answer: Ixoras get my vote because the green foliage would form a good backdrop for other flowers, including day lilies. The day lilies likely would get lost against a masonry or painted background.
Set the ixoras a few feet from the wall. The basic rule is to plant shrubs half their expected width plus 1 foot from the wall.
The only problem you could encounter is masonry walls tend to make the soil alkaline and ixoras are sensitive to these higher soil pH levels. You likely would need a fertilizer that includes the minor nutrients at each feeding to keep attractive green leaves. (5/29/2005)
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Question: The jacaranda sounds like a showy tree, but I am concerned about the cold it might experience in Orlando. Should I try one?

Answer: Jacaranda trees produce clusters of beautiful blue flowers for late spring but usually only if you live in one of the warmer locations. Numerous large trees once grew in Orlando, but they were severely damaged by the freezes of the 1970s and 1980s. A few remain, but it would be a risk to add the jacaranda to the landscape. (3/13/2005)
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Jerusalem Artichoke

Question: I recently bought Jerusalem artichoke tubers to plant. When is the best time to add them to the garden? When are they ready to harvest?

Answer: Like its sunflower relatives, the Jerusalem artichokes grow best spring through fall. The tubers can be planted now, but until the warm weather returns, don't expect a lot of growth.
The tubers can be planted whole or cut into sections that contain several buds. Set the pieces 2 inches deep and 2 feet apart in an enriched soil. Plant in full sun, and keep the soil moist during the growing season. Apply a general garden fertilizer every three to four weeks during spring through fall.
When the warm weather returns, the plants can grow to 10 feet tall and produce new tubers underground in about 130 days. Sneak a peek at this time to determine if the tubers are large enough to dig. When about an inch in diameter and 3 to 4 inches long, the artichokes can be harvested. They can be left in the ground or dug, air-dried and stored in a cool location until used. (11/27/2005)
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Question: Every year I try to keep a new kalanchoe plant, but each time, the leaves turn yellow and die. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: You have two choices -- either turn in your gardening merit badge or follow a few easy-care instructions to keep the kalanchoe growing. First, keep the plant in a bright location but out of full sun. Some filtered sun is fine, especially outdoors or on a patio. Water only when the surface soil begins to dry. Too much water can rot the roots, especially during cooler weather.
Perhaps it's best to keep the plant indoors until consistently warm weather arrives around March. Then the kalanchoe can be kept in a container on a porch, a patio or somewhere in the landscape.
Feed the plant with any houseplant product every other week until November. Keep the plant compact with periodic trimmings until August, and root the cutting if you wish to have even more kalanchoes in bloom for the holidays. (2/5/2006)
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Knock Out Roses/Pruning

Question: Our Knock Out roses need to be trimmed. Are they pruned the same as other garden roses?

Answer: Shrub roses such as Knock Out don't seem to have a pruning plan. Some gardeners selectively remove limbs to reshape the plants, and others use the shears. The only rule that must be followed is to remove any dead or declining plant portions.
Knock Out roses appear to grow much more vigorously in Florida than in other areas of the country. The predicated 3-foot height listed in plant guides often becomes 8 feet because of Florida's mild climate. It's probably best to trim the plants to a few feet below where you would like them to grow. Later in the year, you can prune them again if needed.(3/5/2006)
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Question: I have been battling a persistent vine that is climbing my oak trees and covering a hedge. It has big heart-shaped leaves. Is there a way to control the vine without affecting nearby plants?

Answer: Some gardeners call this weedy vine kudzu, but it's the tropical yam. You probably want to keep the tree and hedge; so the first step is to cut the vine to the ground and remove it from the desired plants.
Next, treat the growths with a herbicide that contains triclopyr. Products available at garden centers with this active ingredient include Bayer Brush Killer Plus, Roundup Poison Ivy & Tough Brush Killer and Ortho Brush B Gon. Treat only the foliage, and follow the label carefully to prevent injury to nearby trees and shrubs. (10/30/2005)
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Lady Palm

Question: Recently, because of pool construction, I neglected a container-grown lady palm. It has burnt tips, and I have not fed it for a while. How can I get it back into shape?

Answer: Reintroducing a little tender loving care is probably all that's needed to get your plant back into shape. Lady palms are tough and durable, but now may be a good time to give a neglected plant waterings to keep the soil moist until it can produce growth. Also, apply a palm fertilizer for a spring feeding. Spruce up the plant by cutting off the brown tips; this should make it look a lot better too. (4/29/2006)
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Landscape Fabric

Question: I just finished tilling a portion of my backyard. When should I add a landscape fabric to keep the weeds down?

Answer: Remove any debris, smooth out the soil, and add the landscape fabric immediately. Don't allow the weeds to get a fresh start in this newly cleared site. If you wish, add another layer of an ornamental mulch and cut holes through the fabric as needed to add plants. (2/18/2006)
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Lava Rocks

Question: We have used lava rocks in our shrub beds over the surface of the soil and up next to the plants. We have been told by a yard-care person to pull the rocks a few inches away from the shrubs; yet another person says the rocks are fine as applied. What should we do?

Answer: Move the rocks back 6 inches to a foot to prevent the stems from staying too moist and maybe rotting. There are also data suggesting mulch coverings too close to trunks impede the movement of water and air to the root system. So, no matter what type of mulch you use, it's best not to let it touch the base of the plants. (3/25/2006)
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Lawn Mower/Mulching

Question: I bought a self-propelled lawn mower with a bagging shoot and mulching blade. Which is better for my grass -- bagging the clippings or mulching them and allowing them to fall back on the lawn?

Answer: Make mowing easy by leaving the clippings on the ground, which returns up to one feeding a year in nutrients. It's like getting free fertilizer. If the lawn is mowed weekly during the active growing season, you are not going to get matts of clippings that have to be bagged.
Also, the mulching blade chops them into tiny pieces that quickly decompose. Leaf blades left on the lawn do not significantly contribute to the thatch layer in properly cared-for lawns. (4/30/2006)
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Lemon Tree

Question: I bought a Eureka lemon tree that's about 3 feet tall and has blooms on it. When and where should I plant it in the landscape?

Answer: Planting a lemon tree in the ground is like betting on the horses; sometimes you win and other times you lose. Lemons and limes are quite cold-sensitive, temperatures much below freezing can cause them to decline.
If you have a warm location or are prepared to protect the tree in the winter with a cover and maybe some heat, you can plant the tree in any sunny location. Otherwise, you may want to keep this lemon in a large container to move to a warm carport or garage when cold warnings are sounded. (2/27/2005)
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Lemon Tree/Deer Protection

Question: Twice deer have eaten the leaves and buds off our new lemon tree. We have added a small fence, but the tree has not produced buds. Was this experience too traumatic for our tree?

Answer: Obviously, the deer didn't mind the tangy taste of your new lemon tree and gave little thought about your plans to grow a fruiting tree. And yes, being fodder for deer likely was traumatic, but the tree should survive.
After the second feeding, it's going to take the tree some time to generate buds from deep within the remaining twigs. Most likely, flowering will be delayed a year or two as the tree produces lots of growth for a while.
Now, the success of the tree is going to depend on you too. Keep the fence in place and enlarge it as needed to exclude the deer. Also keep the soil moist and provide three or four feedings with a citrus fertilizer as instructed on the label, and you could be making lemonade in a year or two. (3/13/2005)
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Ligustrum/Leaf Spots

Question: I recently added ligustrum trees to my landscape. Now some of the leaves are yellow, and a few have brown spots. Should I be concerned?

Answer: Most gardeners see brown and yellow spots on their ligustrum trees. The plants seem to have a close association with the cercospora leaf spot fungus. Usually the fungus lives hidden among the lower leaves and seldom is noticed. But when growth slows because of transplanting or limited care, the fungus gets ahead of new leaf production.
Some yellowing and spotting is normal and can be tolerated. It should be covered up by springtime growth. Make sure your new ligustrums have adequate water and light feedings every other month the first year to produce new leaves. A fungicide labeled for leaf spot control could be applied to help the ligustrums get ahead of the fungus. (1/22/2006)

Question: A ligustrum tree growing in our yard has black spots on the leaves. How are these spots controlled?

Answer: Every ligustrum in town is likely to have cercospora leaf spot, a fungal disease. It is more noticeable during the spring months before the trees or shrubs begin growth. Normally, with good rains and fertilizer, the trees outgrow the disease, and it's hidden.
If the fungus seems to be getting ahead of the good growth, a fungicide can be applied. Products available from local garden centers that give control include chlorothalonil, Immunox, Thiomyl and Halts Systemic Fungicide. Also check your care program to make sure the trees have adequate water and fertilizer. The weaker plants appear more susceptible to this disease. (5/29/2005)

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Ligustrum/Sooty Mold Fungus

Question: I recently planted two ligustrum trees and noticed black mold on the undersides of the leaves where they join into a branch. Should I be concerned?

Answer: Ligustrums seem to harbor a little of the sooty mold fungus. As you noticed, it's often at the bases of leaves and most likely living off nutrient-rich plant sap. A little can be tolerated and ignored. If you notice insects on the plants and an accumulation of larger quantities of sooty mold, then a natural oil spray might be needed to control both problems. (2/26/2006)
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Question: Several of our older ligustrums have wilted and now appear dead. Is there anything we can do to prevent the loss of others?

Answer: Sudden wilt and decline of any plant tells you there is a water problem. But the real cause is a bit more elusive. First, make sure the planting has adequate drainage. Water collecting in the growing site can quickly lead to root rot and the symptoms you have observed. Excessive summer rains may be at fault. Swales or drains may be needed to create a well-drained planting site the ligustrums need for growth.
Other root and trunk problems may be causing the die-back noted. These can be encouraged by the planting being too deep, organisms living in the soil and damage during plant maintenance. If you cannot determine the cause, take a declining plant to your local extension office. Typically, the agent needs the lower trunk and root portions to make an accurate diagnosis. (8/7/2005)
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Question: I love lilacs and know they are not a Florida bush. But would this plant have a chance if I keep it on the porch or even in the house?

Answer: If bargaining would work with Mother Nature, you might be successful, but lilacs don't grow in Florida no matter what you do. The plants simply do not get cold enough to grow and bloom as they do in Northern climates. A trip North during lilac time is the only way to get your yearly fill of these attractive shrubs. (4/9/2006)
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Question: It's several weeks after Easter, and a lily I planted last year is just getting ready to bloom. Why is it so late flowering, and what should I do for the plant after flowering?

Answer: Easter does not arrive the same time every year, but lilies are pretty consistent about blooming around the first of May. Plants sold at stores for the holidays have been forced into flower, and the growers can have them available no matter when Easter arrives.
Enjoy the blooms and allow the plant to continue growth through spring. Keep the soil moist, and apply a light fertilizer monthly until the lily begins to decline. When the foliage and stems turn brown, the lily can be cut back to the ground where it rests until late winter, when growth begins. (5/14/2006)
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Lime Tree/Pruning

Question: I have a small lime tree that has never been trimmed. Does it need pruning, and, if so, when should it be done?

Answer: Citrus trees of all types need little pruning. Some grooming could be done at about anytime. This might include the removal of limbs growing outside the normal spread of the tree, branches that have become entangled or shoots growing from below the graft. Seldom do citrus trees need extensive pruning, but if you want to reduce height and width, it is best performed in mid-February just before spring growth begins. (12/18/2005)
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Question: I divided older liriope clumps with 2-foot-long leaves. A neighbor said I could trim them to about 8 inches long to produce a neater-looking ground cover. Would this hurt the plants?

Answer: Removing a considerable amount of foliage is never a good way to encourage plant growth, but for the sake of beauty, this is one time you can make an exception. A hard trimming should give the plants a fresh start with plenty of room for new foliage. Just keep the soil moist by watering when the upper inch becomes dry, and apply a light feeding every six to eight weeks until the plants are back to normal. (3/6/2005)
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Lubber Grasshoppers

Question: I have some bugs clustering on plant leaves. They have grasshopperlike legs and black bodies with orange lines on their backs. What are these insects, and do they need to be controlled?

Answer: You have spotted first-of-the-season lubber grasshoppers, a common pest in local landscapes. Most likely, these just hatched and are looking for a home on your plants, where they will chew large holes in the leaves.
This is just the juvenile stage of this insect, which by summer will grow to more than 2 inches long and turn brown and yellow. Remove and destroy these smaller stages while you can before they become difficult to control. (4/8/2006)
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Question: I have a 10-foot-tall magnolia tree that is about 6 years old. It has never produced a blossom. Are there magnolia trees that do not bloom?

Answer: Some magnolias may be reluctant bloomers, but no one has reported a tree that has failed to flower. Horticulturists often talk about maturity factors that affect these trees, and plantings at least 10 years old and 20 or more feet tall seem to be more likely to get into flowering mode.
A few, such as the variety Little Gem, may be blooming when purchased from the garden center and give yearly repeat performances no matter how old or tall they may be. (5/13/2006)
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Magnolia/Hurricane Damage

Question: We have a 5-year-old magnolia tree that was blown over several times during the hurricanes. Each time we stood it back up, but now the tree has only a few leaves and little growth. Is it worth saving?

Answer: Magnolias are slow to recover from root loss. But most magnolias look a little on the sickly side at this time of the year anyway as they drop the older leaves and begin growth. Perhaps it's best to wait and see how well the tree recovers through the late spring and summer season.
Make sure you have added supports. You may want to guy the tree in three directions to prepare for the typical summer storms. Then make sure the soil remains moist during the dry times. Magnolias are pretty drought-tolerant trees, but they need a moist soil to establish a good root system.
You also can feed the tree lightly with a lawn fertilizer once in June as the rainy season begins to encourage growth. By the end of summer, you should be able to decide whether the tree is a keeper. (5/8/2005)

Question: A magnolia tree was partially uprooted in our yard during the 2004 hurricanes. We righted the tree, added soil around the exposed roots and staked it. The tree has continued to bloom, but it looks sad. Can it be revitalized, or should it be replaced?

Answer: Most magnolias look a bit sad now as they change out their leaves during late spring. Perhaps it's best to give the tree normal care through the summer season and then determine its fate. You should keep the soil moist during dry weather and feed it again in June with a 16-4-8 or similar fertilizer. Good growth often occurs during the rainy summer season. (5/21/2006)
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Magnolia/Leaf Spot

Question: My magnolia has silvery spots on the lower leaves. What is the cause, and how do I treat the problem?

Answer: A silvery tinge to the leaves and a few bright lights might make this tree a great holiday decoration for your yard. Even if you are not interested in this festive idea, you will be happy to learn this is a minor blemish called algal leaf spot; typically, it is ignored.
You could break out a copper fungicide, available from your garden center, to help contain the spotting, but the tree won't mind no matter what you do. The silvery spots are formed by a plant growing on the surface of the leaves that takes advantage of the available light and moisture.
Most magnolia leaves drop naturally during spring and, with them, the algal leaf spots causing the concern. Don't worry. Your tree gets new blemish-free leaves at this time too. (12/11/2005)

Question: My magnolia tree is 15 feet tall and has discolored leaves and what appears to be insects on the stems. I know the tree has been neglected. What can I use to get it growing again?

Answer: Neglected or not, magnolias often look mighty bad at this time of year. As you noted, the leaves fill with dark spots and turn a deep yellow color as they dramatically drop their foliage.
Interestingly, not all magnolias change out their leaves at the same time. Over a period of a few months, trees in the same yard or neighborhood seem to take turns replacing the old foliage with shiny new green leaves.
It is possible the older leaves have fungal leaf spots plus scale insects present. Luckily, most of these problems disappear with the change of foliage. Controls for pest problems are normally not needed at this time.(4/23/2006)
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Question: Small white specks are appearing on the leaves of the magnolias in our neighborhood. Should we be worried, and if so, what do you recommend?

Answer: Drive through any neighborhood and you are likely to find white magnolia scale. This is a common pest that also has a common predator, a tiny wasp. If you look closer at the scale, you might find a hole in the white oyster-shell-like portions. This means the wasp is working and has the scale under control.
Even though the scale is noticeable, it seldom needs treatment. The magnolias seem to tolerate it well even when the wasps get a little behind. Where needed, an oil spray available from your local garden center could be applied following the label instructions. But who wants to spray a tall tree? (6/26/2005)
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Magnolia Seeds

Question: I have harvested red magnolia seeds. What is the next step to grow some trees?

Answer: Considerable patience will be needed to produce the trees from seed. They have several dormancy factors that must be overcome to get them in a germination mood.
First, remove the red coating from the hard inner seeds. This coating keeps the seeds from sprouting until it's rubbed off. Next, plant the seeds in containers of potting soil. Cover them with a layer of soil equal to the seeds' thickness. Moisten the soil, and set the container in a refrigerator for 120 days. This helps the seed overcome a maturity factor that also prevents germination.
When the cold treatment is over, place the containers of seeds in a sunny location and keep them moist. The long-awaited germination should begin within a month or two. (11/13/2005)
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Mandevilla Vine

Question: The mandevilla vine I bought three weeks ago is growing well, but it's not flowering. How do I encourage the blooms?

Answer: Plants bought from garden centers often begin a growth phase that can last for several weeks or even months when added to the landscape. They sort of forget about flowering until the plants are large enough to support blossoms.
Help bring out the flowers by keeping the soil moist and feeding lightly once a month with a blossom-booster type fertilizer. You might get a few flowers for fall before the plant rests for the winter. (9/25/2005)
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Mandevilla Vine/Pruning

Question: I have a mandevilla vine that grew well and flowered until recently. Now it's losing leaves and has stopped producing shoots. Would now be a good time to trim the plant to keep it from outgrowing the area?

Answer: Mandevillas that bloom with pretty pink flowers during warmer months take a break this time of year. Use this time to cut back the plants to a desired shape and size. If the plants are damaged by cold, the dead stems also should be removed. It's probably best to cut the plants back to a few feet above the ground in early March to let them get a fresh start. (3/5/2006)
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Maple Tree

Question: We have a maple tree that has been growing in our yard for about two years, but it never produces a lot of leaves. Is there anything we can do to make it healthier?

Answer: Most maple trees planted in dry, sandy Florida soils don't get enough water. One other name for these trees is swamp maple, which should give us a hint as to their water needs. To obtain the best growth, make sure the soil remains moist, especially during the drier hot weather. You also can apply a turf fertilizer at the lawn rate to encourage growth, but it's water that the trees need most. (4/29/2006)
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Maple Tree/Surface Roots

Question: I have a maple tree with lots of surface roots. Would it be all right to remove a few and cover the roots that remain with soil and create a flower garden?

Answer: Maples are notorious for producing surface roots that are in the way of walking and mowing. As we learned from recent hurricanes, all roots are important and removing even a few could affect the support for the tree.
A light layer of soil up to 2 inches thick would help cover the roots for a short time. Adding a thicker layer for a flower garden could suffocate the root system and again affect the survival of the tree.
Possibly one answer to the root problem is to create a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch over the root system starting a foot from the trunk. Then you could add container gardens filled with flowers to provide the color. Another option is to plant Asiatic jasmine, which is very competitive with the roots, as a ground cover under the trees. You still could add a few containers of flowers. (5/22/2005)
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Question: I recently planted a big bed of marigolds. Is there any chance it will last through the winter?

Answer: It would be a long stretch of the imagination to think marigolds could survive until winter. These are annual flowers that once added to the garden can remain in bloom for six to eight weeks before starting to decline. 
Cheery replacements such as calendulas, dianthus, petunias, salvias, snapdragons or begonias would be good late-fall selections to last through the winter months. (9/18/2005)
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Question: We like the yellow flowers of our melampodium, but the plants are growing lanky. Can we prune the plants without stopping the blooms?

Answer: Melampodium fill with yellow daisylike blooms for the warm months. They are long-lived annuals that usually give a three- to four-month display, then set seed and decline. Often, seeds germinate so quickly to start plants that gardeners hardly notice the older plants declining.
Feel free to trim lanky shoots, but avoid doing shearing or shaping that would remove major portions of the plants. Too much pruning would remove potential blooms and may encourage the plants to complete their life cycles and decline. (6/12/2005)
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Meyer Lemon

Question: I planted a Meyer lemon last year that I was told is an ever-bearing tree. When can we expect the tree to start fruiting?

Answer: You are going to be a little disappointed but not totally unhappy with the Meyer lemon. First, it bears fruits that taste like lemons but look more like oranges. It's not a true lemon, but it makes great lemonade, pies and other pastries. The Meyer is hardier than the true lemon, so it might be better adapted to local landscapes.
Meyer lemon trees mature their fruits November through March. That's hardly ever-bearing, but it's enough time for you to get plenty of fresh lemonade and to store juice for the future. Also, it's not a tree but more of a large shrub. It's probably just the right size for most home landscapes, so you have room for other plantings too. (11/6/2005)

Question: I have a Meyer lemon about 4 feet tall that has had two fruits for three months that have not turned yellow. When do I harvest them?

Answer: Fresh lemonade sounds good on a hot summer day, but you will have to get your fixings from the fruit stand. Your crop of Meyer lemons won't be ready until the winter months when the fruits turn from green to a yellowish-orange color.
The Meyer is not a true lemon and, in fact, has a smooth orange appearance. It grows as a small multibranched, spreading tree and has more cold tolerance than the true lemons.
When your tree is a year or two older, it should produce an abundant crop with the familiar lemon taste. (8/21/2005)
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Mona Lavender/Propagating

Question: I accidentally broke off a stem from a newly purchased Mona Lavender plectranthus. Can this plant be propagated from a stem placed in water?

Answer: After a week or two in water, your plectranthus stem is probably showing a few roots. This is an attractive purple-flowered plant that is easy to root.
Though many gardeners do root plants in water, it's not the best way to obtain starts for the home or landscape.
Plants that root in water develop a special root system that is slow to adapt to soil. Often they rot as they make the transition from water to soil or they are slow to resume growth. It's much better to root the plants in a soillike medium.
Most gardeners are successful rooting cuttings in vermiculite or in a loose soil mixture. These hold adequate moisture to start growth but are well-drained and allow the plants to develop a soil-oriented root system.
Stick the cuttings in the growing medium and keep them moist with frequent misting.
Most gardeners set the containers of cuttings in a shady location and surround the pots with plastic to maintain a moist atmosphere until the cuttings are rooted and ready to transplant. (3/20/2005)
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Mulch as Weed Control

Question: Each year we plant zinnias, sunflowers and cleome that reseed themselves, but so do the weeds. Can we use a mulch to control weeds and still have the returning flowers?

Answer: Mulch can be part of a good weed-control program, but it also will keep the desired flower seeds from germinating. There are only a few options to controlling the weeds in a self-seeding wildflower planting.
One is to take the time and energy to pull the weeds as noted. Eliminate the weeds early so the flowers can make good growth that shades the soil and helps keep the weeds to a minimum. Another suggestion is to collect some of the seeds as flowering declines and save them to restart as the warmer weather returns during late winter. Prepare the soil by removing all weeds and then lightly working the seeds into the ground. Some weeding still may be needed. (4/24/2005)
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Mulch/Vegetable Garden

Question: Mulch seems to be used routinely in local landscapes. Is it also necessary in the vegetable garden?

Answer: Mulches are not a necessity but certainly a benefit to vegetable gardens. Creating a 2- to 3-inch mulch layer helps control weeds and stretches the time between waterings. In sandy soils, it also helps keep the harvests clean and free of the fine, gritty particles that often splash about when watered. Hay, partially composed tree leaves and grass clippings make a great mulch for vegetable gardens. (9/4/2005)
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Naval Citrus/Insects

Question: Many of my navel citrus fruits are dropping from the tree. When I pick them up, they have small holes in the skin, and little brown insects come out from inside the fruits. What should I do?

Answer: Navel trees are not the best producers, but they grow the fruit gardeners want the most. The trees drop and split a lot of fruits during the fall. They also often produce dry, grainy fruits, especially when the trees are young. So why not an insect problem, too?
The insects are secondary. They are called sour bugs and enter fruits starting to decline. Usually these are the ones about to drop or that already have fallen to the ground. Those little brown beetles are trying to help remove the debris. They are too numerous and impossible to control with pesticides.
Pick up the fruits as they fall and discard them to reduce the bug activity. Even with all these problems, there should be plenty of good navels left to ripen normally and enjoy. (12/18/2005)
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Question: I have replaced some of the soil and resodded areas of my lawn that were affected by nematodes. Is special care needed to strengthen the roots and help them compete with these pests?

Answer: Strong, vigorous roots are the secret to beating nematode problems. Your site preparation has reduced the population, and the new grass can get off to a good start. Encourage root growth by keeping the soil extra moist during the first few weeks of establishment; then water as needed.
Once established, water only when sections of the lawn start to show signs of stress by turning a gray-green color and curling the leaves. Then water the entire lawn as much as 3/4-inch to rewet the soil profile. The stress exhibited by the wilting between waterings encourages additional root growth to help the grass resist nematodes.
Toughen up the lawn a bit more with feedings to encourage strong growth. Apply the first feeding three to four weeks after sodding. Use a 16-2-8, 15-0-15 or similar fertilizer to promote a pest resistant-lawn. Additional feedings typically are made in March, July and October. (10/9/2005)
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Night Time Lights

Question: Our yard lights are on from dusk to dawn. Are these lights affecting the plants in any way?

Answer: Most plants won't mind, but if you are counting on fall blooms from poinsettias, chrysanthemums, kalanchoes and holiday cactuses, you have to find a way to turn off the nighttime lights.
One option to get blooms for the holidays is to grow these plants in a location that receives no evening light during the fall months. You also could cover them each day at about 5 p.m. during the fall, but this could be a lot of work.
Twenty-four hours of light each day can encourage some plants to produce additional growth and flowers. Often, there is little concern, but with crape myrtles, the extra light might be a problem. The extended days delay their normal rest period, which makes them more susceptible to cold injury during the winter months. (11/27/2005)
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Norfolk Island Pine

Question: I have a 5-foot-tall Norfolk Island pine that consists of four individual trees. I want to separate them without causing any damage. What do I need to do?

Answer: Don't even think of trying to do that. By now the roots have become intertwined, and separating the trees likely would cause them all to decline. Perhaps the best advice is to accept the cluster as a multistemmed, shrublike plant or eliminate all but one of the best shoots to get a more treelike look. If you want a tree, trim off all but the straightest trunk. The remaining shoot then would grow a normal Norfolk Island pine to keep in a container or add to the landscape. (1/22/06)
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Nun's Orchid

Question: I have a nun's orchid, and I have heard you can start plants from the old flower stems. How is this done?

Answer: Few flowering stems send out roots and shoots, but this one does when given good growing conditions. When the flowers fade, cut the long stems into 6- to 8-inch lengths. Lay them flat across a shallow container of potting soil. Add additional soil around the edges of the stems, but do not cover them completely.
Keep the stems moist and in a shady location. In about a month, new plants with roots should begin forming along the stems. When the new nun's orchids grow several inches tall, they can be removed from the stems and potted in containers to grow into flowering-size plants for next year. (4/22/2006)
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Oak Leaf Mulch/Azaleas

Question: My husband likes to rake oak leaves and pile them under our azaleas. Is this good for them?

Answer: Some leaves are fine, but piles could be a problem. Leaves help conserve moisture and eventually break down into soil. They also help to produce an acid soil that the azaleas should love.
But too many leaves mat down and keep the limited rains and irrigation water from filtering down to the roots during the dry times. Piles of leaves too close to the azaleas also prevent good air movement and encourage stem and root rot problems. It's best to keep leaf mulches to a 3- to 4-inch layer starting 6 inches or more from the base of the shrubs to derive the benefits but avoid any problems. (3/13/2005)
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Oak Tree

Question: An oak tree recently has sprouted in a bed about 5 feet from our house. Is this too close to our home?

Answer: One thing hurricanes have taught us is not to allow large trees to grow too close to the home. In time, the limbs could rub against the roof or even break off to damage the structure of the house.
Another potential problem is, the foundation of the home does not allow the roots to spread out and anchor the tree securely into the ground, making it more susceptible to winds from any storm. (1/8/2006)
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Oak Tree/Browning

Question: After last year's hurricanes, we had two new oak trees planted. One appears to be doing fine, but the other gets new leaves that eventually turn brown. Will it survive?

Answer: Your tree is a struggler that is losing as much foliage as it is gaining. Most likely, it's telling you it's having trouble taking up the water and nutrients needed for growth. Perhaps the tree has not been able to establish as good a root system as the other oak planted at the same time. There are many possible causes of the problem, but now you have to decide what you can do to save the tree.
Start by keeping the soil moist. Make sure there is a berm around the edge of the root ball to catch water and direct it down through the root system and then out into the surrounding soil. Watering every other day should be adequate if it doesn't rain.
Resist the temptation to give the tree extra fertilizer. More food is seldom the answer to a struggling tree problem. A light feeding or two with a lawn fertilizer won't hurt, but too much could burn the roots or encourage top growth that the root system cannot support. Summer is a good time for trees to grow new roots. With a little care, your tree is likely to continue growing slowly but steadily. (7/10/2005)
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Oak Tree/Fertilizing

Question: Last year, we planted a live oak near where we lost a tree during a hurricane. As we enter spring, is there anything we should do to fertilize the tree?

Answer: A few feedings won't hurt, but keeping the soil moist as the tree grows into the surrounding soil during the usually dry spring season is more important. A new tree is not established for about a year after planting. Make sure it gets water once or twice a week until the summer rainy season returns.
If you want to speed growth with a feeding, select a lawn-type fertilizer without the weed killer. Apply it as if feeding the lawn following the label rates; then water as normal to move the nutrients into the soil. The fertilizer application can be repeated in June at the start of the rainy season to help the tree continue growth. (4/1/2006)
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Oak Tree/Galls

Question: An oak tree planted in my yard last year seems to be putting out lots of new leaves, but I also notice rounded growths on some of the branches. Is this a disease?

Answer: These growths may look strange, but it's not abnormal to find galls forming on oak-tree limbs and foliage. Galls forming on your tree most likely are caused by a wasp that's harmless to you and causes little damage to the tree.
Egg-laying by the insects causes the twig tissues to enlarge to provide a home in which the young develop. After several months of growth, the adult insects leave the galls, and you might notice holes in some of the older ones that remain on the tree.
Sometimes the smaller limb portions affected by galls decline, but often they are incorporated into the tree's growth. No control is needed. (4/9/2006)
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Oak Tree/Hurricane Damage

Question: I have three oak trees that withstood the hurricanes with little damage, but now one appears to have died. Can damage from the storms be showing up this late?

Answer: Gardeners may see the damage from last year's storms for several years. Often the damage noted is twisted limbs or cracked trunks that cannot support growth or become infected with fungal organisms and decline. Sometimes the storms loosened the roots and the trees cannot take up needed moisture, and they turn brown and die.
Other times, the trees may have stayed too wet too long last year, and this is resulting in root problems. It may take a root or lower trunk rot fungus a year or more to cause the decline you have noted.
You may wish to have a certified arborist or horticulturist check your declining and healthy trees to determine the extent of the damage. (5/8/2005)
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Oak Tree/Leaf Drop

Question: We have moved here from the North and notice the two live oak trees in our front yard are dropping their leaves. Is this normal?

Answer: Northern oaks drop their leaves during the fall, but their Florida relatives wait until spring growth begins to change out their foliage. Laurel and live oaks drop their leaves during February and March. The trees flower and obtain new leaves within a few weeks. But, just like up North, you have to rake. Oak leaves can be used as mulch or added to the compost pile. (3/19/2006)
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Oak Tree/Leaf Spotting

Question: We have noticed a number of brown sunken spots on our oak tree leaves. Should we apply a control?

Answer: Oak leaf blister, a fungal disease, was rampant this spring because of the damp weather. By the time you notice the leaf damage, it's too late to apply a control. Most of the affected foliage is among the lower limbs that remained damp longer after rains.
Even though some leaves drop and there is considerable leaf spotting, the damage to the tree is minimal. If you want to attempt control, a fungicide would have to be applied during the winter just before growth begins and repeated every other week for about a month. Most gardeners ignore the damage. (5/22/2005)
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Oak Tree/Soil Over Root Area

Question: I am redoing my landscape under oak trees that are 10 years old. I would like to add soil and azaleas. Will this harm the tree?

Answer: It's not a good idea to add more than an inch or two of soil over the roots of any tree. The covering could prevent air and even water from getting to the roots and might cause the tree to decline.
Probably it won't hurt to add a few azaleas, but digging the holes damages the roots. Removing too many tree roots could lead to tree decline. When planted under the established oaks, azaleas are going to have a tough time competing with the existing network of tree roots for water and nutrients. When planting, stay as far away from the trunk as possible, where there are fewer and smaller roots to affect azalea growth. (3/11/2006)
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Oak Tree/Transplanting

Question: Two weeks ago, I transplanted a 10-foot-tall oak tree from my neighbors' yard with a lot of the roots but little soil; now the tree appears dead. Is there anything I can do to save it?

Answer: Keeping the soil moist may help, but still the chances the tree can survive are slim.
Late spring was not a good time to make the move. Also, you should have prepared the tree for the move by pruning the roots a few months ahead of time. Then at transplant time, an intact root ball should have been dug to help ensure survival in the new location.
When oak trees do die-back after a move, sometimes new shoots develop from the base. These seldom form reliable trees. Most likely, you will have to replace the tree with a container-grown tree this summer. (6/26/2005)
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Question: I found orange caterpillars on my dwarf oleanders, so I cut off the limb and destroyed them. I need a few more plants, but the nurseryman said he won't stock them because they have the caterpillar problems. Are my plants doomed?

Answer: All oleanders big and small are doomed to a life with caterpillars. Quite appropriately, these insects are called oleander caterpillars and are frequent visitors found feeding on the foliage during the warmer months. A natural control consisting of an extract of the Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria is available as Thuricide, Dipel or BT at garden centers; apply as needed following label instructions. (5/15/2005)
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Question: We have a row of oleanders about 12 feet tall that have grown quite leggy. Can I cut them back now, or should I wait?

Answer: Wait -- for what? A little help with the job might be nice -- or some cooler weather -- but the pruning time won't matter to the oleanders. The damp, hot weather could help them produce a lot of growth that's sure to be needed to fill in the voids left by the pruning.
You can prune the plants severely at this time, cutting them back to about a foot above where you want new shoots to begin growth. Also, this is the time to remove some of the older and diseased or damaged trunks back to the ground to make room for new vigorous stems. (8/21/2005)

Question: Our oleanders have grown tall and leggy. Is there a way to get them to produce more leaves near the bottom?

Answer: A timely pruning is the best way to get your oleanders back in shape. Around mid- to late February, cut back the plants to a point about a foot above where you want the new shoots and leaves to form. Also, remove any diseased, thin or old and nonproductive stems from the plants. (4/10/2005)
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Orange Tree/Pruning

Question: Last year, we planted two orange trees, and they have grown well, but now it's time to prune them. How much should I take off?

Answer: Unlike apple, peach and plum trees that often need major once-a-year trimming, most citrus trees get no more than a little grooming. All pruning of orange trees is best performed as they begin growth during late winter or early spring.
Start by removing shoots that arise from below the graft. This is the swollen area usually within 6 inches of the ground where the desired variety was budding to the root portion. You can shorten out-of-bound shoots as needed and limbs that might be in the way of good care. That's all the pruning most citrus trees need. (4/17/2005)
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Question: I have an orchid that has been in bloom since November. It is now sending out 6-inch tentaclelike roots that appear to be reaching out for something to adhere too. What should I do?

Answer: Just enjoy the flowers and unique growth habit of your orchid. The thick gray and almost velvety roots grow freely, and, if they come into contact with a pot or growing medium, adhere to the surface. Otherwise, they grow out into the air to absorb water and nutrients. Avoid removing these roots; they are necessary for good plant growth. (5/15/2005)
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Question: I bought an orchid recently that did fine in my home until a week ago when the lower leaves started to turn yellow. What can I do to prevent the decline?

Answer: Find your orchid a bright spot in the home, but avoid all but the early morning sun. Then make sure the orchid has adequate moisture. Thoroughly moisten the growing medium once or twice a week. Often, you can lift the pot to feel when the medium is becoming too dry. If the home is dry, use a misting bottle occasionally to dampen the stems and roots between waterings.
An orchid in the home needs little fertilizer. Use a 20-20-20 or similar product at one-half the label rate to feed the plant every other month during the warmer weather.
Where possible, give the plant a break outdoors under a tree when it stops flowering. It will be much happier in the filtered light where it can receive frequent waterings and feedings. When blooms again are noted, move the plant indoors so you can enjoy the display. (12/11/2005)
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Oriental Lily

Question: I purchased an Oriental lily that flowered and is now dropping its leaves. The tag says it flowers March through August. How do I get it to bloom through summer?

Answer: No matter what the tag says, flowering is over for this year and maybe for the future. Locally, Oriental lilies have a poor reputation for giving repeat performances.
Usually when the plants begin to decline, they enter a rest period and do not begin growth until the following spring. Most Oriental lilies also need considerable cold to flower again. Locally, they may grow foliage another year, but seldom do gardeners see more blooms. (4/23/2006)
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Ornamental Grass/Pruning

Question: The large ornamental grasses stump me. Can they be cut back, and, if so, how short and when?

Answer: Bundle up to avoid the sharp edges of many of these grasses, and start pruning at the end of winter as the plants begin spring growth. Like lawn grasses, these large, clump-forming relatives can be pruned anytime. You can take out brown or older stems, but most gardeners don't have time. Usually, the plants are cut back to within a foot or two of the ground to begin fresh green growth. (4/9/2006)
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Question: Our St. Augustine lawn has lots of clover among the good grass. How can we get rid of the weeds?

Answer: Most clover-looking weeds in local lawns are oxalis, also known as wood sorrel, with a three-parted leaf and a yellow flower. This is a perennial plant that creeps across the lawn and would be rather attractive if it weren't growing among the grass.
Good control can be obtained with sprays of atrazine available from garden centers. Mix the herbicide with water, and then mist it across the surface of the weeds as instructed on the label. Allow the atrazine solution to dry on the leaves, and your oxalis should start to shrivel within days. (1/8/2006)
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Palm Tree/Moss

Question: My palms have green mosslike stuff growing on the lower trunks. My lawn specialist says this is normal. What do you think?

Answer: It's normal, and it's usually left alone, even though it's a bit unsightly. You are seeing true moss or, more likely, lichens. Neither of these growths take anything from the palms, and they don't seem to cause the trunks to decline. Growth of moss might mean you are keeping this area too moist. Remember, most palms are drought tolerant and seldom need special waterings. (3/19/2006)
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Palm Tree/Pruning

Question: I have two decorative multitrunk palm plants in front of the house that have grown about 8 feet tall and hide the home. Can they be cut back, or should I remove them?

Answer: Palms don't take kindly to the prunings you would commonly give other trees or shrubs. Each trunk has one bud, and it's fairly close to the top of each shoot. Removing more than the leaves from any one shoot likely would result in the loss of the trunk.
If these are clump-forming palms, one option would be to remove some of the taller trunks and allow the new shoots from the base to regrow the plants. Depending on the vigor of the palm, this could take considerable time. Perhaps the best answer is to dig the palms when the warmer weather returns and find them a better spot where they can reach their maximum size. (1/29/06)

Question: Our palm is growing as tall as our screen cover. Can I cut it back like other trees and shrubs?

Answer: Palms, white bird of paradise and similar tall-growing ornamentals can outgrow their welcome as they send shoots up to the top of a screen. You can delay making a major decision for a short period of time by removing all or portions of the taller-growing leaves. But, fairly soon, you are going to have to cut out major trunks or move the plant.
Only a few palms continue to produce new shoots from the base when the main trunks are removed. Eliminating the trunks or cutting just portions back kills these single-trunk palms. In this case, giving your plant a new home in the landscape is likely best. Bird of paradise and similar plants with shoots from the base can have trunks removed, and the remaining portions usually begin growth from the base. (3/12/2006)
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Question: A friend has a papaya tree that is full of fruits. How does she know when they are ready to pick?

Answer: Squeeze the first fruits that formed to determine when they are ready to eat. Papayas have the best flavor when they go from firm to soft.
The dark-green color also lightens, and the fruits might turn yellow to orange.
It's best to wait until all signs are present; fruits picked too soon will have a bland taste. Many think the varieties that turn a deep-orange color are the sweetest-tasting. (11/20/2005)
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Papaya/Cold Damage

Question: Because of the cold, our once-productive papaya trees are just long sticks coming out of the ground. Is there any chance they can be revived?

Answer: If there is green in the stems, there is still hope, but the plants have to do most of the recovery work on their own. Keep an eye out for new shoots forming along the stems and then remove any brown or declining portions. Sometimes papaya trunks have to be cut back to within several feet of the ground, but they normally sprout buds and shoots that form new trees. (4/29/2006)
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Question: I started several papaya trees from seed that are now flowering, but the blossoms drop off. Do they need a mate to set the fruits?

Answer: Papaya flowers can be either male, female or bisexual. Also, pollen may have to be moved from one bloom to another to start the fruit-forming process. Male flowers normally are produced on long stems and female or bisexual flowers close to the trunk.
By growing several plants, there should be a pretty good chance both sexes are present. The plants may be growing too vigorously at this stage of development to begin setting fruits. Also, you may not have the insect activity during the colder weather that is needed for good pollination.
But, just in case, you might drop some blossoms by your local University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension office to have them checked. There is always the possibility that your plants need a mate. (2/20/2005)
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Peace Lily/Pool Area/Sooty Mold Fungus

Question: The peace lilies in our screened pool and patio area have a black substance on the foliage. I think I have an insect problem, but I would be surprised to have insects in a screened area. What should I do?

Answer: A black coating on the leaves always suggests insects are lurking nearby. Turn over the leaves and check the stems for scale insects, which encourage the growth of sooty mold fungus on peace lilies, also known as spathiphyllum. When scale is present, an oil spray can be applied to eliminate the insects and remove the sooty mold.
In pool areas, it might be best to formulate a homemade mixture of natural products that can control these pests. Combine 2 tablespoons of a mild dish detergent and 2 tablespoons of a vegetable cooking oil in a gallon of water. Keep the solution agitated when treating the plants.
Also use sheets of plastic to prevent spray drift into the pool. It's also wise to try the spray on a few leaves several days before treating the entire planting to make sure your mixture does not burn the foliage. (4/1/2006)
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Peace Lily/Pruning

Question: My bed of peace lilies needs to be thinned, and there are many brown leaves from the cold too. Can they be cut back like poinsettias?

Answer: Few gardeners realize that the peace lily, also called spathiphyllum, makes a good ground cover for shady locations in the warmer portions of Central Florida. Most winters the plants do have some browning, but they are quick to recover if given a little care.
A heavy pruning to remove most of the foliage is seldom the best idea, but it's probably the easiest and quickest way to produce attractive plants.
After all, much of the foliage already is damaged by the cold. Go ahead and give them this once-a-year severe pruning by cutting the stems back to within 6 to 8 inches of the ground.
Now also would be a good time to divide plants and start new beds. Dig clumps with a sharp spade, and use a knife to cut the plants into smaller sections. You can restart them in containers or add them to newly prepared planting sites. (3/20/2005)
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Peach Tree

Question: My peach tree has blossoms. Isn't it way too early?

Answer: It's a little early for serious blooming, but most peach trees open their flowers over a period of months. The Central Florida varieties need such little cold to come into bloom that just a brief dip in the fall temperatures coaxes out some buds. But, don't worry; there are plenty more blossoms where the ones you are seeing came from.
Most peach trees have too many flower buds, which results in excessive and small fruits. Use the month of January to thin some of the smaller limbs and to shorten the shoots. Many growers prune out up to one-third of the past season's growth. Then, even when the blooms open in earnest, the trees set too many fruits. As the fruits form, it's best to thin them to one for every 4 to 6 inches along the stems. (1/29/06)
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Peach Tree/Small Fruit

Question: Each spring my peach tree is full of fruits, but they are small. What can I do to produce large peaches?

Answer: Take control of your peach crop by removing the excess fruits early in the season. Commercial growers call this thinning to remove a portion of the crop so the remaining fruits can grow to a full size. Shortly after flowering, when the fruits grow to the size of a nickel, pull off the excess leaving one peach every 6 inches along the stems. (7/17/2005)
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Pear Tree

Question: We saw apple and pear trees for sale in a local garden center. How well do they grow in Florida?

Answer: These fruit trees are a challenge for Florida gardeners who usually are spoiled by the almost carefree citrus culture. Both trees need yearly pruning and often sprays to mature their crops. You can produce good quality apples and pears using a free care guide available from your local University of Florida Extension office.
Start the plantings by selecting the best varieties for Central Florida. Recommended apples include Anna, Dorsett Golden and TropicSweet. The best pears include Floridahome, Hood and Pineapple. These flower and set fruits with the limited amount of cold received during the winter in local landscapes. (5/13/2006)
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Pecan Tree/Caterpillars

Question: We found several hundred caterpillars feasting on our pecan tree that is more than 40 feet high and wide. What should we do?

Answer: Perhaps it's best to enjoy one of nature's insect wonders. Tall trees are hard for you to spray, and most companies do not want to make the treatments. If needed, the caterpillars, which often do considerable leaf feeding, could be controlled with natural sprays of Thuricide or Concern, available from garden centers. Even though the damage looks bad, these pests arrive at the end of the growing season and injury to the trees is minimal. (8/28/2005)
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Question: We are moving to Clermont from Long Island, N.Y., and would like to bring our peonies with us. Will they grow in our new landscape?

Answer: Peonies are a Northern gardener's favorite, with large red, pink or white blossoms. Some have a sweet peppermint fragrance. But peonies are one perennial you have to leave behind when relocating to Florida's warm climate. The winters do not get cold enough to give the plants the chill needed to mature their blooms. Maybe you could leave your prize plants with a friend. (3/11/2006)
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Question: I am growing a number of hot and mild pepper plants. Should I separate the plants to keep the flavors from mingling?

Answer: Mix and mingle these peppers as much as you like, but keep the plants labeled in order to know what is harvested. The flavors of hot and mild peppers won't mix in this generation, but if new plants are grown from saved seeds from the fruits of either, you could get a fiery blend. (5/13/2006)
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Question: We bought a nice-looking petunia in a hanging basket about a month ago. Now it has grown lanky and has only a few blooms. Can we cut the plant back and expect it to recover?

Answer: Fall has been hotter than normal, and most petunias have that stressed-out look. With the cooler weather ahead, the plants should recover.
Lanky petunias that are still healthy can be cut back to within a few inches of the pot and can be expected to recover within weeks. Place the plants in full sun, keep the soil moist, and add a slow-release fertilizer to the container to feed them for the next few months. (12/4/2005)
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Question: I planted several containers of petunias and, in just a few weeks,they started to wilt and die. What went wrong, and can it be corrected?

Answer: It's safe to say your plants have rotted, but why? Lift one of the declining plants out of the container and check the roots and crown. Most likely, they are mushy and showing signs of root and stem rot organism damage.
The most common reason for rotting plants is too much water. Make sure the soil is well-drained. If you can squeeze water out of the soil, you know it is too moist. Possibly the soil just holds too much water. Obtain a loose soil mix for best rot-free plant growth. Next, make sure you are not feeding the plants too frequently. Most transplants come with a week or two's supply of fertilizer. If you feed too much or too often, the roots are damaged and they rot.
Get a fresh start on this project by removing the soil from the containers and washing them with a weak bleach solution. After the bleach smell is gone, replace the soil with a loose potting mix and replant. Begin the feeding in a week or two by adding one of the new slow-release fertilizers to the containers and following label instructions. (5/1/2005)
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Philippine Violet

Question: Each spring I trim the Philippine violet shrubs close to the ground, but, by flowering time in the fall, they are tall and lanky. Could I trim them during the summer months to keep them more compact?

Answer: Philippine violets, also called bluebell barleria, are a welcome addition to the late-summer and fall garden. Shortening summer days brings them into bloom, with white, pink or purple blossoms, but this should not discourage you from giving them a midseason trim. Make sure the plants are pruned the way you want them by the end of July so the shrubs have time to form their flower buds by fall. (12/4/2005)
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Pine Needle Mulch

Question: I have access to wheelbarrows full of pine needles and was thinking of applying a thick layer to my plants. Are there any problems using pine needles as a mulch?

Answer: Pine needles make an attractive, natural-looking mulch, and they are becoming popular. But easy does it. Follow the normal guidelines: Keep the mulch 3 to 4 inches thick for most trees and shrubs, and about half as much for perennials and similar herbaceous plants. Also, keep the mulch 6 inches or more from the base of each plant.
Pine needles make a well-knitted mulch that is less likely to blow about or wash away. They also allow water and fertilizer to move through the layer and into the soil. The needles leave an acid soil reaction as they decompose, but this is a benefit with near-neutral soils often found locally. Gardeners can find bales of pine needles at some local garden centers. (2/4/2006)
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Pine Tree/Fertilizing

Question: I have two small pine trees that don't appear to be growing. What fertilizer should I use to make them grow?

Answer: Of all the conditions that ensure good pine-tree growth, the soil pH may be the most important. The soil must be at least slightly acid to get the best growth and reduce yellowing of the needles. Also, young pines need moist but not soggy soil to grow properly. Watering once or twice a week during the dry times should be adequate.
Applying fertilizer seldom ensures good pine growth. Most grow in poor soils of low fertility to produce the tall trees. Keep feedings to one or two light applications a year with a general garden fertilizer for the first few years. Thereafter, needed nutrients usually are obtained from decomposing mulches or nearby feedings of lawns and shrubs. (4/22/2006)
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Question: I recently grew the most delicious pineapple I have ever eaten. Can I expect another fruit from the same plant?

Answer: Your plant should give a repeat performance in about a year. By now, shoots likely are forming near the base to produce the next plants to bear the tasty pineapple fruit. The plant in the center will decline slowly as the new shoots begin to assume the production role. If too many side shoots form, some can be removed and planted in other parts of the landscape. (5/1/2005)

Question: A pineapple plant started two years ago is producing a fruit. When will the pineapple be ripe, and what should I do with the plant after the fruit is harvested?

Answer: Around August, you should be getting that familiar ripe pineapple aroma from the garden. Start checking the plants frequently as harvest time nears. The fruits ripen quickly, also changing from green to yellow or orange in color.
The parent plant produces only one fruit, but by the time the pineapple is ready to eat, there should be plenty of new shoots forming at the base. You can leave all the shoots to grow and form more fruits next year or remove some to plant in a new location. Also, don't forget you can root the pineapple top to increase the collection. (4/23/2006)
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Question: My mother bought a fresh pineapple that has a large top. Can we plant it, and if so, how? What can we expect to get from it?

Answer: Fragrant, sweet and juicy pineapples are easy to produce with a top saved from a purchased fruit. Just twist off the top of the fruit you are preparing to eat to form a cutting. Remove several layers of lower leaves, and then push the base a few inches deep into a container of potting soil to hold the plant upright.
Set the potted cutting in a shady spot, and keep it moist to encourage rooting. Normally, the pineapple top roots within a month or two. Gradually move the container into the full sun. As the pineapple plant grows larger, give it a bigger container or transplant it to the garden.
Keep the soil moist. Feed container plantings every other week and in-ground plantings monthly March through November with a general fertilizer formula or use a slow-release fertilizer as instructed on the label. Fruit production does take two to three years of good growth, but the wait is well worth it. (9/4/2005)
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Question: Our pineapple plant looked good until recently. Now the leaves are turning yellow and have some areas that appear to be affected by something. Will the plants recover, and what should we do?

Answer: Most outdoor pineapple plantings are not as pretty as they were a few months ago, but it's normal winter damage. Just a few cool nights and maybe a little frost sets the plants in a tailspin, turning the leaves yellow and producing some maroon to brown spots among the foliage.
Unless they experience a freeze, the plants should recover during spring, sprouting green shoots during the warmer weather. Even though it makes the plants look bad, the cold encourages flowering, and affected plants are often in bloom by the end of March. This means you should be harvesting juicy yellow pineapples by August.
Encourage growth March through November by keeping the soil moist and feeding frequently. Apply a general garden fertilizer once a month to in-ground plantings and every other week to plants in containers. (3/4/2006)

Question: I planted two pineapple plants last year that are now a brownish yellow. What can I do to promote growth and get the leaves healthy again?

Answer: Join the crowd of local gardeners whose pineapple patches were blighted by the few cold days of winter weather. Many leaves have turned brown or have taken on a yellow-to-maroon appearance. The good news is all plantings seem to be alive, and many are flowering.
Get the plants back into good shape by cutting off all dead portions. If you wish, remove the heavily damaged sections of leaves. Then begin a good care program of keeping the soil moist and providing light, monthly feedings of a general garden fertilizer. New stems and leaves should grow back quickly to produce the plants you remember. (5/7/2006)
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Pittosporum/Sooty Mold Fungus

Question: My pittosporum has a black coating on its leaves. How can I get rid of it?

Answer: That black coating is just part of your plant's problem, and you need to look further for the real cause. Most likely an infestation of white, cottony, cushion scale or similar piercing insects are calling your plants home. They produce excreta that black sooty mold fungus uses as a food source.
Don't worry; even though this seems complicated, the control is rather simple. An oil spray found at your local garden center controls both insects and helps loosen and remove sooty mold. Make sure you cover all plant surfaces to obtain the best control. (4/16/2006)
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Question: I have a few bushes of plumbago that have been in bloom for months, but I never prune off the old flowers. Is pruning needed to keep them healthy, and can I cut them back when they grow too wild?

Answer: While the plants may look messy, the plumbago is a self-cleaning shrub. This means, as the flowers fade, growth hides the declining blooms. Pruning usually is needed only to remove cold damage or to keep the plants in bounds. Many gardeners routinely prune their plants, but this practice can remove lots of potential flower buds and ruin the natural rounded look of the plants. (10/23/2005)

Question: Plumbago plants have done well in our yard, but they are overgrown and have become a bit scraggly. Can I cut them back? What type of fertilizer should I use to encourage growth?

Answer: Let the pruning begin, and the sooner the better. It's no use allowing the plants to make a lot of growth that would be wasted if trimming were delayed.
Plumbagos can be pruned severely if needed to gain control and reshape the plantings. After the trimming, apply a general garden fertilizer of a 16-4-8, 15-0-15 or similar analysis to have the plants looking great and flowering by summer. (3/18/2006)
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Question: We have several large plumerias that we can no longer move into the garage; so we planted them in the ground. What will happen to them during the winter? What should we do to protect them?

Answer: Hope for a warm winter and your plumeria plants, also called frangipani, could be unharmed survivors. More realistically, however, these are cold-sensitive plants that certainly would be damaged by freezing temperatures. Perhaps it is best to have a cold-protection plan.
You might try draping cloths over the plants to the ground on really cold nights. This could be enough to hold in warm air and keep cold air out. More-determined gardeners might build a wood frame around and over the plants to enclose with plastic when the cold warnings are sounded. If more heat is needed, light bulbs could be added to keep the temperature inside above freezing.
Some gardeners try turning on water to form an ice layer over the plants. But unless you can keep the ice forming uniformly over the plants for the entire cold period, it seldom works. This treatment often results in more freeze and structural damage to the plants than if you did nothing. (11/6/2005)
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Question: My frangipani plants have spots all over the leaves, which are now dropping. Should I do something to correct the problem?

Answer: Leaf loss is normal at this time of the year, and probably the spots are too. Frangipani, also called plumeria, drop their leaves during fall and winter as the days grow shorter and cooler.
Some yellowing and leaf spots often are noticed as the plants become dormant during winter. Gardeners should be concerned only if leaf spots appear during spring through early fall when the plants are growing. (2/4/2006)
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Podocarpus/Root Ball

Question: We recently had a podocarpus planted and now notice about 4 inches of the root ball is above the ground. We think the plant might blow over in a storm. Should we be concerned?

Answer: Setting the top of root balls slightly above ground level is standard practice when adding most trees and shrubs to the landscape. This ensures good aeration and drainage for the root system. Usually, soil is sloped upward to the edge of the root ball, and a thin layer of mulch is added to complete the planting. If needed, you can still complete these final steps.
Podocarpus are typically wind resistant, but large trees might be staked to prevent storm damage while they are rooting. Either obtain a free Extension bulletin on tree planting and do the work yourself or contact the company that planted it and share your concerns. (5/14/2006)
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Podocarpus/Sooty Mold Fungus

Question: My podocarpus turned black a few years ago, and I was told to apply a fungicide. I have been doing this, but they are still black. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: A fungicide might help a little but obviously not enough to keep this sooty mold fungus under control. To do a good job, you have to get to the source of the problem -- either aphids or whitefly insects sucking juices from the leaves.
Take care of both problems with a natural oil spray available from your garden center. Because this acts as a contact insecticide, you have to hit the pests which might be hiding underneath the leaves and along the stems. The spray should do a quick job of controlling the insects, but it will take a while for the sooty mold fungus to loosen and fall from the plants. (3/26/2006)
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Question: We would like to keep our poinsettia for another year. Can it be planted in the landscape?

Answer: Poinsettias can repeat the festivities of the holiday season year after year, but they need consistent care. First, delay planting until cold weather is over. Keep the plant moist and in its container on a patio or a porch after the holidays and until planting time. Begin light feedings when it is set outdoors.
Select a sunny site away from nighttime lights, and plant the poinsettia in a prepared garden site around mid-March. Immediately after planting, trim it back to within 12 to 18 inches of the ground. Keep the soil moist and feed with a general garden fertilizer every other month.
When the plant produces a foot of growth, trim the top 4 to 6 inches from each shoot. Repeat the trimming after each flush of growth through August. Keep up the good care through fall, and your plant should start to show its holiday colors by mid-November. (12/25/2005)

Question: I have two poinsettias in big pots. What should I do with them at this time of the year to have them in bloom for Christmas?

Answer: You're almost home for the holidays as far as producing a flowering plant. First, find a spot that receives no nighttime light. Just a burst of light after dark could keep the plants from flowering. Next, keep the soil moist and feed lightly every other week through the fall months. Also, pruning time is over, so put the trimmer away until next spring. (9/4/2005)

Question: My poinsettia's leaves are curling and dropping, and I would like to save it for next year. A friend says the plant has mites. What should I do?

Answer: Mites could be to blame, but more likely your plant is just tired of life indoors. Move the plant to a sunny window or, even better, outdoors. It can stay outside as long as the temperatures are above freezing.
Keep the soil moist, and feed every other week with a 20-20-20 or similar fertilizer. Around March, cut the top out of the plant and give it a larger container, or plant it in the ground. (2/12/2006)

Question: Our poinsettias were trimmed in March as you suggested. Now what should we do to have flowers for the holidays?

Answer: If you do nothing, the plants should flower, but the bushes will be tall and lanky like their poinsettia ancestors.
Develop more compact plants with multiple blooms by pruning the tips of the new shoots every time they grow a foot in length. Continue the trimming through the end of August.
Develop a deep-green and attractive-looking plant with feedings every other month. Use a general garden fertilizer scattered across the surface of the soil under the spread of the plants. Also maintain a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch and keep the soil moist during dry weather.
With this care and if the plants receive no nighttime light, they should be beautiful for the holidays. (6/19/2005)

Question: I bought a poinsettia for Christmas and would like to keep it in a pot. What should I do to continue to grow it in a container and have it in bloom for the holidays?

Answer: It's time to give your poinsettia a larger container. Select a clay or plastic pot that is 2 to 3 inches larger in diameter than what the plant is in now. Use a loose potting soil with good drainage. After repotting, cut 2 to 3 inches off the ends of each stem. Then begin feeding the plants with a 20-20-20 or similar product every other week or use a slow-release fertilizer as instructed on the label.
Keep the plant moist and in full sun to light shade. After the poinsettia grows about a foot, cut several inches off each stem. Continue the prunings until the end of August. During the fall, make sure the plant receives no nighttime light, and it should be in bloom for the holidays. (6/5/2005)
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Poinsettia/Brown Stems

Question: I have about 20 sickly loooking poinsettias. They are dropping their leaves and developing brown stems. What can I do?

Answer: Quickly dig up a plant and rush it to your local extension office for an emergency diagnosis. Most likely, the plants have root rot, mite or poinsettia scab problems which are all active at this time of the year. Until the agent can check the plant portions, one can only guess what is causing the decline. (9/11/2005)
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Question: When and how do I cut back poinsettias? I understand you do it several times a year.

Answer: In a few weeks, gardeners will be giving their poinsettias a spring trimming. About the time growth begins to push off the bracts, it's time to cut back the poinsettias to within 12 to 18 inches of the ground. New plants in containers might have the tops trimmed back a few inches.
Additional pruning is needed to keep the plants compact and to produce bloom-bearing shoots for December. Every time the plant grows a foot, cut out the top 3 to 4 inches. Continue trimming as the plant grows during the spring and summer. Complete all pruning by the end of August to have a plant that matures and flowers by Christmas. (2/27/2005)
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Question: I have a ponytail that flowered during the spring, and now the plant has a tall stalk where the blooms were present. Can I cut off the stalk?

Answer: Gardeners were surprised to find their ponytail plants in bloom during the summer. These have escaped freezes during the past few years, which allowed them to reach maturity and produce the blooms. Because few develop seeds in home landscapes, there is no reason to allow the flower stalks to grow after the blossoms fade. Cut the stalks back to near the trunks. (9/11/2005)

Question: We would like to plant a ponytail palm in the ground. Will it survive here?

Answer: The plant, called a ponytail, is not a palm relative at all. It does have somewhat of a palm look with long, lancelike leaves coming from a fairly smooth trunk. The plant often is used as a foliage plant and grows to 15 feet tall. When the plant gets too tall for the home, we look for a spot outdoors.
Ponytail plants are fairly cold tolerant, surviving all but a severe freeze without major damage. Even if frozen, the base normally survives and grows back. This plant is worth the risk, used as an accent near the patio, along walkways and in dry-land gardens. The plant is drought tolerant and, once established, can exist with only seasonal rains. (4/10/2005)
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Pool-Side Plants

Question: Our in-ground planter gets a lot of splashing from the pool and stays quite wet. Can I still have plants in this area?

Answer: Bananas, cannas and cattails may call this spot home, but plants that like drier soils are going to get wet feet. Most plants won't mind the splashing on the foliage, but what drips down to the soil could cause root-rot problems. This means the more-common plants you like to grow are going to need additional drainage to survive this constantly wet site.
One suggestion is to remove a few inches of soil and add half-inch or larger stones to the surface of the planter. Then add some of your favorite poolside plants in containers, which provide better drainage. (3/12/2006)

Question: Many of the plants I use around the pool stain the deck when the leaves and flowers drop. What would be a good selection of less messy plants?

Answer: Bleaching out the brown spots is no fun when you could be swimming. Build your next collection of poolside plantings from flowers and greenery that hold their declining petals and leaves until you can trim them.
A starter collection for the sunny poolside and patio areas might include bird of paradise, coleus, croton, ficus, hibiscus, liriope, rosemary, schefflera and split-leaf philodendron. For flowers and foliage in the shady spots, use anthurium, cast-iron plant, dracaena, holly fern, peace lily and ti plant. (3/6/2005)
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Pool-Side Plant/Scale Insects

Question: A sticky sap is dripping from schefflera and ficus plants growing in containers on our pool deck. Can we do something to control the drippings?

Answer: This sticky mess can have a happy ending if you find the real cause of the drippings. Most likely the sap comes from insects sucking juices from the stems and leaves of your poolside plants. Scale insects, which can be hard to see, are at fault and are the same color as the leaves and stems. When severe, you also may notice a black sooty mold fungus growing on the drippings to create yet another mess.
If you can move the plants off the deck, place them in a shady spot and spray them with an low-toxicity oil spray from your local garden center. They can be replaced after the treatment dries. If the plants must remain on the deck, use a mild soap solution and a soft sponge or cloth to wash the foliage and stems of the plants to eliminate the insects and sap. (3/6/2005)
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Question: The Florida weather has become cooler, and I recently planted potatoes that are starting to produce aboveground shoots. Do I need to cover the plants when the temperatures dip into the 40s?

Answer: Northern gardeners often plant peas and potatoes on St. Patrick's Day with snow on the ground, giving us more southern gardeners a hint as to the hardiness of these crops. Potatoes are normally cold-tolerant but could be damaged by frost or freezes that follow a period of warm weather, as is often experienced locally. Perhaps to be safe, it's best to cover the plants when temperatures are expected to dip below the mid-30s. (12/18/2005)
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Potato Planting

Question: We plan to plant potatoes this fall. How soon will the plants begin growth, and what will they look like?

Answer: Start your potato planting with seed pieces that contain bulging ready-to-sprout buds to obtain the quickest growth. Many garden centers have ready-to-grow potatoes that can be cut into the seed portions. Ask them to show you how. Potatoes saved from the kitchen might not be ready to grow and should be used only if sprouts are noted.
Once planted, the buds produce roots and aboveground sprouts in two to three weeks. The leaves resemble those of the tomato, which is a close relative. Mark the planting site of a few seed pieces to note the emergence of the thick, greenish stems that eventually form the plants, which will grow up to 2 feet tall and wide. (11/20/2005)
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Question: What is the name of the vine that grows up a lot of local trees with big green-and-yellow leaves? I thought it was a type of pothos, but the leaves are more than a foot long.

Answer: A pothos it is, but not the meek and mild-mannered vine you grow inside. Once planted outdoors, those cute little plants grow out of control to produce the large leaves up to 2 feet long and thick stems found growing up and around the trunks of trees.
Even though attractive, the vines are not good for the trees. By covering the trunks, they give insects a place to hide, and they keep the trunks moist, which encourages diseases. If they grow large enough, they could compete with the trees for foliage sites.
Cold weather often stifles pothos growth, and some years the plant dies back to the ground. Plants recover as the weather warms. (12/11/2005)
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Pygmy Date Palm/Container Grown/Yellowing

Question: Our container-grown pygmy date palm is producing a lot of yellow foliage and appears to be declining. What should we do?

Answer: Such palms with one or more trunks, also known as roebelenii palms, are poolside favorites. Many keep their dark-green color, but a few such as yours develop nutritional deficiencies. Sometimes, this is caused by a lack of space to grow a good root system. If possible, a larger container with fresh potting soil can help the palm restart growth.
Other times, all the palm needs is a good feeding program. Obtain a palm fertilizer with major and minor nutrients. Make light applications once a month March through November. (3/12/2006)
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Pygmy Date Palm/Pruning

Question: I have a pygmy date palm that is 7 years old and 8 feet tall growing inside a screened pool area. Can I cut the top out of the palm to keep it from getting any taller, or should it be relocated before it punctures the screen?

Answer: Pygmy is one of those relative terms that may refer to a plant that is still too tall for your screened setting. The palm should be reaching its maximum height of around 10 feet soon, but if you are running out of room, you are going to have to make some tough decisions.
First, you cannot simply cut out the top of the palm. A bud is in the top of each shoot, and if you remove more than leaves, you will loose the trunk. If the screened enclosure has a little more room, you might allow the palm to grow and hope it keeps to the predicted height. Otherwise, the palm can be moved.
From now until midsummer is a good time to relocate the palm. (6/26/2005)
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Queen Palm/Pruning

Question: I have several young queen palms in my yard. Is it all right to cut off the lower fronds to promote rapid and taller growth?

Answer: Spare those fronds, especially if you would like more growth. All plants manufacture food needed for growth in the green leaves. By cutting off the fronds, you reduce the plant's ability to produce shoot and foliage growth.
It's best with any plant to leave as much of the foliage as possible. You can, of course, remove leaves that are yellowing, affecting movement under the palms or hindering good maintenance. You also can remove flower- and seed-bearing stalks at anytime. (5/15/2005)
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Raking Grass

Question: I moved here from Chicago, where in the spring we always raked the lawn to get rid of the dead grass. Should I do the same thing here?

Answer: When the spring bug bites, many gardeners are outdoors raking the leaves out of their lawns. It's not a necessity because our turf types are vigorous and overgrow the minimal brown within the lawns.
If the lawn was damaged by cold or there have been pest problems, some raking may be needed to eliminate sections of dead grass. Most lawns, however, still have plenty of green sprigs among the brown, and these should be left to renew the spring growth. (2/27/2005)
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Question: A friend sent me rhubarb plants from the North. How successful is rhubarb in Florida and what care is needed?

Answer: How much do you like rhubarb? When you answer this question, then you can decide if you want to go to the trouble of forcing it to grow. The plants need colder weather than Central Florida can provide, so you are going to have to get a little brutal.
First, grow the plants in small containers until the growth begins to slow or decline during the fall. Then place the plants, containers and all, in the freezer for about 6 weeks. After the cold treatment to encourage growth, add the plants to the garden to produce the stalks used in cooking during the winter and spring months. (8/7/2005)
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Roebelenii Palm/Pruning

Question: I have a roebelenii palm with twin trunks that is completely brown because of a winter freeze. I do not want to cut off the brown leaves because it would leave 6 feet of bare trunk. Can I cut the trunks back to a few feet above the ground and let it rejuvenate itself?

Answer: Palms are different from most plants and pretty particular about where you do the pruning. You can remove all the leaves you want but don't touch the trunk. There is one bud per trunk and it's up in the very top.
If you cut the 6-foot trunks back to within a few feet of the ground you eliminate the palm's ability to continue growth. If you do nothing, your plant is probably going to survive, but the brown leaves are not going to recover. If you want foliage to the ground you can add plants at the base or pick another more cold-hardy plant for this spot. (4/29/2006)
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Root Ball Berm

Question: I noticed your recommendation to build a ring of soil at the edge of the root ball to hold water when planting a tree. Won't this make the tree more susceptible to drought and winds? Wouldn't it be better if the ring were larger than the root ball?

Answer: University of Florida tree specialists say a small ring at the edge of the root system holds water and encourages a thorough wetting of the root ball.
Trees in containers are grown in an organic matter-enriched soil but are planted in sand. The porous sand often moves the water around the outside of the root balls and they remain dry. Often the trees decline or are slow in becoming established.
By establishing the berm of soil at the edge of the root ball, the added water has to move through the root system and then out into the sandy soil. The specialists also recommend frequent hand waterings for at least three to four months to keep the root ball and soil moist. (6/19/2005)
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Question: I have planted my first roses. How can I get them to produce more stems?

Answer: Each rosebush has its own personality. Hybrid teas tend to be more open with few branches; grandiflora, floribunda and bush roses usually produce lots of shoots.
After a rose flowers and you remove the blooms, new shoots typically form along the stems.
You can help roses grow to their maximum potential by giving them good care. During the late-spring and summer months, make sure the soil remains moist and provide a monthly feeding with a general garden or rose fertilizer.
Also, keep the black spot disease under control with sprays or soil drenches of the newer multipurpose products as instructed on the labels. (6/26/2005)

Question: I planted rose bushes in my yard, but they don't seem to be growing very well. What can I do ?

Answer: Few roses grow without considerable care. Start with monthly feedings using a general garden fertilizer or special rose product found at your local garden center. Then make sure the plantings stay moist. Maintain a 3- to 4-inch mulch over the root system, and water every three to four days during the hot, dry weather.
Most roses also need some form of pest control for black spot and insect problems. You can use separate sprays or obtain one of the fertilizer-plus-pest-control products found at your local garden center. Follow label instructions as to time and frequency of application. (5/15/2005)
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Question: I planted roses and noticed the plants have aphids at the ends of the shoots. Are they doing much harm? If needed, what can I use to obtain control?

Answer: Aphids are up to no good, even though you may not notice the immediate damage. They are piercing, sucking insects that can reduce plant vigor, carry diseases and distort the ends of shoots.
One quick and natural control is a soap spray from a garden center. Soap sprays are contact insecticides and only affect the pests you treat, so do a good job of hitting the aphids. Other synthetic insecticides that do a good job are the pyrethroids and combination fertilizer and pest-control products for roses. (7/3/2005)
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Rose/Powdery Mildew

Question: The miniature rose I gave my wife has developed a white powdery substance on the leaves. What should I do?

Answer: Powdery mildew, a fungus, is marring the foliage of your thoughtful gift. This is the time of year when this rose disease can run rampant. Some varieties are so susceptible that only a fungicide can help keep it under control.
Make one more purchase of either Fertilome Systemic Fungicide, Halts Systemic Fungicide, Immunox or Thiomyl and treat the rose as recommended on the label. Also keep the rose in a sunny spot with good air movement and avoid moistening the foliage to prevent the disease. (5/20/2006)
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Question: My roses grew tall and lanky during the summer. Will it hurt to prune them way back at this time?

Answer: Probably it won't harm the plants, but you are going to miss a lot of fall blooms.
Why not cut some long-stemmed blossoms for a while to reduce the height of the plants gradually?
Also, remove small, twiggy portions and any dead stems that resulted during the summer months. The next major pruning time is mid-February when the plants are reduced in size by a third to a half. (11/13/2005)
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Question: I have three new roses, and recently the leaves on the bottom of the plants have been turning yellow and dropping. What can I do to stop the leaf loss?

Answer: Even though there has been lots of rain, this problem still could be caused by a lack of water. Dig down around the plants and check the root balls. Often, water moves around the outside of the root ball of new plants without wetting the insides, and the lower leaves start to decline.
If the root balls are dry, build a berm of soil around the edge and water frequently. As you water, the moisture is directed down through the root system before entering the surrounding soil. With this extra water, your plants should resume normal growth. (8/14/2005)
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Question: I received a rosemary topiary for Christmas and now would like to add it to the landscape. How much sun, water and fertilizer does the plant need?

Answer: Add your rosemary to any sunny to lightly shaded location that has well-drained soil. The plant can withstand fairly dry conditions but quickly rots when the ground is kept too wet. You can add it to a sandy soil or enrich the planting site with liberal quantities of organic matter.
Check the plant's root system as you set it in the ground. If the roots have formed a tight ball, gently pull the outer layer apart to encourage growth into the soil. Keep the site moist, and add a thin layer of mulch. Feed lightly with a general garden fertilizer monthly during periods of active growth. (4/8/2006)
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Question: During the fall, my husband sowed ryegrass like a fairy sprinkling pixie dust over the old turf. Now there is long grass growing everywhere, and we cannot keep up with the mowing. When will the ryegrass go away?

Answer: After a few hot days, the return of the good spring fairy should make your ryegrass disappear. This is a temporary turf that declines during the warmer weather, which should be good news for your husband who is tired of mowing. You can speed the process by cutting the lawn shorter than normal a time or two, but it's not necessary. (4/3/2005)

Question: I planted a temporary ryegrass lawn for the winter and now would like to sow bahia seed. Do I have to remove the rye before I sow the bahia?

Answer: Sowing the ryegrass lawn was probably easy. Most likely, the seed was just tossed out and watered in to begin germination. A good bahia lawn is going to take a little more work.
One of the easiest ways to start the lawn is by mowing the ryegrass as close as possible to the ground when it starts to decline during the warm spring days. Then rake or lightly till the ground to loosen the soil. Sow the bahia seed, and then rake it in so it's covered about a half-inch deep. If you wish, top soil also could be used to cover the seed.
Keep the soil moist, and the bahia should begin germination in about 14 days. Keep the ground moist to encourage the new grass. After it's been growing three to four weeks, provide the first feeding with a general lawn fertilizer. The new grass can be mowed when 6 inches tall back to a height of 4 inches. (3/6/2005)
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Sago/Cycad Scale

Question: What is the white stuff that has invaded my sagos, and what can I do to get rid of it?

Answer: Some think it's dust and others a fungus, but that white stuff is the cycad scale, a population of damaging insects. They have been building up during the summer and have become quite noticeable on the sagos again.
The most economical control is the use of an oil spray available from your garden center. Cover the scale insects with spray once a week for three weeks following label instructions. At the beginning of week four, wash off the scale debris with a strong stream of water. If the scale returns, repeat the spray as needed. (9/25/2005)

Question: Our sagos are covered with a white funguslike material. Should I cut off the leaves? What can I use to control the problem?

Answer: Florida sagos have been plagued by an epidemic of cycad scale. Often the infestation is not noticed until the plants are blanketed with a snow-white covering of scale insects.
It's only natural to reach for the pruners to remove the affected foliage, but it might keep the plants from being able to manufacture food needed for growth. Perhaps a better way to fight this pest is to leave all but the most yellow foliage on the plants, and then apply a natural control.
Economical oil sprays do a good job of eliminating these pests, but you have to be diligent and apply them once a week for three weeks. Get underneath the leaves and treat the trunks too. Then at week four, use a strong stream of water to wash the scale debris off. The scale likely will return, so be prepared to repeat treatments later in the year. (3/18/2006)
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Question: Our sago has been growing for almost four years, and we were told it was a female. This year, there were no new leaves but instead a tall cone was produced in the center. What do we do?

Answer: Surprise, this sago had blue booties. You have a male sago that has sent up the pollen-bearing flowers. It's usually a tall spike that lasts for a few weeks before declining and dropping from the plant. Usually after the inflorescence is gone, the plant resumes normal foliage production. (5/29/2005)
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Sago/Manganese Deficiency

Question: Our sago produced green growth a few weeks ago that is now turning brown. What is causing the decline?

Answer: Brown is not a gardener's favorite color, especially when it contrasts with the sago's remaining dark-green foliage. In this case, almost overnight the green new shoots turned yellow, then brown, suggesting the plant has a manganese deficiency. This is not a magnesium or Epsom salts problem.
Often, the deficiency is simply a lack of this minor nutrient in the ground. In such cases, a one-time treatment with manganese sulfate available from your local garden center can help keep the future growth a good green color.
Sagos that have been transplanted recently and those having root problems also may show this deficiency. Again, the one-time treatment may help. The use of a palm fertilizer during the growing season also helps keep the manganese and other needed nutrients available to prevent future problems. (8/7/2005)
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Question: I need to know how to prune a sago. I notice many gardeners remove the leaves along the lower portion of the trunk. Is this correct?

Answer: You can grow a sago any way you like it. Many gardeners follow a tradition of removing the fronds from all but the upper few feet of the trunk. They seem to like the bare-trunk look. But you also can allow the plant to keep the fronds to the ground. This makes adding mulch, feeding and weeding more difficult.
When the young plants, called pups, begin to grow from the base, you also have to decide whether to leave them or prune them. Many gardeners thin the pups to a few, creating a multiple trunk look. In this case, they usually remove the lower leaves to expose all trunks. (4/1/2006)
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St. Augustine/Aeration

Question: I hear a lot of people talk about aerating a St. Augustine lawn. How can I tell if my lawn needs this treatment?

Answer: Most home lawns probably do not need aeration, but if your yard is a major play area or has lots of doggy paths, it may benefit from the treatment. In high-use areas, Florida's sandy soils can become compacted and inhibit good root growth. The use of an aerator that removes plugs of soil allows the remaining soil to expand and permits air and water to enter, which encourages good root growth.
Hard-to-wet areas also may benefit from aeration. When the plugs of soil are removed, water can move several inches into the ground. Watering must follow immediately for the treatment to be successful.
Some gardeners also find aeration helps with nematode-infested lawns. The treatment allows water and air to penetrate deeper into the ground, which encourages roots that avoid the nematode populations. (8/21/2005)
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St. Augustine/Fertilization

Question: My St. Augustine sod is yellow. Is there any problem applying fertilizer at this time of the year?

Answer: Winter is not the time for major fertilizer applications, but you shouldn't have to look at a yellow lawn. One quick fix to regreen the turf is an iron-only application. Use one of the iron-containing liquids or granules found at your local garden center. This could regreen the lawn without encouraging growth.
If you want more punch to your feeding, use a regular lawn fertilizer but at about half the normal rate. Encouraging just a little growth during the cooler months won't harm the grass, but too much might make the turf more susceptible to cold injury and might encourage diseases. (3/5/2006)

Question: Recently, we sodded a new St. Augustine lawn. How long should we wait before feeding it the first time?

Answer: New sod comes with fertilizer that should supply needed nutrients during the first few weeks. Also, the frequent waterings needed to establish the new grass would quickly wash any additional fertilizer out of the roots' reach.
It's best to wait for the first feeding until the third or fourth week after sodding, when waterings are reduced to as-needed. Use any lawn fertilizer containing a portion of the nutrients in a slow-release form and apply it at the label rate. (5/14/2006)

Question: I fertilized the St. Augustine lawn with a weed-and-feed product about a month ago. I now have a few spots that are not as green as I would like. Should I spot-fertilize these areas?

Answer: Bring out the deep-green look with a follow-up iron-only application. If you did a good job of applying the spring feeding, the turf should not need another full fertilizer application for a few months.
Often iron is slow in becoming available to turf during the spring months, and a treatment with this minor nutrient alone can produce the greenest lawn in the neighborhood. (3/27/2005)
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St. Augustine/Herbicide Damage

Question: Our St. Augustine lawn is developing brown spots with leaves that come loose from the stems when touched. What's the problem?

Answer: Your inquiry mentions a herbicide had been applied recently to the turf for weed control. St. Augustine is sensitive to some Southern weed-control products, and if the conditions are not just right, the products can cause leaf damage. If you can run your hand over the turf and the blades easily loosen, it's likely herbicide damage.
There is good news because St. Augustine grass can be forgiving. Keep the turf moist, and often shoots begin to grow from the surviving runners in about three to four weeks. Resist applying fertilizer until the new grass blades are obvious, and avoid the weed-and-feeds or other herbicides until fall. (7/3/2005)
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St. Augustine/Installation

Question: I want to install a new St. Augustine lawn. Should I wait until spring, or can the sod be laid now? What happens if there is a hard freeze this winter?

Answer: Don't wait any longer to enjoy your new St. Augustine lawn. This grass seems to like the cooler months and grows well fall through spring. There are few pests at this time of the year, and you can control the water to prevent root-rot problems.
A severe winter could damage the grass, but it would affect most new and established lawns similarly. Even when browned, the turf almost always re-grows shoots from runners close to the ground when the warmer weather returns. (10/23/2005)
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St. Augustine/Leafhoppers

Question: When we walk across our St. Augustine lawn, white moths fly up from the grass. Are the moths damaging the lawn?

Answer: Many gardeners are seeing moths or what appears to be moths in their lawns. These mostly are leafhoppers, which have had a good year living in the turf. These insects are about a quarter-inch long, triangular and usually light-green.
Leafhoppers can be quite numerous and cause lots of concern, but the damage they cause is usually minimal. They are piercing, sucking insects, and large populations can cause areas of lawns to be a lighter than normal yellow color. They are hard to control and are usually ignored.
True moths that might be starting their next generation in your lawn are the sod webworm adults. These are tan and about a half-inch long. They hide in the shrubs and taller grass during the day and wing about the lawn laying eggs at about dusk. The moths are difficult to control, and the eggs laid may not result in a caterpillar infestation. So even if you see the moths, it does not mean you need to spray. Keep an eye out for the caterpillar stage, and treat if needed. (8/14/2005)
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St. Augustine/Mowing

Question: I have heard a 4-inch cutting height is best for St. Augustine grass, but my mower cuts only 3 inches high. The lawn gets thin in places. Is the 3-inch cutting height responsible?

Answer: Many mowers have restricted cutting heights for safety reasons. The 3-inch cutting height should be fine and isn't responsible for the thinning turf. Usually the sparse spots in lawns are because of shade or plant-root competition. Grass thins under these conditions and might never grow a thick lawn. (12/4/2005)

Question: My neighbor said he heard residents should not collect their St. Augustine clippings. I always use my bagger. Is this wrong?

Answer: Save a little green by leaving the clippings on the lawn. Turf specialists at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences suggest the equivalent of one feeding a year is returned to the lawn by allowing the clippings to fall on the ground.
This saves you fertilizer money and some work too. No longer do you have to catch and dispose of the grass blades when the lawn is mowed at least weekly during periods of active growth. (7/17/2005)
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St. Augustine/Nematodes

Question: I am starting to dig up portions of my lawn that were affected by nematodes and prepare them for sodding. Is there a St. Augustine that nematodes don't like?

Answer: St. Augustine grass is to nematodes what candy is to kids; all St. Augustines are a favorite food of nematodes. There is no nematode-resistant variety at this time. So, what you do in preparing the soil will be important to the success of the grass.
Usually, the entire lawn is not affected by nematodes, small roundworms living in the soil, so only the declining areas have to be replaced. Remove the poor turf and some of the soil if possible. Replace the soil with pest-free topsoil or compost and till it into the site several inches deep.
Add sod and provide it with a good care program. Most lawns have some nematodes that could affect the grass. When given adequate care but not too much water and fertilizer, the grass can compete with the nematodes. (8/21/2005)
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St. Augustine/Overseeding

Question: Up North, we used to overseed annually to thicken the lawn and prevent weed growth. Is this an option with St. Augustine?

Answer: Not at this time of the year. Some gardeners seed ryegrass during late fall and winter to cover up the bare spots or regreen a lawn turned brown by the cold. But at this time of the year, St. Augustine grass is starting to turn green and grow shoots. It's best to avoid providing any competition that would affect the recovery from winter. Water and fertilizer is what the lawn wants now. (4/9/2006)
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St. Augustine/Plugs

Question: When we lost our trees during the hurricanes, we were left with lots of open areas with patchy St. Augustine grass. What is the best way to fill in the spots with turf?

Answer: If you are on a limited budget, consider waiting to see whether the St. Augustine grass can fill in the bare spots. This grass makes lots of growth during the spring months, and with a little water and fertilizer as encouragement, the remaining turf could cover the open areas.
An option is to fill in spots larger than a foot square with plugs of grass available at most garden centers. The plugs also sprout quickly to fill the voids.
You can space the plugs as close as you want for quick cover or space them about a foot apart. If you have large blocks of open areas, sod would provide the instant lawn, but it's more work to lay sod.
All areas to be sodded should have the weeds removed and the ground tilled at least a few inches deep. Then add the sod by abutting the sections to avoid leaving gaps for weeds to grow. Sod and plugs need frequent watering until established, which can take about four to six weeks. (3/20/2005)

Question: I would like to plant St. Augustine plugs this month and have heard they are normally set a foot or more apart. Can they be planted closer together for quicker results?

Answer: A tighter spacing is going to cost you more money, but it also will grow a quicker lawn. There is no limit to the close spacings for plugs. Probably it's best to leave at least a few inches between the runners to give them room to grow. (2/20/2005)
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St. Augustine/Root Problems/Post Hurricanes

Question: I have a new St. Augustine lawn that was sodded over an area where we had a tree removed after the hurricanes. The grass in this spot is turning brown and dying. What is the problem?

Answer: Dig down and examine the soil and the root system. You probably will find the roots trying to navigate through lots of rotting wood chips left after the tree was removed. These chips bind nutrients needed for growth, impede good root growth and compete for water. The only control would be to keep the turf in this area extra moist and provide light but frequent feedings. Other possible reasons for the brown spots include chinch bugs and root rot. (7/3/2005)
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St. Augustine/Root Rot

Question: About six weeks ago, our St. Augustine started to develop large patches that turned a lighter green to yellow. We applied iron, but it hasn't helped. What should we do?

Answer: Most likely, your turf is affected by take-all root rot, a summer disease. Normally, there is more to the problem than the yellowing blades. The root portions are rotting, too, and may have an associated nematode infestation. You might try an application of Bayleton, Immunox or Thiomy fungicides or Halts systemic fungicide to slow the disease until fall when the grass usually makes a dramatic recovery.
Dig and check the roots for nematode activity that appears as stubbing of the roots. If you are not sure about the cause, drop a square-foot sample of the yellowing area by your local extension office. The agent also can check the soil acidity and look for chinch bugs and grubs that also may be contributing to the decline. (9/25/2005)
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St. Augustine/Sandspurs

Question: I have sandburs in my St. Augustine lawn. I was told the seeds are moved around by the person who mows. How can I control this weed?

Answer: If you are used to going barefoot, better keep your shoes on to avoid the sandbur's prickles. Eliminating this pest can take up to two years.
During the summer months, the only quick controls are to dig out sandburs or spot-kill them with Roundup or Finale. These products kill everything, so only treat what you plan to kill. A selective control of Image is also available at garden centers, but repeat treatments may be needed following label instructions.
Your best control begins in mid-February with a pre-emergence herbicide application. These products are the same ones sold for preventing crab grass. Follow the label, and treat again as needed.
And yes, the person doing your mowing could move the sandburs, also called sandspurs, from one yard to another, but usually only during the fall when the seed heads form. (7/10/2005)
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St. Augustine/Sedge

Question: A major sedge problem has developed in my St. Augustine lawn because of the warm winter. When can I apply a spray, and what should I use?

Answer: Apply a sedge control whenever this grasslike weed is competing with the home lawn. Normally, sedge is the greenest, shiniest and most upright narrow-leaf weed in your lawn. Traditional controls still available include Basagran and Image, which are found at local garden centers. Note that Image should be applied only to actively growing St. Augustine grass; this often limits its use during cooler months.
Another sedge control that until recently was sold as Manage is now marketed under the SedgeHammer label. It's available in small quantities from commercial suppliers and independent garden centers.(2/19/2006)

Question: A light green grasslike growth is flourishing in my St. Augustine and bahia lawns. It forms tufts with small green balls on top. Is this a weed or just a strange Florida grass?

Answer: It looks so good that many consider this upright, shiny and vigorous growth part of their lawn. Others more appropriately call this sedge and consider it a weed.
Your fine specimens are commonly known as green kyllinga which grows from underground runners to fill in among the grass blades.
Sedge grows best when there is excessive moisture.
Its growth is often a sign of overwatering.
Sedge also flourishes in landscapes because of summer rains. It might even be considered a substitute ground cover, except it dies back during the winter months to expose bare ground.
If you don't like this green mingling with your turf, several controls are available at local garden centers.
Herbicides that selectively remove sedge from Florida lawns include Basagran, Image and SedgeHammer.
Make sure your lawn type is listed on the label and follow the directions carefully. (5/20/2006)
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St. Augustine/Seeding

Question: Why can't I buy St. Augustine seed instead of lugging heavy sod home? I see it being grown in nearby fields.

Answer: Those green fields look like they have been seeded, but they have all been started from sprigs that can be traced back to the original St. Augustine variety that came from the breeder. St. Augustine seed exists, but planting seed has not been a dependable method of starting lawns or turf fields. Only one variety has been available locally, but attempts to establish a lawn have failed because of severe leaf-spot problems.
You can start bahia and centipede grass from seed, but it's a challenge. The soil has to be prepared properly and kept moist. Then you have to deal with all the weeds, too. It's not a technique for beginners. If you want an easy way to start St. Augustine, why not use plugs? (5/6/2006)
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St. Augustine/Shade

Question: We put a new yard in during May that gets about 50 percent sun. We used Floratam St. Augustine, and now we are having trouble with fungus, and the grass is thinning. What should we do?

Answer: Don't consider this a scolding, but you have the wrong grass in the shady spot. Floratam cannot survive in lower-light levels and will decline no matter what you do. Also, 50 percent shade is going to be tough on any grass.
Most of the shade-tolerant St. Augustines grow well at the 25 percent shade level; then they start thinning. And the best planting time for sodding is fall through early May. During summer, newly sodded or plugged turf often develops rot problems.
It probably won't be a popular suggestion, but another ground cover might be better in this area. Consider Asiatic jasmine, ivy or mondo grass (not a true grass) that can take the shade. These alternatives to grass can be planted at anytime. (8/28/2005)

Question: I have a St. Augustine lawn in the shade of a tree with spots that are turning yellow and dying. The lawn-care service says the tree is using all of the fertilizer, and the grass is starving. The service put down fertilizer, and it did not help. Why?

Answer: Some trees produce too much competition to grow a good lawn. Your lawn service is at least partially right; the tree is using fertilizer and water needed by the turf. It also is competing for spacing by growing lots of roots that prevent good grass growth. Also, there may be too much shade.
The competition leads to weak turf that cannot grow adequate roots or leaf blades. The grass also becomes more susceptible to root and stem rot problems. Most likely, the best cure for your turf problem is going to be another type of ground cover, pavers or mulch within the problem areas. (3/27/2005)
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St. Augustine/Weed-and-Feed

Question: My lawn is starting to recover from the cold, but I see lots of weeds among the green. When can I put a weed-and-feed on my St. Augustine?

Answer: The weather is warm, the grass is growing, and so are the weeds. There is no better time to apply the combined herbicide and fertilizer. Make sure your weed is listed on the product's label, and apply the product as instructed for your lawn type.
Weed-and-feed products do a good job of controlling many broadleaf weeds but leave most grassy and sedge-type weeds unaffected. Don't expect complete control of your weed problems.
If weeds persist after the treatments, have them identified at your local University of Florida Extension Center and ask for the recommended controls. (3/19/2006)
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St. Augustine/Weed Control

Question: I applied a weed killer that was labeled for all grasses on my St. Augustine lawn, and it killed much of the turf but left a lot of weeds. What should I do to start a new lawn?

Answer: Summer is a tough time to perform weed control, and some products that may be relatively safe to use during the cooler months can cause damage during the hot weather. Determine the extent of damage to your lawn. Often, there are patches that escape most of the injury and, with care, can recover.
Decide what must be replaced, and then start where you left off controlling the weeds. This time, use a nonselective weed-control product that permits replanting shortly after use to eliminate the weeds in the areas to be plugged or sodded with turf. After the weeds decline, eliminate the debris and till the soil. Then add the turf and provide the care needed to re-establish the lawn. (8/7/2005)

Question: I realize I cannot buy a product to kill the weeds in my St. Augustine lawn without damaging the grass. Could a professional service do a better job?

Answer: Weed control is tricky; a little too much of a herbicide could produce devastating results. But your garden center has products that can control the weeds in your St. Augustine lawn. Most of the herbicides are the same ones that are being used by lawn-spray services.
Learning the techniques of good weed control is up to you. Sometimes it is better to turn over this job to trained professionals. But if you want to try, start by learning the types of weeds growing in your yard.
Usually you don't have to know them by name, just the categories including broadleaf, grassy and sedge-type weeds. Then learn the products that control each of these types and how they should be applied for safe and effective weed control. (3/13/2005)
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St. Augustine/Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis)

Question: My St. Augustine lawn has a cloverlike weed with three leaflets that is only a few inches high with a yellow flower. What should I do?

Answer: If it had four leaflets, you might wish this weed away, but you likely will have to resort to another method of controlling the cloverlike yellow wood sorrel, a type of oxalis. This is a persistent perennial weed that is pulled or dug up rather easily, unless it's intertwined with your St. Augustine.
Perhaps the easiest control for use with a St. Augustine lawn is the herbicide atrazine. Obtain this product in liquid form to apply over the top of the oxalis as instructed on the label. Allow it to remain on the surface of the leaves, and your weed should start to disappear in a few days.
Atrazine has been hard to find recently, but it has been reformulated at a lower rate to use in home lawns. It's being restocked on garden center shelves. (2/12/2006)
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St. Augustine/Yellowing

Question: I have a nice St. Augustine lawn, but within the past few weeks, a section of it has turned yellow. This section receives lots of sun and is susceptible to drying. What should I do?

Answer: As a professor of mine once said, water is deficient -- but you knew that. Certainly this area is in need of water, and it could be as simple as a sprinkler not hitting the area or running long enough to wet the ground.
Try the water efficiency test of putting out several rain gauges or straight-sided containers in the area and turn on the sprinkler for 15 minutes. Then determine how much water was provided. Calculate the amount of time the sprinkler must run to provide up to three-quarters of an inch of water. Adjusting the sprinkler or watering schedule may solve your problem.
If you think the spot receives adequate moisture, maybe the water is not penetrating into the ground. Aeration can help open up the soil and let the water move into the root zone. If needed, use a pitchfork or manual aerator in small areas. For larger lawns, use the powered aerators available from rental centers. Immediately after aerating, water the lawn to wet the soil better. (7/10/2005)
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Salt Tolerant Ground Cover

Question: We live about 100 yards from the ocean and have liriope that has become weed infested and is declining. We would like to plant some other ground cover. What do you suggest?

Answer: Liriope gets a salt-tolerant rating, but gardeners are having rot problems with this ground cover and, like you, are looking for replacements. Some equally able replacements for oceanside plantings include coontie, blue daze, blanket flower, beach sunflower, beach morning glory, shore juniper, muhly grass and wedelia. If you decide to make the replacement, eliminate the weedy portions of the site and till the soil deeply before adding the ground covers. (4/24/2005)
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Scale Insects

Question: I have scale insect on my boxwood shrubs. What natural spray can I use to obtain control?

Answer: Scale insects of all types are usually controlled with natural oil sprays available from garden centers. It's up to you to do a good job hitting the insects with the sprays. Don't expect the insects to disappear too quickly, but they should not increase. The scale debris sloughs off over time. (2/11/2006)
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Question: I have two dwarf schefflera plants with variegated foliage. When is the best time to trim these plants?

Answer: Like most tropicals, scheffleras continue growing year-round during warmer weather, and there is no special time to trim. You be the judge, and trim them as needed. Selectively remove longer shoots back to branch angles or areas along the stems just above persistent leaves. If you wish, the cuttings can be rooted easily in vermiculite to grow more plants for the landscape. (4/9/2006)
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Schefflera/Scale Insects/Pool-Side

Question: A sticky sap is dripping from schefflera and ficus plants growing in containers on our pool deck. Can we do something to control the drippings?

Answer: This sticky mess can have a happy ending if you find the real cause of the drippings. Most likely the sap comes from insects sucking juices from the stems and leaves of your poolside plants. Scale insects, which can be hard to see, are at fault and are the same color as the leaves and stems. When severe, you also may notice a black sooty mold fungus growing on the drippings to create yet another mess.
If you can move the plants off the deck, place them in a shady spot and spray them with an low-toxicity oil spray from your local garden center. They can be replaced after the treatment dries. If the plants must remain on the deck, use a mild soap solution and a soft sponge or cloth to wash the foliage and stems of the plants to eliminate the insects and sap. (3/6/2005)
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Question: I have a lot of leftover mustard-green seed. What is the best way to save it for another year?

Answer: If you are lucky, maybe you can have your own drawer in the bottom of the refrigerator to store seeds. Place the saved mustard seeds in a plastic bag and flatten it to push out the extra air. Seal the bag and place it in the lower drawer of the refrigerator -- not the freezer. If necessary, this tightly sealed bag of seeds could share the spot typically reserved for vegetables.(12/18/2005)
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Seeds/Sow Time

Question: Do you know a good source for flower seeds to plant in Florida? What time of the year are the seeds sown?

Answer: The question should be: Where have all the seeds gone? Each year seed packets disappear from garden centers during July and return around mid-August. It's a state law that the seed packets be removed and new fresh seed with a label for the next year be restocked.
Most garden centers will have the seeds you need shortly, or orders can be placed with mail-order companies. Unless you are looking specifically for wildflower seeds, most selections grow in Florida. You do, however, need to pick the best time for sowing.
Wildflower seeds are best sown during October and November. All others have a specific season. Warm-season flowers normally are planted March through September. Cool-season flowers are planted October through February. Except for wildflower seed, most selections are best started in small containers and then added as transplants to the garden. (7/24/2005)
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Shade Plants

Question: I have a shady area around the pool and would like to have colorful plants. What could I use in the beds?

Answer: Pop out the color with plants that have attractive flowers or foliage and won't make a mess. These areas often are warmer than other parts of the landscape, and that makes them a good place to use tropicals. Some with attractive blooms include anthuriums, bromeliads and spathiphyllums. All have long-lasting flowers that won't make a mess on the ground.
In these same spots, you could add colorful foliage of crotons, dieffenbachia, ti plants, Hawaiian schefflera, caladiums and dracaenas. Greenery for a backdrop could include ferns, small palms, large-leaf philodendrons and cast-iron plants. (3/12/2006)
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Sky Vine

Question: I have a sky vine with attractive blue flowers that has nearly covered an old oak tree. Will it harm the tree?

Answer: Untangle the vine from the tree and send it over a fence, a trellis or an arbor. Trees cannot compete with vigorous vines for sunlight and often decline when covered with the entwining stems and foliage.
Sky vines normally decline during cooler fall and winter months, so it's a good time to find them a new location where they won't harm desirable plantings. (11/6/2005)
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Question: I have slugs in the garden. I can see their slimy trails across the sidewalk. Why do I have them, and how do I get rid of them?

Answer: Consider your garden normal; slugs enjoy moist, cozy quarters provided by damp organic mulch layers. They also are going to like nibbling on the plants, and this is where the problems start. It's not nice seeing holes in your plants.
You do have the option of picking off the slugs. This is a nighttime or early-morning job when you can see the critters dining on your plants. You also could lure them into shallow trays of beer where they decline in delight. Or you can apply a low-toxicity bait containing iron phosphate, marketed as Sluggo at many local garden centers, that controls slugs while you sleep. Just follow the label. (11/6/2005)
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Small Tree Recommendation

Question: I have lost two holly trees and need replacements. I want small trees under 25 feet that are free of pests and maintenance. What do you suggest?

Answer: These are tall orders for small trees, but there may be a few that are almost perfect. Take a look at the winged elm which seems to grow well in some of the poorest soils. It's also drought tolerant and produces good shade for the hotter months, but it does lose its leaves during the late fall and winter.
Another favorite is the sweet gum. Sure, you get the gum balls with most, but they can be raked up, ignored or used in holiday decorations. This tree has the maple look but grows in dry soils and offers good fall color.
If you are looking for evergreens, try sand live oak, yaupon holly, bottlebrush and Little Gem magnolia. Tree ligustrums are also a favorite of many, but your letter went on to indicate this was not an option. (9/4/2005)
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Society Garlic/Dividing

Question: I bought large clumps of society garlic from the garden center. Can these be divided into smaller portions at planting?

Answer: Cutting or pulling the plants apart could be a little stinky, but it's a good economical way to obtain starts for the garden.
You could separate the clumps into individual plants, but most gardeners form clusters of a dozen or more shoots. One large pot of society garlic could be used to form six or more plants for the landscape. (3/20/2005)
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Staghorn Fern

Question: If a piece of staghorn fern falls from the main plant, can it be saved? I have seen them planted in mulch and soil. What is best?

Answer: Sometimes staghorn ferns begin to fall apart with age and lose growing plant portions. Other times, older declining leaves drop or some rot problems develop, and pieces fall to the ground. If the lost plant portions look healthy and have roots attached, they likely can be saved to grow new plants.
One of the quickest ways to give them a new start is in a container of potting soil. Fill the container to within a few inches of the top, and add the staghorn portion. Fill in with soil around the edge of the fallen section, but do not plant it too deep. You might have to give it some support, but the plant should form new roots.
Keep the soil moist, and begin monthly feedings when warmer weather arrives. Your new plant should be ready to add to a basket or a slab of tree fern by next summer. (12/11/2005)
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Staghorn Fern/Fertilizing

Question: My staghorn ferns are not as green as they should be and seem to have a fungus. How do I feed them, and should I continue to apply a fungicide?

Answer: Folklore seems to suggest tossing them a banana peel from time to time is all they need, but most likely that would be a meager existence. The peels provide some phosphorus and potassium, but not a complete diet.
Keep your staghorns healthy with a monthly feeding of a 20-20-20 or similar fertilizer solution during the warmer months. Mix the fertilizer in a sprinkling can and use it as if watering the plants. These good feedings should encourage growth that resists fungus. Most likely after a month or two of feedings, you can skip the fungicide applications. (9/18/2005)
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Stinkhorn Mushrooms

Question: I have noticed softball-sized, white growths that are pink inside sprouting in the mulch among my roses. What are they, and is a control needed?

Answer: I am surprised you don't also mention the odor from these stinkhorn mushrooms. But perhaps you don't let them get to their full maturity when they pop open and lure in flies to spread their spores with a fetid odor some describe as dirty diapers.
You probably are going to have to get used to the mushrooms. The fungus is living within the mulch and moist organic soils that you provide for the roses. They do not harm the plants, but unless picked or knocked over when first noted, they could alter the pleasing fragrance coming from the rose garden. (2/20/2005)
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Question: We are growing strawberries, but we doubt we will get a crop because something is making holes in the leaves and chewing the berries. Is there some product I can use to prevent the damage?

Answer: At this time of the year, you probably can blame slugs for the leaf and fruit damage. They like to live in the moist areas under the plant foliage and in the mulch layers often provided for this crop.
Slugs can be controlled by setting out shallow trays of beer or a malt beverage where they crawl in and drown. You also could select a natural slug bait that contains iron phosphate, available at garden centers. (3/25/2006)
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String Trimmer Damage

Question: We have young laurel oak and red maple trees in our landscape that were damaged by a string trimmer. The trees seem to be thriving, but we are concerned the damage might ultimately doom them. What should we do?

Answer: Good growth is a good sign, but it may not tell the extent of the damage. Inspect the trunk to determine how much of the tree has been girdled by the whipping action of the weeder, which has removed at least some of the bark.
If the injury encircles the trunk, the damage could be severe because it cuts off the movement of food produced by the leaves down to the root system. The tree gradually starves. If only a portion of the bark has been removed or the wounds are not deep, healing can occur, and you can expect the tree to continue normal growth. If the bark is peeling off and the damage is extensive, a new tree is likely in your future. (4/30/2006)
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Question: We planted sunflowers that grew slowly and then started to form small blooms, but the plants were only a foot tall. Are we planting at the wrong time of the year?

Answer: You either have a slow learner or an undernourished plant. They need a light feeding every two to three weeks to grow tall and produce big flower heads. Sunflowers can be grown year-round even though they could be damaged by cold. Some varieties are dwarf in size but even these grow a few feet tall. (1/8/2006)

Question: I have a lot of sunflowers that have been blooming and producing seeds. Will they keep coming back each year from the seeds?

Answer: Seen any squirrels lately? How about some hungry birds and a few grain beetles, too? They all like sunflower seeds and are waiting for the crop to mature. You could harvest the heads as the seeds begin to dry and then sow the crop to obtain more sunflowers. Don't count on seed falling on the ground to start your next plantings of this wildlife favorite. (2/26/2006)
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Question: We planted the perennial Maximillian sunflowers that have grown quite tall but have not bloomed. Can we move them now without affecting the blooms?

Answer: Digging and moving the plants now likely would be too disturbing to guarantee flowers by fall, the normal blooming time for this sunflower. Unless the plants, that can grow to 10 feet tall, have grown way out of bounds, it would be better to delay the move until winter. By delaying the move, you can enjoy the extensive display of yellow blooms and then move the plants during a more convenient time. Feel free to prune at this time if needed to keep the sunflowers in bounds but still allow the main shoots to flower for fall. (8/14/2005)
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Surinam Cherry

Question: I was walking through my neighborhood and found a hedge with orange to red fruits the size of cherries with scalloping along the sides. What is the plant and are the fruits edible?

Answer: Gardeners who would like a taste of the tropics can enjoy the tart but sweet-tasting Surinam cherries that you have found in the landscape. Have them identified at your local Extension office before giving these the taste test.
Surinam plantings make a nice hedge, or they can be trained to small trees. The plants are cold sensitive, freezing around 30 degrees, but they usually grow back from buds near the ground when damaged. Selections are available with bright orange to very dark, almost black, fruits. The darker-colored fruits seem to be the favorites. (5/21/2006)
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Sweet Olive/Pruning

Question: Our sweet olive bushes have become leggy, but right now they are blooming. When will be the best time to reshape the plants and how?

Answer: Withhold your pruning for a month or two; now is a good time to enjoy the apricotlike fragrance of these sweet-smelling shrubs. When most of the blossoms fade is the best time to prune.
Start by removing any dead or declining stems. Then trim the shrubs back a foot or two below the desired height. Most plantings grow slowly, so pruning typically is kept to a minimum. (2/25/2006)
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Sword Fern

Question: A large oak tree was producing too much shade so I planted sword and leatherleaf ferns to replace the turf. They have grown quite dense. Do I cut them back? What should I do to keep them attractive?

Answer: Get ready for a dense jungle. These are two reliable but thick-growing ferns. If you like the look, you need to do nothing but remove the declining or cold-damaged portions.
When needed, you can cut back the plants severely and expect plenty of growth. You might consider thinning them and limiting the ferns to certain areas under the tree. This would provide walking room and spots for less-invasive shade-loving plants too. (2/5/2006)
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Sycamore Tree/Bark

Question: I have a 10-year-old sycamore tree that is dropping pieces of bark. Is this normal?

Answer: Not only is this normal but many gardeners think this is an attractive feature of the tree. After rapid spring growth, the outer mature bark cracks and flakes off the older trees. (7/17/2005)
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Question: We planted a pink-flowering tabebuia in our yard two years ago, but it has not produced a single bloom. How do we get it to look like the other trees in the neighborhood that produced lots of flowers?

Answer: Don't worry. Your tree will grow up, too, and be the pride of the neighborhood, but it's going to take a few more years of good care. These pink-flowering trees often are slow bloomers and usually take five to seven years to begin forming their colorful buds. You also might notice that, until the trees reach maturity, they hold their leaves well into spring. Trees in the flowering mode normally drop all their leaves at once just before they bloom. (4/15/2006)
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Tabebuia/Cracked Trunk

Question: I planted a pink tabebuia a year ago that is green and growing well, but I notice the trunk is cracking. Could staking the tree damage the trunk?

Answer: Nothing you did caused the tree trunk to start cracking; it does it on its own. Even though the fissures that develop can be quite deep, these trees continue to develop strong, healthy trunks. Just provide normal care to produce an attractive tree. (4/8/2006)
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Question: Our yellow tabebuia has bloomed and is loaded with seedpods. How do we turn these into new trees?

Answer: One fringe benefit of having yellow and pink tabebuia trees is lots of pods filled with hundreds of seeds. Start your own trees by allowing the pods to remain on the limbs until they start to turn brown and crack open. Then har-vest some of the pods and place them in a bag to continue to crack open and release seeds that are ready to grow.
Sow the seeds in containers of a potting mix, covering them lightly with some of the soil. Keep the soil moist, and the seeds should germinate within two weeks. When 3 to 4 inches tall, transplant the seedlings to individual containers to grow into new trees for the landscape. (4/23/2006)
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Question: What fruits were used to produce a tangelo? I say it's a grapefruit and an orange.

Answer: Don't bet on this combination, or it's going to leave a sour taste. Crosses that produced the first tangelos began during 1892 at a U.S. Department of Agriculture field station in Eustis by combining grapefruit and mandarin-type fruits.
Some of the more popular tangelos resulted from crosses made during 1911 between a Duncan grapefruit and the Dancy tangerine, a type of mandarin. Two fruits from these pairings that are still favorites with home gardeners are the Orlando and Minneola tangelos. The latter also is known as the Honeybell. (1/22/06)
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Question: I just planted a Big Boy tomato variety and was told to pinch off the first flowers so it would grow a bushy plant. Do you have any other tips?

Answer: Yes, don't remove the flowers. It's hard enough to get a tomato to fruit during the fall, and removing the blooms might eliminate any chance of production. Also, this is a tall-growing variety, and if you want to keep it bushy, trim the foliage, not the blossoms. It's best to train this plant to a trellis and let it grow shoots and flowers to get a few fruits before the first frosts. (10/23/2005)
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Tomato/Caterpillar Damage

Question: Tiny green worms are feeding on my tomato leaves. I tried a homemade soap spray, but it burned the plants. What can I do that is natural?

Answer: Homemade pest controls give varying results, and sometimes, as you found, the concoctions damage the plants. Luckily, a natural bacterial extract of Bacillus thuringiensis is marketed for caterpillar control at local garden centers. It's often sold as Dipel, Thuricide or simply a BT insecticide. The products are slow to act but effective. (6/5/2005)
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Tomato/Container Grown

Question: I have several tomato plants in 5-gallon containers that are growing well but produce few flowers. Do tomatoes produce well when grown in containers?

Answer: Plenty of foliage and few flowers suggest you have been overfertilizing. Another possible cause for lots of tops and no buds is too much shade. Move the plants into the sun and reduce the feedings to every other week. Unless these are cherry tomatoes or one of the heat-resistant types, you might not see good fruiting until fall. But don't give up; start a new planting in mid-August. (6/5/2005)
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Tomato/Fall Garden

Question: You recommend planting tomatoes at the end of August, but they are nowhere to be found until the end of September. The stores say it is too hot to plant them during summer. When is the right time?

Answer: Just do the math. Tomatoes take about 90 days of warm weather to produce the first fruits. If planted at the end of September, the first fruits likely will not ripen until the end of December. The average first frost date is mid-December.
Shorter days and cooler nights of fall may delay production even more. You may never see a crop. At least the August tomato plantings gain an extra month of warm growing weather that helps them produce their first harvests by November. If you want tomato transplants for August next year, you may have to grow them yourself from seeds started in July. (10/16/2005)
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Tomato/Leaf Miners

Question: Something is making thin silver lines in my tomato leaves. I think it is leaf miners, but sprays don't seem to help. What should I do?

Answer: Leaf miners are elusive as they complete their life cycles between the surfaces of the plant foliage and then drop out often before the sprays are applied. When living within the leaves, they also are protected from pesticide applications.
Perhaps the best strategy is to tolerate as much leaf miner damage as possible. Beneficial insects help control these pests but need at least a small population of leaf miners on the plants to get established. Some gardeners also hang yellow sticky boards near tomato plants to help control the leaf miner adults before they fly to the leaves.
These can be made from plastic yellow picnic plates greased with petroleum jelly. A natural control of Conserve found at local garden centers also might help with this pest problem. (3/5/2006)

Question: My tomatoes have squiggly white lines on the leaves. What's causing these, and are they harmful?

Answer: Leaf miners are tunneling about, feeding between the surfaces of the tomato foliage. A few leaf miners can be ignored. In fact, it might be good to have some leaf-miner activity because it helps to maintain populations of beneficial insects that often keep damaging populations under control.
When leaf miners get out of control, try hanging yellow sticky boards, available from garden centers, near the plants to catch and hold the adult stages. If damage persists, a natural insecticide sold as Conserve Naturalyte Insect Control is also available at garden centers to prevent leaf-miner injury on many garden and landscape plants. (4/16/2006)
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Question: I planted 54 tomato plants in soil I enriched with cow manure from a local dairy , chicken manure from my coop, dolomitic lime and wood ashes. Some are starting to wilt and have brown leaves. What happened?

Answer: You put a lot of work into the soil, but possibly you overdid it. The wilting symptoms and brown leaves suggest there is root damage to the plants. Dig down and take a look.
If the roots are brown and mushy, they have probably been burnt by any number of the ingredients. There is no easy way to stop the decline. This hotbed of ingredients will have to sit a few months before you can replant. (4/3/2005)
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Question: I would like to grow tomatoes, but the only spot that's sunny is within the pool enclosure. Will the flowers still be pollinated to produce fruits?

Answer: It's a surprise to many gardeners, but tomatoes don't need insects to produce their fruits. Male and female flower portions are inside the blooms and only need a breeze to move the pollen about. If you feel your plants are not getting enough of a shaking from the wind, jiggle the stems a little several times a week. (3/12/2006)

Question: I planted a tomato in a container, and I keep it inside my screened pool enclosure. It flowers but does not produce fruit. Does the plant need pollination by bees to produce tomatoes?

Answer: A pollinator is not needed, just a little wind. Tomatoes are self-pollinated, but they need some movement of the blossoms to transfer the pollen within the flowers. If the plants are not moving adequately within the protected area, jiggle them a little a few times a week.
The cooler weather is not the best time to grow tomatoes. The plants reluctantly produce fruits when temperatures drop below 55 degrees. Now that consistently warmer weather is here, your plants should start to set the fruits you have been waiting for. (3/6/2005)
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Question: We planted several tomatoes that are starting to need staking. We have heard that pruning will give better-quality fruit. How and where do I prune the plants?

Answer: Do you want lots of tomatoes or just big ones? Pruning limits the number of fruits and plumps out the ones left on the vines to a larger-than-normal size.
If you still want to try pruning, remove some of the secondary shoots often called suckers that form between the leaves attached to the main stem. Take note that removing too many often exposes the fruits to excessive amounts of intense Florida sun, and they develop yellow to brown scalded surfaces.
Also, the more leaves that are left, the more nutrients that are produced by the plants and supplied to the tasty fruits. (7/10/2005)
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Tomato Seeds

Question: I sowed tomato seeds recently and placed them in a sunny window, and they have sprouted. I have read they should be in normal light. What does that mean?

Answer: Normal light for a tomato is outside in full sun. Windowsills are a fine spot to get the seeds up and growing, but to prevent the plants from growing tall and lanky, they need a sunny location.
Keeping the plants outdoors can be tricky during the rainy season. Either build a clear plastic or glass cover over top of the seedlings, or be prepared to move them to a sheltered location during storms. In three more weeks, your plants should be ready for the garden. (8/28/05)
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Question: We have mature tomato plants with leaves that wilt and turn brown. The plants appears to be dying. What can I do?

Answer: Unless the reason is drought, wilting plants seldom can be saved. Most likely, your tomatoes have one of the wilt organisms that live in the ground. Both bacteria and fungal wilts are found in local soils that enter the stems and prevent water uptake. You can have a plant properly diagnosed at your local University of Florida Extension office.
If a wilt organism is at fault, most of the plants likely will be lost. Options for future plantings are to move the garden to another area of the landscape or grow the next crop in containers. You also can use soil solarization to bake wilt organisms out of the ground during summer.
When selecting your next tomatoes for planting, look for varieties with resistance to one or more of these wilt organisms. (5/7/2006)

Question: I planted 54 tomato plants in soil I enriched with cow manure from a local dairy , chicken manure from my coop, dolomitic lime and wood ashes. Some are starting to wilt and have brown leaves. What happened?

Answer: You put a lot of work into the soil, but possibly you overdid it. The wilting symptoms and brown leaves suggest there is root damage to the plants. Dig down and take a look.
If the roots are brown and mushy, they have probably been burnt by any number of the ingredients. There is no easy way to stop the decline. This hotbed of ingredients will have to sit a few months before you can replant. (4/3/2005)
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Tree Canopy/Frost Protection for Tropical Plants

Question: Many of our tropical plants are growing under a heavy tree canopy. Does this offer enough protection from frosts and freezes?

Answer: Gardeners can plan on several degrees of freeze protection when plants are growing under trees. It's also possible to set a container-grown plant under a tree on a cold night to take advantage of the warmth within the canopy. The limbs and leaves of the trees capture the heat being radiated from the ground. This added warmth can provide several hours of frost and freeze protection, which is all that's often needed on most cold Florida nights. (2/20/2005)
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Tree Stump Shoots

Question: New shoots are coming out from a stump left after we removed a tree toppled by last year's hurricanes. Will these become trees or just large branches?

Answer: Shoots sprouting from stumps seldom develop into desirable trees. Usually the stumps are quite large and in a short period of time begin to decay. This produces a weakly attached new trunk that is susceptible to future storms. It's best to remove the stump, and replant with a healthy new tree. (5/15/2005)
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Question: We have lots of tree roots coming up in our yard. If we water enough, can we get them to grow back down into the soil?

Answer: Watering too much will have the opposite effect on roots. Normal watering that wets the soil profile and then allows it to dry results in the best root growth.
Most trees produce a majority of their roots in the surface soils. Some studies show the roots that count are within the upper 6 inches of soil. Trees including oaks, maples, sweet gums, pines and sycamores usually have some roots creeping across the surface of the ground no matter what you do.
They are often support roots that should be left in place and tolerated or covered with a light application of mulch. (7/17/2005)

Question: I have a maple tree with lots of surface roots. Would it be all right to remove a few and cover the roots that remain with soil and create a flower garden?

Answer: Maples are notorious for producing surface roots that are in the way of walking and mowing. As we learned from recent hurricanes, all roots are important and removing even a few could affect the support for the tree.
A light layer of soil up to 2 inches thick would help cover the roots for a short time. Adding a thicker layer for a flower garden could suffocate the root system and again affect the survival of the tree.
Possibly one answer to the root problem is to create a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch over the root system starting a foot from the trunk. Then you could add container gardens filled with flowers to provide the color. Another option is to plant Asiatic jasmine, which is very competitive with the roots, as a ground cover under the trees. You still could add a few containers of flowers. (5/22/2005)
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Trees/Shedding Leaves

Question: I am tired of raking leaves. Can you suggest shade trees that do not shed a lot of leaves?

Answer: All trees shed leaves, but you can pick the time of the year you would prefer to do the raking. Deciduous trees, including maples, sweet gums, river birches, winged elms and sycamores, drop all their leaves during the fall. This might take two or more months.
So-called evergreen trees often present a much more dramatic leaf drop. Live oaks and laurel oaks, cherry laurels and hollies usually need only a few weeks during late winter or early spring to renew their coat of greenery. But there are a few species, such as magnolias, that look sick for about a month as the leaves turn yellow, develop leaf spots and are shed. Much to many a gardener's dismay, they also like to drop a few leaves here and there throughout the year.
What you probably realize by now is there is no perfect tree. A few such as tree ligustrums and bottlebrush might hold some of their leaves for more than a year, but they still shed portions of their foliage seasonally. (7/31/2005)
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Question: I received a box of tulips from a friend up North. How difficult are they to grow locally?

Answer: It's not impossible, but it's a lot of work to get tulips, hyacinths and most daffodils to bloom in Central Florida. They need more cold than the normal winter can provide; so you have to give them a refrigeration treatment.
Some residents have luck tossing the bags of bulbs in the refrigerator for about three months and then planting them in the ground. Others are more successful if they plant the bulbs in containers and then store them in the cold. There is also one little problem.
You cannot store fruits or vegetables in the refrigerator at the same time. These edibles give off a gas that causes flower buds within the bulbs to abort.
Gardeners who are serious about preparing bulbs for planting winter displays need a separate refrigerator. You can plant the bulbs in small pots or peat containers. Then keep them moist and in the cold for 12 weeks. After the cold treatment, they can be planted in the ground, and they usually bloom within four to six weeks. (11/6/2005)

Question: Last Valentine's Day, I bought a pot of beautiful red tulips. After blooming, I put the pot in my garage and ignored it. How can I get the bulbs to rebloom?

Answer: Too much neglect might keep the bulbs from reblooming another year. By now, the bulbs are likely dehydrated and have lost their ability to grow. Remove the bulbs from the container and push your finger nail into the side of each. If they are moist, you might try to force them into bloom, but even well-cared-for tulips are not good repeat performers.
If you still want to try forcing the tulips into bloom, place each bulb that tests moist 1 inch deep in a container of fresh potting soil, and water thoroughly. Place the pot into the refrigerator for 12 weeks. Keep the soil moist during the cold treatment.
At the end of storage, place the container of bulbs in a sunny spot, and continue to water the soil when the surface begins to dry. With a lot of luck, you might see flowers by late spring. (1/29/06)

Question: I received a glass jar with 10 tulips that flowered and have produced roots in the water. What should I do with the bulbs so they flower next year?

Answer: Share the bulbs with a friend up North, where they can be added to the landscape this spring. Re-flowering tulip bulbs is about next to impossible locally.
No matter where the forced tulip bulbs are planted, it usually takes two or more years to return them to blooming mode. Also, locally, you have to grow them during the spring, then give them a rest during summer and a cold treatment come fall. Such extra work persuades most gardeners to treat these gifts as bouquets when the flowers fade. (2/12/06)
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Question: My lawn has sections that have declined. Can I sod these problem spots and leave the good areas alone?

Answer: Having to reinstall an entire lawn is rare. Normally, just the weedy or pest-plagued areas can be removed and new sod installed. Try to determine the cause for decline and then make corrections as needed. Good site preparation is always best even when repairing an older lawn. Control the problem weeds with Roundup, Finale or a similar herbicide. As they begin to decline, remove them and any remaining damaged turf. Usually the problem areas can be shaped into squares or rectangles that are easier to sod. Complete the preparations for sodding by tilling the ground a few inches deep and adjusting the soil pH if needed. (1/15/2006)
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Turf/Bare Spot

Question: A depression about 2 feet square has developed in my lawn. If I fill it with soil, will the surrounding grass cover it soon?

Answer: Funny thing about bare spots, what you want to grow seldom fills in as quickly as you might like. If you have good grass in the depression, why not remove it to form several pieces of sod? Then fill the depression with topsoil or potting soil and add the pieces of saved grass.
If necessary, you could even buy a few pieces of sod to cover the soil. Avoid the frustration of seeing weeds take over this little spot in your lawn.(5/7/2006)
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Turf/Brown Patch Fungus

Question: My lawn has developed brown areas with a little green left in the centers. I have been told this is the brown-patch disease and a fungicide would help. What should I apply to the lawn?

Answer: You made this diagnosis easy. The symptoms point to the brown patch fungus as a likely cause. The fungus turns the leaf blades of the turf to mush, and they quickly turn brown. If the lawn is otherwise healthy, the green runners are not affected and the grass can recover on its own if you do nothing.
Most gardeners don't like the brown look and would like to prevent the spread of the brown-patch disease. There are a number of fungicides available at your garden center that can help keep the decline to a minimum including Bayleton, Halts Systemic Fungicide, Immunox and Thiomyl. Follow the label instructions to obtain the best control. (2/26/2006)
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Question: I lost a small area of my lawn because of grubs. When is the best time to treat these insects, and what should I apply?

Answer: White grubs, the larval stage of certain beetles, are becoming a prevalent pest of local lawns. Turf decline because of their root feeding often resembles damage caused by chinch bugs, nematodes and some diseases. Gardeners have to look below the grass among the roots and in the soil to check for the insects.
Remove at least a square foot of turf a few inches thick within the problem areas. Examine the root zones, searching for the plump white insects with three pairs of brown legs. If two or more grubs are counted in each square-foot sample, a treatment should be applied to the infested areas.
Winter is not the best treatment time because the grubs go deep in the ground. If you know grubs are the problem, consider delaying the treatment until warmer weather and use a lawn insecticide containing Dylox as instructed on the label. If grubs are a continual problem, preventive treatments using the insecticides Merit or Mach 2 can be applied during May, June or July; follow label instructions. (1/15/2006)
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Turf/Insect Control

Question: I control the insects in my lawn when needed, but I also like to apply a preventive program about every three months. Is this a good plan, or is there something better?

Answer: The most environmentally friendly way to control insects is to treat the problems when noted. Many lawns seldom need a pest-control treatment. Perhaps the best way to deal with insects is to monitor the lawn at least once a week during the warmer months, and check for insects when yellow areas or other signs of declining turf are noted.
If insects are found to cause the decline, then an insecticide can be applied. Select a natural control if available to prevent injury to the good bugs.
Also, only treat the problem areas. Normally an entire lawn will not need the pesticide application.
Obtain a free guide to the insects that might attack your lawn at your local extension office. (3/27/2005)
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Question: We had some building work performed, and the lawn was left lumpy, but the grass is growing fine. How can I get the lawn flat and level again?

Answer: Bumping and grinding across the lawn with a mower or tripping over the humps is not what most gardeners call fun.
A quick fix might be to fill in the deep ruts with soil from other areas of the landscape or what is sold at the garden centers as lawn soil.
It will smother some sod, but the surrounding grass usually can fill in small areas before the weeds.
You also could add plugs or sections of sod if needed.
If you want to use the good grass, use a sharp shovel or a spade to form easy-to-handle sections of sod to lift and save in a shady area until the lawn site can be prepared for planting.
Grade the site, remove or add soil, and then replace the sod. Treat as a new lawn until established. (6/19/2005)
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Question: I need to restart portions of my lawn that was originally Floratam St. Augustine. Would planting another variety be a better choice?

Answer: Floratam is an excellent St. Augustine variety, but it grows only in full sun. Perhaps there is only one good reason to change to another variety. If your lawn is even a bit shadier than it used to be, another selection would be recommended. St. Augustines with improved shade tolerance include Amerishade, Delmar, Palmetto and Seville. (2/5/2006)
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Question: When I replace the sod in the yard, I plan to kill the weeds and old grass. Then, do I need to remove the dead grass or can I lay the sod right over the top?

Answer: Better go by the rules for this costly and time-consuming project. The University of Florida recommends that gardeners remove the old grass and then till the ground. In sandy soils, you might get by with a firm raking that also loosens the soil. Then check the soil acidity and adjust the pH to around 6.5 for best growth.
Thoroughly wet the soil, and you are ready to lay the sod. A fertilizer application is usually not part of preplant soil preparation. A lawn product is applied three to four weeks after the grass is installed. (4/1/2006)
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Turf/Roundup Herbicide

Question: I have a neglected spot in my yard that has filled in with a coarse, 3- to 4-foot high grass. If I cut it and treat what's left with Roundup, can I seed the area with bahiagrass or plant Asiatic jasmine?

Answer: Start with Roundup, Finale or a similar herbicide treatment that permits planting after the unwanted weeds decline. This allows the entire grassy weed to absorb the herbicide and move it down into the roots for total control. When the grass declines, you then have to decide what to plant.
If you are adding bahiagrass, cut the brown stalks to the ground and remove the debris. Then till the soil 4 to 6 inches deep. You can use the cooler months to prepare the soil, but wait until March to sow the seeds.
If you decide to add the Asiatic jasmine again, cut the brown grass stalks as close to the soil as possible. Leave the ground-up stalks on the surface as a mulch, and plant the ground cover through the residue. Complete planting by adding a more substantial 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch. (12/4/2005)
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Turf/Shade Area

Question: We have an area of our yard that is shady, and the soil is the typical Florida sand. What would be the best grass for this site?

Answer: Gardeners have to be ready to accept the fact that grass does not grow well in the shade. As a general rule, you usually can grow turf in light shade, especially if there is shifting sunlight throughout the day. If there is more than 25 percent shade, it's best to look for another ground cover.
Turf types listed as shade tolerant include Amerishade, Classic, Delmar, Palmetto and Seville St. Augustines. Most lists include Bitterblue St. Augustine, but the variety has not been maintained in a pure state, and there are many selections that may or may not have good shade tolerance.
You might try a few trays of plugs of each turf type in your site to see which grows best in the shade. Then in a few months, you can make a permanent turf selection or pick another ground cover. (2/27/2005)
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Turf/Weed-and Feed

Question: I have a lawn area that has been damaged by a weed-and-feed-type product. A neighbor told me to seed the areas with ryegrass until the old lawn begins growing again. Will this work?

Answer: More than likely you are in for another failure. The weed-control herbicides in weed-and-feed products are normally good at preventing seed germination. Most are effective for 45 to 90 days. Over seeding with ryegrass is probably not an option this winter.
It's also more important to allow the damaged grass a competition-free time to recover from the herbicide injuries. Florida lawns can grow during the winter months, which should help with the recovery. Your job for the winter is to keep the soil moist and add sod to areas that have been severely damaged. (1/15/2006)
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Turf/Weed Control

Question: If a lawn has been treated with a herbicide but still has a lot of weeds, what should I do? Do I have to keep putting down herbicides?

Answer: Persistent weeds including dollarweed, day flower and oxalis may need a follow-up treatment to clean up the lawn. Often a spot treatment will do in these problem areas. Other weeds may be resistant to the herbicide you are using.
If you have treated a weed more than once and it persists, it's time to have it identified at your local University of Florida Extension office.
The agents or master gardeners can recommend the best alternative control.
For some weeds, there are no easy answers. You may have to pull or spot-kill the weeds and then add plugs or sod to the yard. (4/17/2005)
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Valencia Orange Tree/Fruit Ripening

Question: I have a Hamlin orange tree in the yard with fruits that are just starting to ripen, but the tree is also flowering. Do I need to pick off the fruits?

Answer: It's late for Hamlin fruits to be ripening. Chances are you have a similar-looking but late-ripening fruit known as the Valencia. Fruits such as this one ripen when the buds to produce the next crop start to open. It's one of the curiosities of citrus production.
Valencia fruits can be left on the tree until you are ready to harvest them for home use. Many gardeners have ripe Valencia fruits together with the small oranges for next season's crop on the same tree through the start of summer. (4/17/2005)
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Vegetable Garden/Pollination

Question: I planted a vegetable garden last year, and the squash and cucumbers did great until the fruits grew about an inch long and rotted. What can I do to ensure some good fruits?

Answer: Blame the bees for your planting's poor performance. There seem to be fewer bees in local landscapes, and the vegetables that need pollination are suffering.
You often can invite these and other pollinating insects in by planting colorful flowers nearby. As the insects visit the annual or perennial flowers, they then can move over to the vegetable plants.
Unless the flowers of squash and many cucumbers are pollinated, the fruits begin growth but then rot, shrivel or take an odd shape. You can try doing the bees' work by moving pollen between blooms with a small paintbrush. This is best done during the early-morning hours. Also, cucumber varieties can be obtained that do not need pollination to produce their fruits. (3/19/2006)
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Vegetable Garden/Shade

Question: I have a small garden area that receives about 50 percent shade. Are there any vegetables that grow in the lower light levels?

Answer: All vegetables grow best in full sun, but the leafy types can tolerate some shade. Selections you might plant include cabbage, collards, kale, lettuce, onions and most herbs. These might grow a bit lanky but still should give good harvests. (10/23/2005)
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Vegetable Garden/Watering

Question: Several of my tomato, pepper and cabbage plants growing in big pots have drooping leaves. How often should they be watered during fall and winter?

Answer: Drooping leaves can be a sign of too much or too little water. It's important that plants get the right amount of moisture. The touch test is the best way to determine water needs during the cooler months. Feel the surface inch of soil, and if the soil is starting to dry, it's time to water. When needed, soak the soil until moisture runs from the bottom of the container. (11/20/2005)
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Question: I have several viburnums and would like to start more. Will a twig of the viburnum grow if stuck in the ground?

Answer: Some gardeners get lucky and root plants by sticking twigs or stem portions in the ground, but most need to take a more proven approach. You are likely to be more successful rooting 4- to 6-inch tip cuttings in pots filled with coarse vermiculite available from garden centers.
The best cuttings of shrubs are taken from twigs that have matured after a period of spring growth. Dip the cut ends in a rooting powder as they are stuck in the containers.
Keep the cuttings moist, in the shade and surrounded by clear plastic to hold in the humidity during rooting. (3/26/2006)
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Question: A family member pruned a viburnum hedge for me, and it's a mess. Can I even up the hedge without causing more damage?

Answer: Most likely, you cannot harm the planting any more than what was done during the severe pruning. Why not complete the job with a little more pruning to produce a hedge with a uniform height and width?
Remember, the ideal formal hedge is noticeably narrow at the top and has slightly slanted sides. This look allows as much sunlight as possible to strike all surfaces to help maintain the foliage at the base. (3/13/2005)
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Vine for Shade

Question: I am looking for a vine that grows in the shade and will bloom a lot. What do you suggest?

Answer: Vines and shade normally don't mix. The plants are usually sun lovers that need the high light levels to keep their leaves and to flower. That is why you find them rambling over shrubs and climbing to the tops of trees.
One vine, the Confederate jasmine, likes sun and shade. It's an evergreen and maintains leaves throughout the plant. The vine opens fragrant white blossoms for about a month during May. Other vines that tolerate light shade include the bower vine, calico vine, queen's wreath and Carolina yellow jessamine. (2/27/2005)
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Question: Something is decimating my violas. They look sort of like celery that has been left out too long. I don't see any bugs. What could it be?

Answer: I know you would like these plants to last forever, but violas and their kin, the pansies, all decline at this time of the year. They sort of wilt away, much like you describe. If it were any other time of year, you might look for a lack of water. Sometimes water runs around the outside of the root balls but never really wets the mass of soil, allowing the plants to dry and wilt. Another possible cause for decline during the cooler months would be root-rot problems. (4/15/2006)
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Washingtonian Palm/Pruning

Question: My Washingtonian palm needs pruning. Do I remove just the fan, or do I cut off the whole branch back to the trunk?

Answer: Take off the whole thing, which includes the large leaf portion plus the supporting stem all the way back to the trunk. A good pruning job removes only the declining leaves and any that might be in the way of traffic or plant maintenance. Avoid giving palms the so called "rocket cut" that leaves only a little foliage at the top. You also can trim any flowering or fruit stems if you wish. (4/2/2006)
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Question: How long should I run the sprinkler system? Should I change the length of time with the seasons?

Answer: Apply 1/2- to 3/4-inch of water at each watering regardless of the time of year. You may need to water more frequently during dry times, but you still apply the same amount of water. In most communities, you are allowed to water up to two times a week.
Here is the hard part. You have to determine how long to run your system. Operate the system for 15 minutes and catch the water being sprinkled on the lawn in a rain gauge or shallow containers with square sides. After 15 minutes, measure the depth of the water in the containers. Then determine how much longer you have to run your system to apply the right amount of water. (4/2/2006)

Question: I water twice a week and let the sprinklers run for about an hour. Is this enough for each section of the lawn?

Answer: It's not the length of time you water but the amount of water applied that determines how well you are irrigating. You will have to investigate to determine how long to run your irrigation system.
Find out how much water your irrigation system applies by setting out rain gauges or vertical containers throughout the lawn. Then run the irrigation system for 15 minutes and determine the average depth of the water in the containers. Water in rain gauges can be read directly.
To do a good job of watering, you need to apply between 1/2- and 3/4-inch of water. Use the average amount of water measured in the containers in 15 minutes to determine how long you must operate your irrigation system. (4/24/2005)
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Question: A friend is growing a watermelon that likely sprung up from a seed-spitting contest. There is a big melon forming. When will it be ripe?

Answer: Experienced growers can rap on a melon and listen for a dull, echoing thud that should mean it's ready to pick. But this must be a time-perfected technique.
Perhaps a more reliable way to pick a ripe one is to check the belly of the melon. When it changes from smooth and white to rough and yellow, it's usually a deep red color and full of flavor inside. But, if you want more proof, check the stringlike tendril attached to the vine nearest the melon. When this turns brown, it's one more sign the fruit is ripe. (8/7/2005)
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Question: My yard man tells me he cannot apply weed-and-feed on my lawn because he would be breaking the law. Is there a law that says we can't use these products on the lawn?

Answer: Your yard man might not be able to apply the product, but you can. Because weed-and-feed products contain herbicides, the applicator has to be a licensed professional or work for a company that employees a licensed applicator to supervise the work.
Your yard man can apply products that contain only the fertilizer. You have to leave the pesticide treatments to a trained and tested professional, or you can do the work yourself using combination products available at your garden center. (12/4/2005)
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Winged Elm/Pruning

Question: We replaced a hurricane-damaged tree with a winged elm that seems to produce lots of closely spaced intertwined limbs. Should I remove the crisscrossing portions?

Answer: Congratulations, you have planted a great native tree many gardeners are just starting to discover. The winged elms held up to the winds during last year's hurricanes and seem to be well-anchored in the ground. The trees are also drought tolerant and grow rapidly. As you noted, they do produce lots of limbs, some of which may crisscross.
Perhaps it is best to try to thin out the growth to produce evenly spaced limbs around the trunk of the tree. Limbs spaced about a foot apart uniformly around and up the trunk on a young tree are ideal. (4/24/2005)
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Last revised 22 May 2006
Copyright @ 2006
Tom MacCubbin