January freeze damages gardenias

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, May 31, 2017

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Dear Neil: What would be causing the slow death of our dwarf gardenias? These green leaves and yellowed leaves are both on the same plant. We have two other plants on either side, and they also have the yellowed leaves. This is our second bad experience with gardenias in this spot.

I don’t have a precise answer, but two things crossed my mind. You might have nematodes in the soil. They are microscopic worms that sting plants’ roots and inject digestive enzymes into the plant tissues. Look for any type of root abnormalities such as galls or shortened roots. The Texas Plant Clinic at Texas A&M could run a nematode test on your soil if you have any suspicion they might be involved. This could also be latent freeze damage from the extreme cold of early January. It hit almost all of the state and gardenias all across Texas were hurt. Most turned brown immediately, but maybe these are still struggling. I’m not especially sure of either suggestion, but perhaps they’ll get you started.

Dear Neil: What is the best way to start new wisteria plants? I have a really nice one I would like to share with my daughter.

Wisterias are typically rooted from cuttings. Choose stems that are smaller than a pencil in diameter. Cut 5- to 6-inch pieces, being careful to note which end was closer to the roots. Use a sharp knife to put a small 1-inch-long wound along one side of each stem. Dip the stems into rooting hormone powder from the nursery. Tap off the excess and carefully insert the stems into a pot filled with a mix of equal amounts of sphagnum peat and perlite. Put 5 or 6 cuttings into a 6-inch pot. Water it thoroughly and cover it with dry cleaner’s plastic to hold in the moisture. They should form roots within a few weeks, at which point you can pot them into a rich potting soil in 1-gallon containers to get them established.

Dear Neil: Every year about now my St. Augustine starts making seed heads. I find them particularly unattractive and was wondering if there were any way we could prevent them.

Apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer and you’ll encourage strong vegetative growth. Since that comes at the expense of the flowers, you’ll solve your problems. However, if gray leaf spot has been a problem in your St. Augustine in past summers, this should be the last feeding you’d give it until fall. Nitrogen seems to accelerate the fungus.

Dear Neil: Where can we buy ornamental pomegranates? We have the fruiting types, and we had ornamental ones at a prior home, but we left them behind.

Some reading this may not be familiar with “ornamental” pomegranates. These types have larger, showier flowers that may or may not bear fruit. It’s the flowers that are the prime reason for growing them. You don’t see the ornamental types in retail nurseries very often, but many varieties do exist nonetheless. Start with a web search for variety names. I’d suggest using key words “Punica granatum ornamental” to get you past the fruiting types. You could also ask your favorite nursery if they could order them for you. Finally, if you could get access to the plants you left behind, they root easily from cuttings taken during the summer. Follow pretty much the instructions I gave for wisteria above, but the cuttings will be smaller in diameter.

Dear Neil: My Bradford pear fruit have little warts growing out all over them. What causes that? I know the fruit aren’t edible, but I’m concerned it could be something that would hurt the rest of the tree.

It’s cedar-pear rust, similar to cedar-apple rust. It’s a fungal organism that has two host plants. To complete its life cycle, it moves back and forth between cedars and pears or quince. This has been an odd year for it. We don’t see this one on pears nearly as often as the form that attacks apples and eastern red cedars. There isn’t a lot you need to do once it shows up, but planting the two types of plants miles apart from one another would help.

Dear Neil: I have several large pots of caladiums on my patio. The plants are starting to flower. Someone suggested I pick the flowers off before they open. Is that good advice?

Yes. Some plants’ flowers (coleus, lambs ear, santolina and caladiums as examples) aren’t very showy. They can actually cause the plants to become rather ragged looking and should be pruned or pinched off before they develop.

Dear Neil: My husband ordered tomato seeds this past winter. They have grown into nice plants, but so far we have had only three or four blooms and only three small tomatoes. What is wrong?

When a tomato plant grows well but doesn’t bloom, it’s usually due to insufficient sunlight. They require full sunlight all day long to reach maximum productivity. When a plant blooms but doesn’t set fruit, that’s due to a lack of pollination. Tomato flowers are self-pollinating. That means that the pollen that fertilizes the flower is produced within the same flower and not transferred by bees. It requires mechanical agitation. If you get more flowers, try thumping the flower clusters with your fingernail every couple of days to jar the pollen. Finally, only small- and medium-sized varieties will set well in the heat of a Texas summertime. Large varieties like Big Boy and Beefsteak quit setting when daytime temperatures climb beyond 90 degrees.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of the Wise County Messenger, P.O. Box 149, Decatur, TX 76234 or email him at Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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