GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Try several smaller plants rather than one

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, May 30, 2018

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Dear Neil: I’m wondering what to do with this plant? It came from Puerto Rico via a leaf and is now 4 feet tall and has to be supported. It is now producing these little plants at the edges of its leaves and it is getting ready to bloom at the top of the plant.

It’s Bryophyllum pinnatum, a member of the Crassula family along with jade plant and kalanchoes. There are smaller types with narrower leaves that also produce tiny plantlets along their leaf margins, giving rise to their common name of “mothers of millions.” They’re interesting novelties for a while. But if you have them in a greenhouse you soon find them coming up in all of your other plants. Rather than tackling a huge specimen of this plant, I’d suggest starting new plants and letting them grow into more compact plants.

Dear Neil: I planted a pink dogwood last spring at our place in East Texas. It was about 7 feet tall, but most of it died back last year. New shoots came up from the bottom, but they turned black, too. My wife gave me a white-flowering replacement (4 feet tall), but it’s doing the same thing. What am I doing wrong?

That’s really hard to tell, but moisture stress is involved in some way. Either the plants have gotten too dry between waterings, or they may have suffered too much root loss if they were dug as a part of being moved and planted. It’s possible you might have applied too much fertilizer around them and burned their roots. It’s not going to be insect- or disease-related as rapidly as it’s showing up.

Dear Neil: What are some good plants for color beneath my patio cover? There isn’t much sunlight under there.

Most of flowering plants perform best when they have at least half a day of sunlight. Some that are more tolerant of shade, include wax begonias, Dragon Wing begonias and flowering tobacco. You might also plant coleus, caladiums or even crotons for tropical color. I have peace lilies blooming in our shade right now. I grow them in pots and bring them into my greenhouse each winter. I also use a wide variety of tropicals that have textural interest, including philodendrons, ferns, aglaonemas, sanseverias, and airplane plants.

Dear Neil: Is it normal for cedar trees to turn brown on their interiors? Mine looked great early this spring, but now it’s browning.

So many different plants get called “cedar” trees. I’m going to assume it’s eastern redcedar or one of the other junipers. Yes, they do drop their interior needles, just as most conifers do. It happens in the spring as the new growth is coming out, and it’s due to the increasing shading. It’s usually no indication of a problem. If you’re concerned, do check for spider mites by thumping a twig over a sheet of white paper and watching for tiny specks to start moving about.

Dear Neil: Why would leaves on portions of my Monterrey oaks in South Texas already be changing colors? I’ve hired an arborist to care for them, but I don’t know what might be wrong.

It looks like the yellowing is sprinkled all over the trees, which means that either the trunks or the roots are impacted and not just the leaves. Has any kind of weed-and-feed fertilizer been used on the lawn this spring? That could cause it. I’ve also seen Monterrey oaks in North Texas damaged by the cold. Ask your arborist to share his/her thoughts with you.

Dear Neil: I have a live oak that is populated with ball moss. Recently I have noticed an oily stain on the patio beneath the tree, and I see odd white growths on the bark. What should I do about these?

The white growths are lichens. They are a symbiotic colony of algae and fungus similar to what you see growing on “moss-covered” boulders. They are no cause for concern. As for the oily stains, they would probably have to come from an oozing wound somewhere up in the tree. Look as closely as you can, but you may want to have a certified arborist locate the source of the problem.

Dear Neil: Some people who have not been very friendly to our family poured salt on our lawn more than 10 years ago. Grass has not grown well in that area, and really does not grow at all now. I have St. Augustine. What can I do?

That’s a very long time for salt to remain active in the soil. My suggestion would be to start with a soil test by the Soil Testing Laboratory at Texas A&M in College Station. Search for that online to get the necessary sampling and mailing instructions. Explain your concerns to them and ask that they test for soluble salts. They will give you the results. Ask that they interpret those results for you. Concurrently, I would also look at the affected area to be sure that there are no other complications. For example, many people are surprised to find that St. Augustine needs five or six hours of direct sunlight daily to survive. They mistake “shade-tolerant” with “shade-proof.” In the vast majority of cases where I see St. Augustine failing, it’s due simply to lack of sufficient sunlight.

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 mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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