12.02.19 Example of summertime erratic growth on abelia.jpg

Example of summertime erratic growth on abelia

Q. Dear Neil: I planted several abelia bushes three years ago. They are in filtered sun beneath live oak trees. I need pruning advice. They seem to have two kinds of branches. Some of them are long and straight up. Others are arching, almost spreading. I know to trim the upright ones back into the centers of the plants so they won’t look so rangy, but what do I do about the trailing ones? That’s where flowers are produced. How far back should I trim them in the spring? Do I trim them all through the growing season?

A. I worry, by the nature of your question, whether your plants are getting enough sunlight. Abelias do best in full sun. They can tolerate some shade, but live oaks give very dense shade, especially beneath their interior canopies. But to give you an answer, I would trim a little bit every couple of months just to keep the plants properly shaped. Use an all-nitrogen, lawn-type fertilizer and keep them growing actively to get the plants to fill in. If that hasn’t worked by this time next year, consider moving them to some other part of your landscape and using another type of plant, perhaps a holly in the shade.

12.02.19 Purpleheart.jpg


Q. Dear Neil: I planted purpleheart as a groundcover this spring. It looked great all summer, but when the first freeze hit, my planting died. Will it come back in the spring?

Do I trim them all through the growing season?

A. Absolutely. Its roots remain alive and very well. That’s what sets it apart from most other types of wandering Jews and their kin. It’s an absolutely beautiful perennial that grows to 8 to 12 inches tall as it spreads to cover a bed. But it will freeze back to the ground with the first sub-freezing night. Trim off the dead growth and sit tight. It will come roaring back into the game in the spring.

Q. Dear Neil: I have some photinia seedlings coming up in my hedge. Can I transplant those and use them as a privacy screen in another part of my landscape?

Do I trim them all through the growing season?

12.02.19 Chinese photinia.jpg

Chinese photinia

A. Yes. If they’re seedlings, they would be the old-fashioned Chinese photinia. It’s a durable old shrub that so far has been much more resistant to Ento-mosporium fungal leaf spot than its sister, redtip phonia. Plant your Chinese photinia seedlings 8 feet apart if you’re going to allow them to grow to full size (15 to 16 feet tall and 8 or 10 feet wide). They do best if transplanted while they’re still fairly short (less than 18 inches) and if you can hold soil in place around their root systems. Water them immediately after the digging and replanting. Prune them back by 40 or 50 percent to help compensate for roots lost in the digging.

Q. Dear Neil: I have a lovely gardenia bush that did not flower like I had expected when I planted it on the southeast side of my house. I moved it to the west, in an alcove, and still no flowers. Where should I have planted it?

Do I trim them all through the growing season?

A. That depends on specific situations in each area of your yard. In general terms, gardenias require acidic soils, morning sun and afternoon shade, ample moisture, but perfect drainage, growing-season feedings with high-nitrogen (or perhaps all-nitrogen) fertilizers, monthly applications of iron if soils or irrigation water are alkaline, and attention to elimination of whiteflies, if they appear. That’s no small call for the climates and soils in many parts of Texas. The short answer to your question: gardenias do best on east sides of houses, where they get morning sun, and they prosper best when their planting soil is highly acidic and drains well.

Q. Dear Neil: We were excited by what appeared to be a bumper pecan crop. But, many of the pecans have black spots. Others did not fill out properly, and some even started sprouting while they were still on the tree. We have several different varieties. What can we do to prevent this in the future?

Do I trim them all through the growing season?

A. Different pecan varieties develop different problems. The popular old variety Burkett, for example, is very prone to pre-harvest germination, where the nuts actually start to sprout while they’re still hanging on the trees. There is nothing that can be done to prevent it. The black spots may be from stinkbug stings, and the kernels that didn’t fill out properly were probably damaged by hickory shuckworms late in the season. It sounds like you need to get a rigorous pecan spray schedule going next season. Texas A&M gives a great deal of space on their Aggie Horticulture website to the cultivation and care of pecans. That’s where local county Extension offices now frequently refer people. It’s also where I keep up-to-date on all the recommendations.

Q. Dear Neil: What is killing one side of my red oak? The bark is falling off in a big patch. Can it be saved?

Do I trim them all through the growing season?

A. That is probably Hypoxylon canker, but it’s difficult to tell without seeing it. The canker was very severe in Texas oak populations following the drought of 2011. It has continued to show up even into this year, especially on post oaks, but also on red oaks. The Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Texas A&M could confirm whether it’s involved with your tree. Certified arborists in your area will also be aware of whether it might have been responsible.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of this newspaper or email him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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