Bury tomato plant stems deep to produce sturdy plants – Orlando Sentinel

Question. Our roebelenii palm is filling with fronds and needs trimming. When is the best time to remove portions of the palm?

Answer. All palms are ready for pruning when you are. Many residents wait until late winter before growth begins and late summer when lots of fronds may be in decline to do the trimming. Old flower and seed-producing stems can also be removed as needed. Now is a fine time to do the necessary trimming if you don’t mind working in the heat. Remember to leave as many green fronds as possible. Each is needed to manufacture food for future growth.

Q. I have been told to plant my tomatoes deep in the soil covering much of the stems. Is this good to do?

THE. Bury the tomato stems as deep as needed to produce sturdy plants. Also, some gardeners find deeper planting seems to improve growth. Tomato stems can be laid on their sides too with the top upright out of the soil. The reason tomato plants don’t seem to mind the unusual planting techniques is roots form along the stems and are ready to grow when in contact with the soil. Look for little bumps along the stems. These are the preformed root portions ready to grow.

Q. Small greenish insects are living in the tips of the citrus shoots on our tree causing the leaves to curl. What should I do?

THE. Take a close look at an insect and you might see two tiny projections on the back of the body. This is a sure way to identify the citrus aphid, a common insect of the trees. They are sucking juices from the leaves which cause them to curl. Often beneficial insects such as lady beetles and lacewings are noted feeding on the insect which is an effective natural control. Frequently natural controls do not arrive until some damage has occurred to the foliage. When present, the aphids and plant damage can usually be ignored. If needed, especially on young trees, insecticidal soap can give good control of aphids following label instructions.

Q. We planted zinnias during the summer in our northern gardens. When should they be planted locally?

THE. Spring and fall are the good times to grow zinnias in most Florida landscapes. Hot summer months are the worst as the humidity coupled with seasonal rains encourage leaf spot diseases and plant decline. New varieties including dwarf selections seem less susceptible and may still make good growth with attractive flowers during summer. Good times to start seeds for transplants would be March and mid-August. It takes about four weeks to have young plants ready for a flower bed or container. Zinnia plants produce flowers for several months before they decline.

Q. Our new home site is ready for a lawn. What type of grass should we be sodding?

THE. Several turf types can make a good lawn, but it is hard to beat St. Augustine. It is vigorous and keeps the good green color in all but very cold times of the year. Garden centers, maintenance companies and pest control companies are very familiar with the pests, mowing and fertilizer needs. Bahia and zoysia can make good lawns too. Bahia is coarser looking and goes dormant during the winter. Zoysia makes a nice fine-bladed lawn but has very exact needs that take some study to provide the care needed to maintain healthy turf.

Q. An avocado tree I grew from seed over a year ago and planted in the yard has only grown to three feet tall. Why isn’t it making more growth?

THE. One good guess is that the plant is root bound and not becoming established in the surrounding soil. Dig down around the root ball to determine the extent of the in-ground growth. If still in the root ball shape, the plant needs to be lifted and rest after gently disturbing the roots. Due to the excessive summer heat, you might delay the replanting until fall. Then keep the soil moist and begin light monthly feedings or apply a slow-release fertilizer following label instructions during the warmer months.

Q. I need to move a crape myrtle about six feet tall out of the shade. When can it be transplanted?

THE. Late fall or winter would be the ideal time to move your crape myrtle, but if you need to do it soon try transplanting it into a container for a few months of growth. Make sure the soil is moist at the time of digging and obtain a good size intact ball of soil and roots.

Give your saved plant a container large enough to accommodate the root ball and fill voids with potting soil. Keep it moist and in a shady to filtered sun location for a few months then gradually move it to a sunny location. It should be ready for an in-ground site by spring.

Q. My hibiscus has a grayish white material on the stems and leaves. Could it be a fungus?

THE. What appears to be fungal growth on both stems and leaves is most likely mealy bugs or scale insects. Squash a few of the gray spots and see if you get a little insect ooze. If you do, a horticultural oil found at your local garden center would be a good control. Follow the label and be sure to cover the insects with the spray. Systemic insecticides are also available to control these pests when applied to the soil or sprayed as instructed on the label.

Tom MacCubbin is an urban horticulturist emeritus with the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Write him: Orlando Sentinel, PO Box 2833, Orlando FL 32802. Email: TomMac1996@aol.com. Blog with Tom at OrlandoSentinel.com/tomdigs.

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