Neil Sperry: Gardener’s Mailbag | Lifestyle

Dear Neil: Why is it that my plumeria hasn’t bloomed for two years? I put it into the ground each spring and pull it out before winter. As you can see, it is very healthy. Why no flowers?

Answer: Granted, it looks extremely healthy. I don’t know how much it is set back by being dug up each winter. Hopefully, you keep it in fairly bright light during the cold months. Last year was so extraordinarily hard on tropical plants (even those that were kept indoors). That may be part of the reason it didn’t bloom. Plumerias also flower better when they are kept a bit on the “hungry” side. It may be that it got too much nitrogen from your soil. You might consider planting it into a large terra cotta pot. It will need a substantial container because of the weight of its top growth.

Dear Neil: I am new to Texas, living here only a little more than one year. I grew roses in Virginia very successfully. I planted David Austin English roses exactly as instructed by the grower from Oregon. My neighbor has several rosebushes that are a lot older than my plants. Those bushes are thriving. I believe they are Texas varieties. The top halves of my four plants are brown and dried. I’m concerned about how much I should water them during the winter when it’s been so cold. I had been watering them every two or three days. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: Roses that have been established for several months would not need to be watered that often if you were watering deeply when you did water. It’s hard, given the facts that I have, to determine why the plants may have died back partway. It may be that they were hurt by the summer’s heat. Maybe they got too dry one or more times in the spite of your watering. They might also have had a problem with black spot or powdery mildew. I guess even the rose rosette virus is a possibility, although it’s not probable that soon after planting. Trim out the dead wood now and see how they come out in the next few weeks. That will tell you a great deal. Good luck!

Dear Neil: I was given this plant for Christmas. It has bloomed beautifully and now it is flowering again. How should I care for it?

Answer: This is an amaryllis, the sub-tropical form. It’s an absolutely beautiful flower that will come back into bloom for you each winter if you take good care of it. Allow it to finish its bloom cycle. Once all the flowers have faded cut the flower stalk off a couple of inches from the ground. Repot the plant into a slightly larger container filled with a highly organic potting soil. Be certain that the new pot has excellent drainage. Keep the plant watered and fertilized monthly from spring through early October so that it will stay vigorous. At that point, lay the pot on its side to let the plant dry out. That will force it into dormancy. After six or seven weeks take the bulb out of the pot and replant it right back into the same container with fresh potting soil. Water it and encourage it to grow. Now times folks are successful in getting their bulbs to rebloom around Christmas. If you have access to a very protected location where temperatures won’t go very far below freezing you can even set the plant into the ground. In that setting it would bloom each spring.

Dear Neil: Our town needs to plant some new types of plants or bushes in the sidewalks around our square. What would work best for our area and space?

Answer: I really want to help anyone who is interested in civic beautification, but that’s an involved question that really requires a lot more information. A committee made up of citizens and veteran plant people, hopefully including several Texas Certified Nursery Professionals, needs to meet. They would need to decide whether shrubs, groundcovers or annuals would be the goal. (I would rule out perennials because individually they bloom for such a short time.) Considerations would be exposed to sun and shade, height and width that would be acceptable, whether irrigation was readily available and other factors that would come to mind as the area was inspected. It’s so much more than just jotting out a list.

Dear Neil: I took these photographs of our pachysandra in the summer. They have been fertilized and watered, but they have put out very little new growth. They continue to have yellow growth and a lot of browning. They are mostly in the shade. What could be wrong?

Answer: Pachysandra, or Japanese spurge, is a very popular groundcover in the north. However, here in Texas it struggles with our hot, dry weather. I don’t know how you prepared the soil for these plants, but that could also be a factor. It looks like there were begonias in this bed and they also seem to be struggling. I grew pachysandra for eight or 10 years here in Texas, and I finally got bored waiting for it to cover. Mine was alive, but it was just so slow to cover. I switched over to what I would call more eager groundcovers. This appears to be a nitrogen deficiency and perhaps also damage from too much sun. They must have heavy shade.

Dear Neil: I bought a poinsettia from our granddaughter’s Christmas fundraiser three years ago. I have kept it growing all of that time, although I have not tried to get it to bloom again. Periodically it drops leaves. I keep it in a very bright window where it gets several hours of indirect light each day. What more can I do to stop the leaf drop?

Answer: Poinsettias, if they are grown in frost-free locations, prefer full sunlight. They are really not houseplants. Brought indoors for prolonged periods they respond by dropping leaves. That is accelerated if the plant is allowed to get too dry to the point of wilting. Once we get into the springtime it will probably be time to repot it and get it into very bright light so that it can continue to grow. People are surprised to learn that poinsettias can grow to be 6 to 8 feet tall and wide.

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