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by Tom MacCubbin
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Q. Louis writes: I have several young queen palms in my yard. Is it alright to cut off the lower fronds to promote rapid and taller growth?

A. Gardener, spare those fronds, especially if you would like more growth. All plants manufacture food needed for growth in the green leaves. By cutting off the fronds you reduce the plant's ability to produce shoot and foliage growth.
It's best with any plant to leave as much of the foliage as possible. You can of course remove leaves that are yellowing, affecting movement under the palms or hindering good maintenance. You can also remove flower and seed bearing stalks at anytime. 

Q. Philip writes: I have an orchid that has been in bloom since November. It is now sending out six inch tentacle-like roots that appear to be reaching out for something to adhere too. What should I do?

A. Just enjoy the flowers and unique growth habit of your orchid. The thick gray and almost velvety roots grow freely and if they come into contact with a pot or growing medium adhere to the surface. Other wise they grow out into the air to absorb water and nutrients. Avoid removing these roots as they are necessary for good plant growth.

Q. Gordon writes: I have some large old azaleas that are starting to deteriorate and become covered with moss. What can I put on them to restore them to health?

A. It would be nice if a single treatment could restore the health of old azaleas but there is usually a little more work to do. Start by removing any dead or declining limbs. Then cut some of the oldest shoots back to the ground to allow new vigorous sprouts room to grow. One treatment you could apply at this time is a natural copper fungicide to prevent diseases from entering the cut portions.
Continue the rejuvenation process by checking the soil acidity and adjusting to an acid pH in the 4.5 to 5.5 range as needed. Establish a 3- to 4-inch mulch layer over the root system and keep the soil moist. Also make feedings with a general garden fertilizer once in June, August and October. 

Q. Thelma writes I found orange caterpillars on my dwarf oleanders so I cut off the limb and destroyed them. I need a few more plants but the nurseryman said he won't stock them because they have the caterpillar problems. Are my plants doomed?

A. All oleanders big and small are doomed to a life with caterpillars. Quite appropriately these insects are called oleander caterpillars and are frequent visitors found feeding on the foliage during the warmer months. Luckily a natural control consisting of an extract of the Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria is available as Thuricide, Dipel or BT at garden centers to apply as needed following label instructions.

Q. Rick writes: Last year we planted two orange trees and they have grown well but now it's time to prune them. How much should I take off?

A. Citrus trees almost grow themselves. Unlike apple, peach and plum trees that often need major once a year trimming most citrus trees get no more that a little grooming. All pruning of orange trees is best performed as they begin growth during late winter or early spring months. 

Start the pruning by removing any shoots that arise from below the graft. This is the swollen area usually within 6 inches of the ground where the desired variety was budded to the root portion. You can then shorten out of bound shoots as needed and limbs that might be in the way of good care. That's all the pruning most citrus trees ever need. 

Q. Wilma writes: Somewhere I read you can put Epsom salts on plants to fertilizer them. Will this help make my African iris bloom?

A. Only if the plants lack magnesium or sulfur, the two elements found in Epsom salts, will it encourage better growth and maybe flowering. It's addition to the feeding program is more likely to make your plants greener rather than induce blooms as magnesium is a major element in the chlorophyl component of leaves. 

African iris need a sunny spot to produce the best flower displays. Also, while the plants are drought tolerant and can go weeks without water they grow best with weekly waterings. Feed lightly with a general garden fertilizer once in March, June and August to meet their nutritional needs.

Q. Janice writes: I think my bahia lawn is being taken over by clover that has three leaves and a small yellow flower. What can I do?

A. It my look somewhat like clover but chances are your weed is really an oxalis known as yellow woodsorrel. But, even if it is clover, both weeds are controlled with a herbicide made for use in bahia lawns that contain 2,4-D, Dicamba and MCPP or similar ingredients. 

Obtain the best control by following the label instructions carefully. Probably the liquid formulations are best and can be uniformly misted over the foliage of the weeds and grass. Do note that a repeat application may be needed following the time interval outlined in the instructions.

Q. Peter writes: Each year we plant zinnias, sunflowers and cleome that reseed themselves but so do the weeds. Can we use a mulch to keep the weeds down and still have the returning flowers?

A. Use of a mulch can be part of a good weed control program but it will also keep the desired flower seeds from germinating. There are only a few options to controlling the weeds in a self seeding wildflower planting.
One is to take the time and energy to pull the weeds as noted. It's work but if the flowers make good growth they can help keep the weeds to a minimum. Another suggestion is to collect some of the seeds as flowering declines and save them to restart as the warmer weather returns during late winter. Prepare the soil by removing all weeds and then lightly working the seeds into the ground. There will likely still be some weeding needed.

Q.  My bed of peace lilies needs to be thinned and there are many brown leaves from the cold too. Can they be cut back like poinsettias?

A. Few gardeners realize the peace lily, also called spathiphyllum, makes a good ground cover for shady locations in the warmer portions of Central Florida. Most winters the plants do suffer some browning but they are quick to recover if given a little care.

While a heavy pruning to remove most of the foliage is seldom the best idea, it's probably the easiest and quickest way to produce attractive plants. After all, much of the foliage is already damaged by the cold. Go ahead and give them this once a year severe pruning by cutting the stems back to within six to eight inches of the ground. 

Now would also be a good time to make divisions to help thin the planting and start new beds. Dig clumps with a sharp spade and use a knife to cut the plants into smaller sections. You can restart them in containers or add them to newly prepared planting sites.

Q.  I accidently broke off a stem from a newly purchased Mona Lavender plectranthus. Can this be propagated from a stem placed in water?

A. After a week or two in water your plectranthus stem is probably showing a few roots. This is an attractive purple flowered plant that is very easy to root. While many gardeners do root plants in water it's not the best way to obtain new starts for the home or landscape.

Plants that root in water develop a special root system that is slow to adapt to soil. Often they rot as they make the transition from water to soil or are slow to resume growth. It's much better to root the plants in a soil-like medium.

Most gardeners are very successful rooting cuttings in vermiculite or even a very loose soil mixture. These hold adequate moisture to start growth but are well-drained and allow the plants to develop a soil orientated root system. Stick the cuttings in the growing medium and keep them moist with frequent misting. Most gardeners set the containers of cuttings in a shady location and surround the pots with plastic to maintain a moist atmosphere until the cuttings are rooted and ready to transplant.

Q.  I purchased large clumps of society garlic from the garden center. Can these be divided into smaller portions at planting?

A. Cutting or pulling the plants apart could be a little stinky but it's a good economical way to obtain new starts for the garden. You could separate the clumps into individual plants but most gardeners form clusters of a dozen or more shoots. One large pot of society garlic could be used to form six or more new plants for the landscape.

Q. Paul writes: I only have a small space and would like to invite butterflies into visit. Could I grow plants in containers and what types would I use to attract the butterflies?

A. Butterflies appear to be nomadic as they wander through landscape looking for flowers to visit. They would be just as happy to visit a container planting as a big bed of color. You could plant a single species of a flower in each container or create a wild flower collection in a large planter. 

Bright colored blooms are always a temptation for butterflies and they are sure to stop and visit. Some plants that are reliable butterfly attractants include butterfly weed, coneflowers, coreopsis, gaillardia, lanatana, pentas, phlox, Stokes aster and whirling butterflies. Consider clustering several of these in one large container to accent the patio and make the butterflies feel at home.

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