Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Viburnum plants dying

Several months ago my husband and I planted six viburnum bushes approximately 5 feet tall. Our soil is typical for the Clayton/Smithfield area and consists of a clayey/silt.

We have watered the plants on a regular basis as we did plant them mid-summer and wanted to ensure sufficient water. However, I am noticing that my viburnum leaves are browning and beginning to curl and drop off.

I am not sure which species of viburnam I have, I believe it is the snowball. Can you assist me with why my leaves are turning brown, curling up and dropping off?

-- Catherine

Anne's Response:

Most viburnums are deciduous plants so I would expect them to lose leaves in the fall. It is a bit early but dogwoods and some other trees are already losing leaves, probably because of the low rainfall this summer. Since your plants were put in the ground this summer they may be under a bit more stress than they will be in future years. You may want to use some composted leaves as a mulch under those plants. It will help the soil retain moisture and will provide some nutrients for
root growth this winter.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fall care for centipede

Last September our new house got centipede sod put down. The landscape person put down a fertilizer and it did well for the spring and summer. What should I put down for the fall and winter seasons and then what should I put for the next spring and summer? I also have an natural area I am working on with a lot of clay soil. I have started on some raised beds with compost and topsoil. Any other recommendations with plants and soil conditioners? That area has some sun in the afternoon and one part has a lot of afternoon shade.

-- Robbie

Anne's Response:

Centipede is a warm season grass that turns brown in the fall and winter. It is preferred by gardeners who do not want to spend much time taking care of their lawn. No fall care is required. It does not need to be limed. The next routine care it will get is in late March or early April (after the danger of frost) when you will apply fertilizer. There are special fertilizer blends for Centipede lawns which usually do not contain phosphorus. In areas that have high traffic you may want to aerate a centipede lawn every other year. Early April is usually a good time but it should be done before the lawn has greened up in the spring.

My best advice on raised beds is to remember they do need a lot of organic material to hold moisture for plant roots. Plants need to be mulched for water retention and to keep the soil cool. You also need a good irrigation system because raised beds do dry out much quicker than ground level beds so plants will suffer from lack of water.

Gardenias turing black and dying

I live in Charlotte NC. I have five hanging gardenias ( jasmine ). I've been getting nice fragrant flowers every spring but this year as soon as the young buds are formed they turn black and die. Please help!!

-- Sarla

Anne's Response:

The problem is probably a fungus - Botrytis cinerea - that is more common in greenhouse plants on the east coast but does affect outdoor plants. (I am not sure where you keep the hanging plants in the winter.)Most references still give the control as removing affected buds and destroying them. To prevent the problem next year, clean up debris on the soil at the base of the plant this fall. Be sure there is good air circulation around the plants and the plants are generally healthy.

The plants may need to be repotted when you take them down this fall. Next spring as new buds swell in the spring you may try treating the plant with a systemic fungicide.

Getting rid of Bermuda in fescue lawn

Is there something to eliminate Bermuda in a fescue lawn? Thanks,

-- Sarah

Anne's Response:

The product that I have seen used is "Turflon Ester" produced by Monterey Chemical Company in California. It is available for homeowners in several local garden centers.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Evergreen Yard

Hi Anne,

My husband and I have just built a new house in downtown Raleigh. We are now starting to tackle to front yard. As you can see from the photo, we have a lot to do still. The 2 of us just put in a front walkway with 100 year old salvaged bricks and now I am trying to figure out what to line it with. I was hoping you could suggest something evergreen, big, crazy, drought-resistant, and full sun loving. I love the idea of two giant Rosemary bushes at the bottom. I am not a fan of monkey grass much and people keep suggesting it. We are not planting grass in the front yard and were hoping for a more natural landscape.

Thanks for your input,


Anne’s Response:

You could try your rosemary plants for a tall spot of interest - and in keeping with the herb theme you might try a combination of thyme plants as an edging groundcover. There are several cultivars that would give you a variety of colors and plant shapes for something more interesting than mondo grass. Combinations of ornamental grasses, herbs and perennials are gaining favor as a substitute for turf grass. Fine Gardening and Horticulture magazines have had articles recently on such gardens and there are some display gardens at the perennial nursery, Niche Gardens, which is near Chapel Hill.

Banana Tree Woes

HI! I have a beautiful banana tree which is dying?? The leaves are turning quite brown almost a rust color? Does it need copper?

Ms. Berly West Baker

Anne’s Response:

I'm not sure what kind of banana tree you have or the conditions under which it is living. My experience with bananas in Hawaii is that the mother plant usually dies after it has produced blooms or fruit. It is essentially a biannual in that it grows one year, produces the second year then produces an offset that continues the life of the plant. The leaves do turn brown. Musa paradistiaca (the commercial fruiting babana) is also subject to damage by fungus and bacterial infections which would cause leaves to turn brown. The ornamental dwarf bananas (M. nana) have problems with root rot nematodes as well . A copper deficiency is probably not the cause of the problem.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Magnolia Leaf Blight

I planted a "Little Gem" Magnolia last year. Its about 7 feet tall. A gentlemen from TruGreen-Chemlawn did a tree and shrub inspection and told me my Little Gem had fire blight. He said that it is easy to spot since the symptoms are that the normal rust color velvet texture on the under sides of the leaves will be stripped off. I do see leaves that have this rust color velvet texture and ones that do not have it. The leaves that have the rust color/velvet texture seem to be sticking straight up in the air and the ones without it are drooping a bit. The green side of the leaves have no spots or any signs of disease. Can you help me?


Anne's Response:

I don't think Fireblight (erwinia amolyvara) affects magnolias but there is a leaf blight caused by Pellicularia koleroga. It is often called thread blight but does not produce the symptoms you describe. I suggest you contact someone in the Cooperative Extension Office in your area. The horticultural agent or Master Gardener may be able to provide more information.

Mold on Leyland Cypresses

I have a row of 15 or so Leyland Cypresses, all approx. 8 years old and maybe 15 feet tall, planted too closely together (10 feet apart). I noticed some grayish mold covering the branches starting from the stem going outside. Some branches have already died.

I will take a sample to our local extension office who told me it's root rot over the phone. This is definitely not root rot. My best guess is that it's some type of mold blight caused by lack of sufficient air circulation, especially since the trees are planted against a privacy fence. Would it make any sense to thin out the branches and cut off everything from the bottom to 6 feet height, the height of the privacy fence? Or should I pull out every other tree to give the remaining ones more space and better ventilation? It seems they will all die if I don't try something. But they may already be doomed anyway.


Anne's Response:

There is a Grey Mold (Botrytis cinerea) that causes similar symptoms. Planting plants further apart improves the health of the plants and reducing moisture around the plants helps as well. Plants can be sprayed with a fungicide labeled for Botrytis to slow the progress of the condition. The extension office should be able to give you a better diagnosis when they see the plant. Most root rot symptoms on Leylands are odor and brown foliage.

Problems with Royal Poinciana

I live in the Tampa Bay area of Florida and have recently planted a royal poinciana tree in my back yard. A little history: I got the tree in February as a local nursery was going out of business. It was about 12 feet tall and was in a 3 foot pot. Unfortunately there was a record cold spell the week I bought it. I put it in the ground after the cold snap was over and when I did tried to loosen the roots as much as possible. There was no foliage on the tree when I got it but as the weather warmed it started to grow leaves and some small branches. I even got 4-5 little flowers to bloom last month. However, all the new growth has seemed to come to a stop and the leaves look wilted and a starting to look brown. Also, the base of the tree has turned blackish in color (I don't notice any bugs or growths). I am concerned because last month my cat put a hole in my lanai screen and was getting outside for a while. He started using the base of the tree as his "potty." It didn't occur to me at first the it was anything more than a nuisance but I did fix the hole and get him back inside. We had 2 weeks straight of rain after that and I've been trying to water the tree thoroughly since but now I'm concerned that the cat pee might have damaged the tree. Does that sound like the case? Could it just be transplant shock? Lack of water? (we're still in the dry season other than that 2 week fluke) too much water from watering? or prior frost or root damage? Is there anything else I can do or do I just need to wait and see what happens. I like this tree and would be sad to lose it. Thanks!

- Jessica

Anne's Response:

Cold weather and drought could put a plant under stress. The symptoms seem to be consistent with root rot which could come from poor drainage and/or a fungal root rot disease. Two fungi cause problems on Poinciana: Clitocybe tabescens and Phymatotrichum omnivorum.Clitocybe is often a problem with plants in Florida. You may want to check with the University of Florida Cooperative Extension specialists for further information.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Best Time to Establish Plants

When is the best time of the year to transplant a "cutting" from the potting media to the ground? Specifically, grape, fig, and roses, persimmon, and mulberry?


Anne's Response:

In this area of North Carolina the best time to get plants established is in the early fall when temperatures are a bit cooler and the plants can be kept watered. The plants you named may also be planted in the ground in February when they are dormant. If they are watered on a regular basis the root system will be established by the time hot weather arrives.

Save My Dogwood

I have a Dogwood that is 10+ years old, the leaves are drying and wilting on the tips. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can get my tree healthy?


Anne's Response:

There are several causes of the symptoms you describe. The plant could be in too much sun and if it is also in an area that does not have enough moisture in the soil the leaves could get scorched. Making sure the plant is watered regularly and keeping a layer of about 3 inches of organic mulch under the limb spread of the dogwood will help the plant survive. We have also had high humidity and temperatures this spring that encourage the spread of mildew fungus. The other symptom for powdery mildew is a grey powdery coating on the surface of the leaf. Mildew can be prevented with a fungicide spray but once the symptoms have appeared about the only thing you can do is keep the plant healthy with water, mulch and some fungicide to keep the fungus from spreading. If the blooms of the tree were deformed and discolored the plant may have a Botrytis infection. When the infected flowers drop on the leaves they produce the damage you describe. A fungicide applied when the tree starts to flower helps control this disease.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What is this Flower?

Can you tell me what kind of flower this is?

-- Tom

Anne's Response


I think the plant is an alstromeria, sometimes called a Peruvian lily. The foliage remains green most of the winter in this area. The blooms appear in the early summer and sometimes again in the fall. There are several different colored cultivars available. It is a long lasting cut flower and the seed pods are also quite attractive in the garden after it blooms.

Suggest a Vine

We need a really fast growing vine to cover some fencing for privacy purposes. We don't care what it looks like just that it grows fast and stays green in winter. We live in Cary, NC. Any ideas for us?

-- Victoria

Anne's Response

One plant that might work very well for you is Carolina Jasmine. It is a native plant, evergreen foliage and a slightly fragrant yellow bloom in late winter. They have begun blooming now and are sometimes seen in trees along the roadside. I grow the cultivar "Pride of Augusta" on a fence on my pproperty and find it makes a nice screen that can be controlled with pruning in the spring after it blooms. Another solution might be the native American Honeysuckle - not the Japanese version that takes over the world. There are white, pink and red cultivars on the market.

Saving My Magnolias

I live in a suburb of Little Rock, AR. In late 2003, we planted two magnolias, which were then about 12 feet high. Each met with an unhappy fate.
#1 died, and was replaced by the nursery in 2005 with a somewhat smaller tree, which also died. That was not replaced, and the dead, leafless tree remains, a dozen feet high. But in the last two or three years, a new tree seems to be growing from the roots of the dead one, and is now three or four feet high. We have done nothing with it, but it seems healthy, with full leaves. Should I stake this to the old dead tree? Remove the dead tree? Do nothing? Perhaps I should add that the corner of the lot where the tree is located is slightly depressed, and thus a bit wetter than the rest of the yard.
#2 has lived, and in a sense thrived. It is now 15-18 feet high. However --- the tree leans like the leaning tower of Pisa. I surmise that this is because our soil is pretty spongy -- we can hardly walk in the back yard after lots of rain -- and that the tree is leaning to the east because of the prevailing west winds pushing it that way without strong soil to hold it in place. Do not know that my surmise is correct, of course. We have kept it staked for most of its life, except for the times when I noticed that the wires were broken (which might have been months earlier, b/c I do not keep close tabs on the tree). What are the prospects that this tree will simply stay in the ground, as opposed to being blown over? What can I do to save the tree? Is it worth spending the money to bring out folks from the nursery (again)? I should add that I am not a gardener, and do not have a natural touch with these things.

-- Philip

Anne's Response:


Magnolia trees really don't like "wet feet". That may be the reason for the "demise". Another problem may be the structure of the tree itself. From your description of the new growth I think the magnolia you planted may be a grafted plant. The nursery that originally grew the tree used the root stock from a seedling magnolia and attached a scion or twig from a named cultivar of magnolia. It is a fast way to get good growth from more desirable plant at less cost than growing it from a cutting which would take several years for a nursery to grow to a sellable size. Sometimes grafted plants are planted with the graft site planted too deeply in a hole and the grafted top is killed. If the new growth from the base of the dead tree is healthy you might try to cut off the dead wood without damaging the new growth.

Magnolias have a pretty tenacious root system. At this late date I am not sure you will ever be able to get the tree to grow upright but I don't think you need to worry about it pulling out of the ground.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pruning fruit trees

Hi, I have 2 minature apple trees 1 minature pear tree and a potted blueberry brush, they are all 2 year old, can you please tell me when I have to prune them and by how much, I would be grateful for your advise, many thanks, Susan

Anne's response:

Fruit trees are usually pruned in late January and early February in the Carolinas. Most fruit trees do not need much pruning until they are 3 years old. You remove dead wood, limbs that corss and rub another limb. The formal pruning for good fruit production begins their fourth or fifth year. A blueberry planted in a pot is probably a miniature bush so the only pruning needed is to remove dead growth and thin spindly, weak branches. It will need to be repotted every other year to allow th roots to develop. The North CArolina Cooperative Extension Service has a very good brochure on Home Fruit Orchards that provides pruning diagrams, fertilizer recommendations and spraying to control insects and diseases.