Gardening Q & A With Ms. Grow-It-All®

Audrey Post, aka Ms. Grow-It-All®, is a certified Advanced Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Florida IFAS Extension in Leon County. Send your gardening questions to Questions@MsGrowItAll.com

Q: We have an Indian hawthorn that produces beautiful clumps of pink flowers, but it is a very thin/spindly plant with growth only at the tips and lots of bare branches. No one seems to be able to answer one question: Is it ok to prune an Indian Hawthorne back as I do with other shrubs, which have responded by growing gorgeously thick? We’re just a little outside of Leon County up here in Bainbridge, Ga.

A: Yes, you can prune an Indian hawthorn if it needs it. A member of the Rose family, Indian hawthorn rarely needs pruning when healthy and properly sited. Leaves and flowers are clustered on the tips of branches, but the plant should appear full.

Although it will grow in partial or high shade, it does best in full sun. It sounds as though your plant might not get enough sun where it is. Plants tend to be more compact and more full if grown in sunny locations.

Go ahead and cut it back once it has finished blooming. You can either prune it, cutting back individual branches, or you can shear it.

However, be aware that Indian hawthorn can sometimes be infected with fire blight, which causes twig dieback. Just in case there is fire blight present, dip your pruners in a 10 percent bleach solution after each cut to avoid spreading it, and then bag and dispose of the cuttings. Better to be safe than sorry.

Q: Does your advice about waiting to fertilize lawns until the soil has warmed also pertain to sod? I had new sod put down about 3-4 weeks ago and while it does have some green shoots they comprise only about 25-30 percent of the lawn. My lawn looks brown compared to neighboring lawns.

A: Yes, it does. The soil is no warmer for freshly laid sod than for an existing lawn. New sod needs to “peg down” and get roots into the soil to establish itself. It’s more important that you water your soil frequently for the first few weeks than to fertilize it.

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Q: I have a pomegranate several years old, never pruned and seldom fertilized. It blooms but fails to set fruit. It is not a very robust plant and has several dead branches. My soil is primarily red clay. Suggestions?

A: Pomegranates do best in full sun, which in our area is eight hours a day with some late- day shade, and although they are drought-tolerant, they do need ample water to set fruit. They also prefer sandy loam to heavy clay, with a pH on the slightly acidic side.

I suggest you first test the soil all around your pomegranate for pH as well as nutrients; contact your county extension office for the instruction sheet, soil-sample bag and box to mail the sample to Gainesville for testing.

Your plant needs to be pruned to a single-trunk shrub, removing the dead branches in the process. The big question is whether you should also move it or amend the soil where it is now with organic matter.

If you decide to move it, wait until fall when it’s cooler. Either way, fertilize it in spring before it blooms with ammonium sulfate or another nitrogen-rich fertilizer, following instructions on the label.

A friend’s pomegranate tends to produce lots of blooms but very few fruit, so that might be a trait of the plant in our area. Readers, any tips on pomegranates?

More heat-tolerant tomatoes: Donna Legare of Native Nurseries wrote to add to the list of tomato varieties that can withstand the heat of summer, including small slicers Stupice and Juane Flamme; medium- to large-fruited Blue Beech, Nyagous, Cherokee Purple and Celebrity; and Matt’s Wild Cherry and Herman’s Li’l Yeller for those who want a grape or cherry tomato. You can find more information about all the recommended heat-tolerant varieties I’ve discussed on my website, www.MsGrowItAll.com. All Donna’s recommendations are heirloom varieties except Celebrity, which Donna writes is an “F1 hybrid that was highly recommended by Art Cheek for our area.”

Art was a guru of local vegetable gardening and his show on WFSU-TV had quite a following. The book he and former Democrat garden writer Lacy Bullard co-wrote, Down to Earth Vegetable Gardening Down South, has been updated and the second edition is available at Native Nurseries and other local outlets. Because the information is specific to Tallahassee, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in growing food crops, be it a big traditional garden or a single tomato plant in a 5-gallon bucket.

Rain Garden Grant Reminder: Tomorrow is the deadline to submit an application for a rain garden grant from the city’s Think About Personal Pollution (TAPP) program. The grants reimburse up to $175 for plants, compost and mulch for garden construction, and you’ll be doing your part to reduce storm-water runoff and protect our lakes and streams, as well as our water supply. View details and download an application from www.tappwater.org.

Internet radio show: Ms. Grow-It-All’s Internet radio show airs at 5 p.m. today on Blog Talk Radio. This week’s topic is hot-weather herb gardening. Join us live at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ms_grow-it-all. You can download a podcast of the program, or any of my previous programs from BlogTalkRadio.com or my website.

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Readers Share Tips on Growing Tomatoes, Thwarting Squirrels

June 30, 2011

My columns often include an invitation for readers to share their expertise on the topic or issue of the day, and I am delighted when you send your suggestions. Today’s column is entirely devoted to reader tips. Keep ‘em coming. Top tomatoes: Master Gardener Glenn Mayne, the best vegetable gardener I know, wrote after he […]

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Grape, Cherry Tomatoes Can Take High Heat

June 23, 2011

Q: My tomato plants have stopped producing. They did great earlier this season, but now the flowers fall off without setting fruit. What do I do? A: Wait for cooler weather. Most varieties of tomatoes will stop producing fruit when temperatures soar above 85 or 90 degrees. Once it cools off, they’ll start producing again. […]

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Wait Until Cooler Weather To Move Shrub

June 16, 2011

Q: Awhile ago in your column, you recommended cutting into the soil all around a gardenia bush to encourage growth of feeder roots prior to moving it. We did this, as we have a gardenia bush that hasn’t thrived, I think, because it was planted too low in the ground. Now it’s June and time […]

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Critters Can Wreak Havoc With Plantings

June 9, 2011

Q: Last summer, I had lovely pots of verbena, potato vine and Knockout roses on my deck that the squirrels completely ignored. This summer, the squirrels continue to strip all leaves and flowers from these same plantings. Crushed red pepper doesn’t faze them. The deck is in full sun. What can I plant that squirrels […]

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Get a Soil Test for Satsuma

June 2, 2011

Q: I planted a healthy Satsuma orange tree in my front yard in full sun about five years ago. I have fed it regularly and kept it watered. It is very healthy and puts on good new growth every year, but every spring after a fruit set of up to several hundred oranges, every single […]

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Hot Vinegar Might Do The Trick With Betony

May 26, 2011

Q: You wrote that vinegar would be an organic way to kill weeds and also mentioned hot water, so I wondered, should the vinegar be hot to do a better job? Will the vinegar kill the corms underground of Florida betony, too? My planting areas are overrun with it. Also, does the edible leaf look […]

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Fall is Best, But Daylilies Can Be Divided Anytime

May 19, 2011

Q: Is now a good time to divide daylilies? Is there a trick to it? How often should I divide them? A: Even though fall is the best time to divide daylilies, they’re so tough that you really can divide them anytime. Most gardeners in the Deep South divide daylilies every three years. Dig the […]

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Florida Betony Difficult To Eradicate

May 12, 2011

Q: I have a very invasive pest plant in a three-year-old flowerbed. I have found literally hundreds of the rhizomes when digging to put in new plants. A few of the rhizomes have been nearly two inches in length, always with the characteristic ribbing (looking like a fat caterpillar), always white. Can you help me […]

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