Dear Neil: How should I prune my aucuba plant? It is too tall, but I am afraid I’ll ruin it if I cut it very much.
Answer: Prune it one stem at a time. Make each cut in a way that the remaining leaves will conceal the pruned branch. Regular Gold Dust aucuba should be allowed to grow to at least 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
If you’re considering trimming it more than that, you are probably making a mistake. Any pruning you might do should be done before the new spring growth, so don’t delay.
Dear Neil: I have seen a couple of Lacey oaks and I know you have suggested them occasionally. How tall do they grow? My son has property outside Austin and I’d like to give him one.
A: In the best of conditions (Texas Hill Country with moisture and deep soils) they can grow to 35 to 40 feet tall and 30 to 35 feet wide. However, they generally stay just a little shorter than that. It’s a wonderful medium-sized accent tree, especially in Central Texas.
Dear Neil: I have trimmed my Asian jasmine groundcover every year to keep it more regular in height. However, in the past two years there have been bare spots that never filled in again with the new spring growth. What might have happened?
A: It’s difficult to tell, but it’s possible that you cut too low and actually killed one or more of the plants. Asian jasmine doesn’t root along its runners, so each plant is still right where it was originally planted. It’s also possible that one or more plants got too dry in a past summer. Buy a few 1-gallon plants to fill in, and you should be back in business.
Dear Neil: I have moved into a townhouse. I have a nice patio and want to grow my tomatoes and herbs in pots. What kind of a soil mix would be best? What type of fertilizer?
A: You want a loose, well-draining and highly organic potting soil. You can mix your own using 50 percent brown Canadian peat moss, 20 percent finely ground pine bark mulch, 20 percent perlite or vermiculite and 10 percent washed brick sand or expanded shale for weight. Use a complete and balanced water-soluble plant food each time you water them. For the record, tomatoes do best in 10-gallon pots. Some folks try them in smaller containers, but they’re much more difficult to maintain.
Dear Neil: I have a weed that seems to have little purple flowers coming on it. The plants are growing really vigorously and look like they will take over my entire yard. What is it, and what can I do to eliminate it?
A: That’s probably henbit. It has small, tubular orchid-colored flowers and rounded, scalloped leaves. It’s such a weak grower by the time it starts to come into flower that you can usually get rid of it simply by mowing it off. Broadleafed weed killers also will eliminate it, but take care to follow label directions explicitly.
Dear Neil: I have a bromeliad that I received for Valentine’s Day. What do I do with it once it finishes flowering? How long will it bloom?
A: There are many kinds of bromeliads. In fact, Spanish moss and pineapples are in the clan. However, most of the ones that are sold as potted gift plants are in other genera. Almost all of them are epiphytes. That means they grow suspended from tree trunks and branches.
Enjoy your plant as long as it’s colorful. Then, when the colors begin to fade, you’ll probably see several new plants sprouting up around the base of the mother. Mama will gradually wither and die as the new “pups” grow with great vigor.
Pot them up individually and grow them on as new plants. In a year or so they will produce their own sets of colorful leaves and the cycle will start over. Bromeliads are exciting, easy-care houseplants so long as you meet their simple, basic needs and give them bright light.