Avoid trimming plants unless space is limited


Gardener's Mailbag

Dear Neil: I have some large tropical hibiscus, an orange tree and a large bougainvillea. I will be putting them into a covered patio over the winter. When and how should I trim them back?

A: The truth is, they really don’t need to be trimmed back. That will weaken them. However, if space is limited you can do whatever it takes to accommodate them, so long as you’re patient as they regrow come spring and summer. Remember that all three of these types of plants must be maintained at warm temperatures, certainly above freezing for all of them and preferably above 45 to 50 degrees for the hibiscus and bougainvillea. They will lose most of their leaves due to chilling if they are kept colder than that.

Dear Neil: We have a large tree in our front yard (leaf enclosed) that has turned brown. It has insects on its leaves, and we have seen caterpillars on it, as well. What can we do to restore its vibrant color?

A: You have sent a leaf from a sycamore tree. It has been infested earlier this summer with lace bugs. You need to watch for its leaves to start turning tan in small, mottled speckles early next summer, then treat with a systemic insecticide at that time. No spray is justified at this late point in the season. Lace bugs, for the record, are BB-sized and have clear, cellophane-like wings. You may not see them, but you will see their small, black droppings on the backs of the leaves. The caterpillars will present no problem this late in the season.

Dear Neil: I have two fruitless mulberries (3 years old). One loses its leaves in August each year, then leafs out again. The other is healthy. What can I do to help the weaker one?

A: There are a couple of leaf spot diseases. Try Daconil fungicide immediately if you see the small black spots starting to show up next summer.

Dear Neil: What can I use to eliminate this small weed with the rounded leaves? It is killing big parts of my yard.

A: You can use a broad-leafed weed killer containing 2,4-D to eliminate any nongrassy plant from your lawn, this one included. It will be most effective when the weed is growing most actively, usually late spring and summer. Do not allow it to drift onto desirable trees and shrubs (also flowers) nearby.

Dear Neil: How can I get my climbing hydrangea to bloom? Ours is 2 years old.

A: Be very modest with your pruning. Pruning stimulates vegetative growth in lieu of flowering. Climbing hydrangeas need to get established well before we can expect them to flower, and it simply may take a couple of years. Hopefully, it was planted in a well-prepared, highly organic soil and kept moist at all times. It does best with morning sun and afternoon shade. Apply a high-nitrogen, lawn-type fertilizer immediately after the spring blooming season (even when it does not produce flowers). Be patient. It should bloom before much longer.

Dear Neil: We removed a wisteria that had grown over our house. Now it is sprouting liberally. What can we do to get rid of it?

A: Use the same broad-leafed weed killer mentioned earlier. That application will have to be made in the spring or early summer. The sprouts are getting ready to go dormant for winter and would not absorb it properly now. If you still have access to the old stump, you could drill into it and pour the broad-leafed herbicide into the reservoir you made at full strength. It will soak into the wood and kill the mother plant via its root system.

• If you’d like Neil Sperry’s help with a plant question, drop him a note in care of The Eagle.

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