GARDENER'S MAILBAG: How to prepare a poinsettia to be moved

By Neil Sperry
Special to the Herald Democrat

Dear Neil: We have a large poinsettia from last Christmas. The photo with blooms was taken May 1. The second photo was taken earlier this month. We want to place it in a darkened area soon to start the bloom process. How can we prepare the plant for moving without breaking the branches?

Poinsettia In May
Poinsettia In September

Good for you for worrying about the brittle nature of poinsettia branches. You do have to be very careful in moving large poinsettias. Do remember, however, that your goal is to give it total darkness for 14 hours each night and 10 hours of bright light each day starting October 1. That will trigger flowering hormone production. Some people make the mistake of putting their plants in total darkness 24 hours a day, and that obviously ruins them very quickly. It looks like there might be a low-hanging branch or two on the left side (outside) of the plant. You might want to trim those off now, so that the plant can fill in while it is still able to produce new growth this fall. When it comes time to move it, wrap it gently in an old sheet around the outside of the plant. Don’t try to snug them together or you will snap them. Just use them to cushion against one another.

Dear Neil: I have two bougainvillea plants that bloom very differently. One plant has blooms the size of a football. Are there different varieties?

Yes. Absolutely. Bougainvilleas come in several different floral bract colors. Some have variegated foliage and some are even notoriously shy bloomers, producing far fewer bracts than others. You should begin to see color on both of your plants over the next several weeks. This is their prime time to bloom.

Dear Neil: Several arborists have looked at these photos and said this is the result of the February, 2021 freeze. They have advised me to let nature take its course. Do you have any additional suggestions?

Radial Shake In Oak Trunk

This is called radial shake, and we have seen much more of it than we care to think about after that deep freeze of February. Many of our oaks are going to be just fine and will heal through this mechanical freeze injury, but others that have lost significant percentages of their bark have already died and need to be removed. You might want to have one of those arborists come on site and look at the tree in person.

Dear Neil: I purchased several Salvia greggii plants about three years ago. I love them, and they are in bloom almost continuously during the growing season. However, I keep losing branches within them. They turn dry and must be trimmed out. What causes that, and what can I do to stop it?

I have seen much more of that happening this year following the February freeze than I’ve ever seen before. I suspect it is latent cold injury. I would suggest trimming them significantly in February, applying a high-nitrogen fertilizer to stimulate regrowth and then waiting.

Dear Neil: Where we used to have a a vigorous fig tree that bore luscious fruit, I now have (thanks to the freeze) a clump of perhaps 85 small fig trees that have come back from their roots. I need the privacy the larger plant gave me. I can trim away many of the smaller stems, but I fear that would leave the remaining ones unprotected for this year’s cold. What can I do?

Fig With Many Stems

Those extra stems are probably not going to give any protection over the winter. They will lose their leaves, and so they will not keep much cold away. Therefore, you can do your pruning anytime you need. You would be better advised to apply 3 or 4 inches of shredded tree leaves this fall as a mulch over the entire area.

Dear Neil: I planted six abelia shrubs in spring 2020. Only one of them has any new growth on it. The other five are not dead. They just aren’t growing. Could last winter’s freeze be the cause of this? I plan to leave them through spring. If they haven’t started growing, I’m going to replace them all, but I don’t want to go to that expense if I don’t have to.

Based on my talks with gardeners across the entire state of Texas, what I’ve seen and heard about abelias is that glossy abelia (the old standard type) came through the cold quite well. However, many of the dwarf and variegated hybrid introductions did not fare as well. I have observed the exact thing that you have described in many locations. Since you didn’t mention the variety that you’re growing, I think you are wise in waiting until after next spring to make your assessment. Good luck!

Dear Neil: I have boxwood edging all over my property around my flowerbeds. What could be causing these dead areas in some of them? Most are 16 years old, but one of them in this photo is new this year.

Boxwood Dying In Patches
Boxwood Dying

I certainly hope this is not boxwood blight, the relative new disease from Europe (early 1990s) that showed up on the East Coast 10 years ago and that is now slowly spreading westward. If you search the Internet for it you will find a good many articles from agricultural universities in those areas. Here is a very good write-up from Purdue. https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/BP/BP-203-W.pdf

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of this newspaper or e-mail him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.