Ask John

BearTools_Fotor If you have a question about gardening in the Birmingham area, ask John. John Floyd has been gardening–and learning about gardening–for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience in the garden, John has degrees in horticulture, plant taxonomy, and plant physiology from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

If you need to include a photo, you can email your question to BirminghamGardeningToday@gmail.com


How much Sun can a MACHO fern take? 17. March 2018

Most sources say they are fine in full sun but in my experience not full sun all day. I perfer to grow them where they get a bit of flitered shade in the hottest part of a summer day.


What fertilizer do you recommend for camellia bushes? 15. March 2018

see answer below


My Sargent Professor Camillia is very old… we had to cut all the lower limbs due to some type of disease that killed them all… so it looks like a tree… I really hate the way it looks… How severe could we prune it down hoping that it will sprout some new growth 15. March 2018

Old camellias have some characteristics that generally leave them with lower limbs bare or dead and are removed. Apparently, yours has grown tall, and from the several different posts I assume you want to cut it back to stimulate new growth on the lower part of the trunk. First, you can radically prune it now if you desire, but I would do it over several years instead of all at once. New growth on the lower limbs will require bright sunlight. So in year one, I would remove enough limbs below the desired height to encourage lower trunk or stem growth. Then in year two, I would take the rest of the plant down. Do this after flowering and make sure the new lower limbs get plenty of sunlight. Also in spring I would, in this case, fertilize it with a high nitrogen numbered fertilizer to stimulate foliage growth. Look for something with a high first number similar to 12-6-6 or 10-5-5. Remember this is going to take years to produce a beautiful looking plant.


Do you know how to get rid of flick weed aka jumping jesus? 25. February 2018

A fall application of a pre-emergence should give good control but since it is spring you can direct spray a pre-emergence herbicide containing 2,4-D. Since it seeds and they germinate quickly repeated applications my be necessary to control permanently for this growing season.


When do I cut my roses back? Alao I have a rose bush that has an ant bed around it, what can I use to kill the ants without killing my roses Thanks Carla Williams 24. February 2018

Cut your roses back now. As for the ants, any good ant killer should work and not kill the plant.


I dug new flower beds in the late summer and created a monster load of henbit. I was unaware what it was at first and due to health issues it really got out of control. I know I will need to apply a pre-emergent, but what I need to know is will a late winter/early spring application help at all or will I need to handweed as best I can and apply a pre-emergent in the fall. I’m willing to apply pre-emergent first part of March and then again in the fall, but will my spring efforts be a waste of time and money? Thanks, Patti in N. Alabama 24. February 2018

Spray it now with a herbicide containing 2,4-D and apply a pre-emergence next fall. Once it dies from the 2-4-D application plant as desried.


This is our first year having to prune our drift roses. Could you tell me the best time to do this? Also whats the best way to prune them? 22. February 2018

Really they are easy to prune as they do not need much. Shape as desired and remove any dead or damaged branches. As they grow older you might want to remove a few old canes each year to stimulate new growth.


Hi John – we have a number of oak leaf hydrangeas in our yard that seem to be suffering greatly from deer eating away at the bark. We inherited the yard and gardens from a master gardener when we bought our house two years ago. Although some 21. February 2018

Se answer on your question in part two of question.


I’m sorry, my hydrangea question got cut off. Some of the branches are still alive (green when I scratch them) but many are dead. I am trying a repellant this year as a fence isn’t practical 21. February 2018

I do wish I could be helpful but I know of no control that works on deer other than tall fencing. I hope the repellant works for you.


I’m pulling abundant weeds growing on the surface of pine bark mulch- there a few purple flowers and I’m sorry I can’t ID the weed- My question, can I place this weed on my compost OR can you offer a suggestion for best way to recycle this weed as opposed to city pick-up, sending to landfill, Thanks! 20. February 2018

More tha likely it is a weed called henbit. It produces lots of seeds so I do not like to put it in my compost pile and neverif the flowers are in full blooms. I suppose you could compost them now as they are just in bud but I probably would not. One thing I do with stuff like this is to paper bag it and send it along with my yard trash which goes into a landfill where the material is being composted on a long term (years) basis. Our community puts this type material with the winter leaves and other natural refuse for future use as compost.


Hello John, 5. February 2018

Same to you.


Pruning knockout roses 25. January 2018

There are really lots of thoughts on pruning Knockout roses. It is not absolutely necessary to prune them but most of them need shaping. I would remove all crossed branches or ones that rub each other first. Then I would shape it to the desired height and width. Any time now is fine to do this up until it warms in the spring but most folks prune at this time of the year and I agree with that.


Do you favor liquid, granular, Hanging or stake type deer Repellent stations or electronic deer repellers? 17. January 2018

I am not avoiding you. Since I have never dealt with this problem I have reached out to a friend of mine to see if he has been successful. I am waiting for his response.

Finally, got a response from my friend that has a vegetable garden that had a deer problem. Here is what he did and said it worked. Had a five foot fence put in and added several feet of post to the corners and then stretched colorful cords in several rows around the garden and that deterred the deer. Also he said a dog that is active and lives outdoors is also a great deterrent. He did not find any of the sprays and repellents that worked.


When is the right time to plant poppy seeds in the Birmingham area? What is the best way to plant them? Thank you. 28. December 2017

First, let me say that I have never grown them in the Birmingham area from seeds but have enjoyed growing them from transplants. There are lots of types but I assume you want to grow the big oriental poppies. Thompson and Morgan recommend direct sowing in spring or fall but I would sow them in a container in good well drained fine soil where we can see if the seeds germinate. I think it is fine to seed them in early spring here for transplanting in late March. READERS- please comment on your experience in sowing poppy seeds. Thanks- john


How short should you cut the zoysia in the winter 18. December 2017

I leave mine at the same height I cut it during the year. BUT, I cut mine in the winter several times to keep the leaves and debris off the dead grass. I guess you can cut it shorter but I wait until early spring and lower it one wheel height of the mower if I think it needs it. One final thought. I bag my cuttings which I think it is important for zoysia.


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13 thoughts on “Ask John

  1. Greetings John, My beautiful Peace lillies have an infestation of a scaly type of insect…aphids…I attempted to eradicate them by cleansing the stems and leaves with a damp paper towel and then followed up with a banana peel. As a deterrent, I would break off pieces of the peel and place around the top of the dirt. This seemed to work for a little while, but then I notice some of the leaves begin to grow limp and then turn yellow and I just cut them off. I would appreciate any suggestion and I really prefer the “Natural” remedy, but am open to whatever help you can offer. Thank you.

  2. thank you for replying re: fertilizing my various hydrangea types. I’m going to purchase the 15-0-15 you suggested and I plan to put some, dry, around the base of each plant. Some are very mature–the latest additions were planted in October, 2014. OK to treat all one time either now or very early summer? Thanks again.

  3. I transplanted some daffodils several years ago from my family home in Grove Hill, AL. The blooms do not seem as bright and yellow as they did in their previous environment. Is there a food they need to be more colorful and not so pale yellow? The foliage looks great; only the flowers are not as bright.

    • It might be several things, but usually the depth of color is pretty constant. Once they finish blooming, I would give them a bit of fertilizer. There are products especially for bulbs, but an all-purpose fertilizer like 15-0-15 (which is what most of us need to use in this area) can be sprinkled throughout the foliage. Also, if the bulbs you dug were in a sunny spot, and yours are in shade, that might affect the color somewhat. Other than that, I really do not have any ideas. Let’s hope next year the color will be brighter and clearer.

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