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


try again – GraceKlein Community on Rocky Ridge Road has TONS of material for composting they are giving away free. Call Scott @ 910-2222 20. April 2017

Good to know and thanks for offering it


UGH…. Crane Flies again! Last year they were awful, large bare patches of grass gone before we knew what was happening… We are trying to be more diligent in our turf care, but the Crane Flies are back… any suggestions for something to kill before the eggs hatch? 5. April 2017

I am afraid that I do not have a magic cure. Aeration in spring helps, as well as an early application of nitrogen to the lawn can also help, but do not apply before green-up. Nothing beats having a healthy, active, growing lawn with the controls you have in place.


when do heirloom perinial petunias bloom 5. April 2017

My friend, the late Weesie Smith’s started blooming in early summer, and if we pinched off the old spent flowers, they bloomed all summer.


A friend gave me a piece of her Ginger Lily last year… I planted it in a pot and kept it covered with pine straw… I don’t know what to do with it… plant in the garden, or keep in the pot? It is getting really big. 5. April 2017

I really like them planted in a mass in part shade in the garden. While they will do okay in a container, they have a root structure that is going to fill the pot quickly, so it will take a lot of watering this summer. Either planted in the garden or growing in a large container is okay.


I had a border of Leland cypress that the drought murdered. I need to replace these with something fast growing and less disease prone. Can you give me some suggestions 22. March 2017

see answer below


I lost several cypress to the drought I need something hardy, fast growing and tall. What do you suggest 22. March 2017

It depends on how high you want the screen. One of my favorite 20 plus foot screens is Nellie R. Stevens holly. They grow very well in the Birmingham metro area. For screens larger than 30 feet, you will need a small evergreen tree. Those not sensitive to drought are not common in our area, so you might want to try cryptomeria, but they will require water.


I’m curious as to why nurseries seem to no longer offer varieties of gardenias such as the variety ‘Mystery’ that have larger leaves and blooms like the ones our grandparents grew. It seems they only offer ‘August Beauty’ with small leaves and small blooms. 17. March 2017

Many nurseries are limited by space and what is available from their wholesalers. Gardenias are not as popular as they use to be in the past. Check this spring at larger garden centers like Hanna’s, and they may have several types.


When is the best time to fertile Encore Azaleas… I use Fertilome with Systemic Insecticide. 17. March 2017

Each time after they finish blooming, so that could be up to 3 times a year depending on the selection.


When I trimmed my Oak leaf Hydrangea it did not bloom the next year. When and how do you trim them? 7. March 2017

Since they bloom on the new wood each year, prune before they leaf out.


I would like to build a hedge between my garden and my neighbors garden, I would like recommendation on shrubs that (1) will grow to at least 6 feet (2) have some berries/flowers for birds, butterflies and bees (3) are well adapted to local conditions. I live in Bluff park and one of our problem is that there is not much soil so I will need to supplement this. PS I had some cypress, but they all died with the dry weather of last year. I am having them removed. While I like cypress, I am also worried that they do not tolerate the dry conditions too well. Any advice you could give me would be appreciated. 24. February 2017

First, you are not alone in losing cypress. One of the things that needs to be decided is how fast you want a six foot hedge. I really like dwarf Burford holly, and mine came through the drought with limited watering. If you put out a good 3 gallon plant, five feet on center, expect 5-7 years to achieve what you described. Quicker growing shrubs include Mary Neil holly, ‘Bright ‘n’ Tight’ cherry laurel (short lived 10-15 years), Japanese boxwood, and Fortune’s osmanthus. But all of these will have to be kept at six feet once they achieve that height.


I’d there any weed killer that should be used on these early weeds in my centipede yard? We have applied pre emergent at the “appropriate ” times last year , but I’m seeing clover and other weeds growing now. I’m on a mission to kill them all!!!! LD in Mt. Olive 21. February 2017

About the only thing I am using on spring weeds is a herbicide containing 2-4-D. Make sure the product you buy is cleared for your specific type of grass and apply according to label directions. That should clean it up, except for Poa annua (common name annual bluegrass), which it does not control. If the Poa annua is sparse, you might want to hand pull it.


This month, it’s time to prune my blueberry bushes, fig tree, and crepe myrtle. I have read recently to wait until late February-early March since we’ve had warm temps lately and we’re bound to have a hard freeze or two before winter is over. Is it safe to prune now or should I wait? 8. February 2017

Candidly, the weather is so odd right now, who knows, if you depend on the weather. I think it is fine to prune blueberries, figs, and crepe myrtles, if they need it.


I have tons of leaves , have removed most of them by mulching and bagging with our lawn mower… is it ok to use these around shrubs in our “natural areas ” ..our yard is too large to use pine straw everywhere . We do use pinestraw in the beds around the house. 7. February 2017

Yes, it is fine to use as mulch, but it may contain some weed seeds. If you can spread a very thin layer of pine straw over the leaves, the look will be nice, and it will  help with decomposition. Buy pine straw at any big-box hardware store or garden center.


What the proper way and time to trim bearded iris leaves? 7. February 2017

I cut mine in a fan shape in late fall. If you did not do that last fall, remove dead and damaged leaves now. Leave the new leaves coming out of the rhizomes now.


I live just outside Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham and we have a HUGE deer population. I see herds every day in my 3 acre yard. Is there anything I can do to protect my plantings? They jump my fence to get in the back yard. Milorganite helps somewhat. Any advise would be greatly appreciated. 22. December 2016

I really don’t have a solution for you. I have a friend that has an electrified fence, and that does not seem to work either. My only suggestion is that over time you select deer resistant plants to replace the ones you lose from those pesky deer.


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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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