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


I have tried everything to rid azaleas of white flies. It works for a short time but they come right back. How do I rid my plants of these? 1. February 2020

The best product on the market now is Bayer Duel Action Azalea and Camellia product. Caution- wait to apply after flowering as the systemic in the product can be harmful to bees.


Please recommend fragrant trees and/or shrubs to plant. 29. January 2020

First, there are books written on this subject. The library at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens has excellent resources on the subject. My favorite fragrant shrubs include gardenia, wintersweet, anise, banana shrub, and spicebush As for trees Southern Magnolia is tops followed by sweetbay magnolia, and lilac chastetree.


I have a semi-shady and very steep slope in my backyard that’s about 8 feet high. I would like a ground cover that could make the space green and help with erosion but not sure what to choose. 24. January 2020

On a very steep slop in shade many ground covers will work but getting them established without causing the bank to erode can be a big problem. Probably the most vigorous on for this type of situation is English ivy and you can by it as sprigs from many nurseries. Others that work would be monkey grass and liriope. They can also be purchased in 4-inch pots. A little used ground cover for this type slope is the small leafed periwinkle (Vinca minor) as it roots when the stems touch the ground like ivy but is hard to find. Probably if you use Vinca you will have to have a friend to give you some. Be sure you plant each pots well and if the soil on your slope is poor amend the soil, mulch with pine straw when planted to prevent erosion. Watering the first year of establishment is a must.


Which weed killer is the safest to use on centipede and St. Augustine Grass… 2-4D or Atrazine… 21. January 2020

Checking with herbicide specialist. Will get back to you- john

Update- the expert says atrazine


Hi John, I have some hardy mums (don’t know the cultivar) that someone gave my grandmother in 1988; she had them in her yard and all the cousins have them, and BOY, are they hardy. I have been told that you can pinch the tops back to keep them bushier but you need to stop before end of June. My question: How late can I pinch them back without messing up the fall blooms? 17. January 2020

From bud set to bloom is 6-8 weeks. So the later you pinch them back the later they bloom. Most years we do not have frost before early November, so it just depends when you want them to bloom as to when you do your last pinch. Plan on 10-12 weeks after pinching before blooms show color.


Is 2-4D Weed killer safe to use on Centipede, St. Augustine yard this time of year… Hoping to kill clover before spring! 6. January 2020

While 2,4,D will not kill Centipede and St Augustine it may injure it. So it is up to you,but if dormant it will have less chance of injury.


Loquat Tree… Whats your opinion for this area? Gardendale, Al 20. November 2019

You know I have had them in my yard and sever winters they were killed back. Saying that, the quick freeze we had recently where the temperature was down to 18 degrees really is very damaging to plants like loquat that are at there upper limits of their hardiness. If you do decide to plant I would make sure it is in a protected location


Hi John. I want to plant seven japonica camellias along a fence in my backyard, and someone suggested i plant different cultivars. Is there someone at BBG or do you have a link to the Camellia society? 28. October 2019

I do not have a link but if you call the Friends office of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, I am sure they could connect you with the Camellia Society. Their number is 205-414-3950.


What wouls be your top 10 native plants for a park area in St. Clair county, near the lake -Pell City . Park are has a section with shade and a section for sun also. Thank you, Bob Haynes St. Clair Co. Master Gardener 26. October 2019

Blue Ageratum, Cardinal Flower, Joe-Py-Weed, Butterfly Weed, Black-eyed Susan, Fall Asters, Coneflower, Goldenrod, Bee-balm, and Summer Phlox. All of these are tough perennials.

Now if you want a mix of shrubs, perennials and small trees, here is my list. Native azaleas, Native deciduous hollies, Butterfly weed, Black-eyed Susan, Carolina Silverbell, Serviceberry, Summer Phlox, beautyberry, Mt. Laurel, and Oakleaf Hydrangea.


Hi John! We have a smallish back yard with a pretty, curvy bed that goes alongside our wooden fence. We are not experts at gardening and just want to put in maybe 3-4 kinds of perennials that would flow through the beds. Do you have some reliable ones to recommend for Bham area? Would love to have some different heights and a little variety in foliage color. Thanks! 20. October 2019

Here are some of my favorites that are easy to grow- Goldstrum coneflower (summer flrs), Mexican Sage (fall flrs),sweet Williams(spring multicolor flrs),dianthus also called pinks (late spring multicolor flrs),lantana(summer multicolor flrs),asters(fall mulitcolors) plus many others


Hey John, I have had great success in my lawn using Hi-Yield Fertilome weed and grass pre-emergent. I would love to use something similar in my shrubbery beds and natural areas; oak saplings are a huge problem each year. What product do you suggest? 17. October 2019

There is not much that will give you total control. Of course heavy mulch will help and the only product I would suggest is PREEN. Get the type specific to your needs. Available at most big garden centers. I think the application time is early spring but follow the instructions carefully.


Hi John, lately I have had some critter TEARING up my yard. Not just a hole or two like a chipmunk, but digging DEEP holes in my shrubbery bed. One of them was so deep I put my flat foot in it and the side of the hole were up past my ankle. Every morning I go out and it looks like elves have moved huge clumps of pine straw. Could this be armadillos, and if so, how do I get rid of them? Thanks 24. September 2019

I bet it is armadillos. Mothballs and Cheyenne peppers both are reported to deter them. Thankfully I have never had them in my garden.


I didn’t get to finish… Is this a curse from all the rain this year, or is it just a curse !!! Linda, Mt. Olive 30. July 2019

Crazy weather year!


I just wanted to say… Everything in my landscape looks awful.. Drift roses are covered in black spot, Hydrangeas are covered in some awful fungus on the leaves, they are spotted and turning yellow and dropping like flies! Lace bugs have infested my azaleas… I can’t keep up with all the spraying!! 30. July 2019

I am having some unique issues this year too. Keep the faith, we all might have a great fall garden


Hi, I m from New York ,last week I was visited in Alabama for 4/5 days for family function , in between I visited to the botanical garden .I was so impressed to see the natural beauty in the park .My question to u is that in my backyard I have two fruit trees .One is Peach / Second is Green Apples .When it’s time to get a fruit I was surprised that Apple and Peach both r bad Rootten fruit .I don’t know ,this is second year now going on . 15. July 2019

Both apples and peaches in our area are tough to grow at home because they need to be on a regular pesticide program to produce good fruit. As for your area check with your local county extension agent for specifics on what you need to do to have successful peaches and apples in your area


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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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