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


Is it a good idea to plant Wysteria next a house, will the root system cause damage to the foundation? 3. July 2020

It is a rapid growing vine whose roots system spreads out and it trunk can get big. Of course you see it planted on houses but I would not do it if it were my house.


I have a lemon tree started from a seed about 5 years old. It looks healthy but has never bloomed or produced lemons. What could be wrong? 2. July 2020

Well, many seedlings do not bloom for many years and when they do, they fruit it will produce may not be what you expect. Good luck.


Just moved to an area that has a lot of thick red clay , what can I use to mix in to prepare for planting. 2. July 2020

Clay soil is a tough product to quickly make great soil. I like to mix good organic matter and sand with the clay. The real problem is mixing well as the clay needs to be well mixed with the soil and organic matter so it looks like one soil. One solution is to do some raised beds.


John, I have a very large and old ash in my backyard. There are two troubling areas that look like borers are at work. If you are ever in Bessemer, I would really appreciate if you could stop by to take a look and advise. I’m only about a half mile from City Hall at 1510 6th Ave N, 35020. Fond regards from a fan, paul davis 17. June 2020

Try digging into the holes you think are borers and see if you can dig them out. Will try to stop by but about the only time I am in Bessemer is when we eat at the Bright Star.


Hi John, I have several gardenias; several are August Beauty and there are some other cultivars that are doing well, but the blooms don’t smell like the gardenia bushes I remember from my grandmother’s house (probably 1970s). Someone suggested to me that the ‘old fashioned’ gardenia that I’m probably talking about the ‘Mystery’ cultivar. Do you know some of the older cultivars? 5. June 2020

All of the ones I know are fragrant but none are more fragrant than the parent (Gardenia jasminoides). It can still be found in many garden centers. The second most fragrant, in my mine, is the Dwarf Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides ‘Radicans’). After these two the heavy fragrance lessens.


Hi, there are quite a number of established walnut trees in my neighbourhood, including 2, large old trees in my garden. This year most of them haven’t developed foliage and many have what looks like orange lichen growing on the branches. Some of the trees do have a small amount of new growth but there are no leaves on the established branches. If the problem was just one tree I would say age might be the problem but so many are affected. What might be the problem? Paul 2. June 2020

Frankly after reading about your issues I still am not much help. The orange material is a fungus but indicates the tree is not healthy but not necessarily dying. I would take pictures and e-mail or take them to Dr James Jacobi at the Hanna Center at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and see what he says. He is a great pathologist.


I have a rose bush problem: a half doz knockout roses and one don Juan has been dying back for two summers. They grow thick thorny new canes, bunches of tiny leaves and buds that do not fully open. I suspect my neighbor’s weed killer or my application two years ago of bloom booster fertilzer. Can the plants be saved?ago 30. May 2020

It really sounds like rosette disease, Check the pictures under knockout rose diseases. If that is the case I would pull up the plants and destroy them.


I ordered a lemon tree and when it bore fruit I discovered it was actually a lime tree. But the pith or peel is extremely thick and the fruit extremely dry. What is wrong? 20. May 2020

First guess is that it has been grown on the dry side. They like water and fertilizer when blooming. Second guess it is a seedling and that is what the fruit look like and tastes.


MY SWEET HUSBAND BOUGHT 3 ROSES FROM TRACTOR & SUPPLY FOR $2 EACH. I HAVE NEVER WORKED VERY MUCH WITH ROSES. IT THERE A WAY TO RESURRECT THEM 5. May 2020

I need some help with your request. Did he buy you bagged roses or containerized roses. In either case are there any leaves present and do they have any green stems. Please respond and I will try to help when I know what you are dealing with.


Hi john, I have some new england asters that I bought at the BBG sale last spring. They get really tall, and I’d like to encourage them to be more bushy. I’ve read that you can ‘pinch’ back the tops, but is it too late to do that considering how tall they are now? 2. May 2020

They are considered a late summer to early fall bloomer, so I would feel comfortable cutting them back to mid-summer. This will still give them time to produce flower clusters for fall flowering.


Among the treatments listed to get rid of sawflies which one do you recommend? 26. April 2020

A blast of soapy water that knock the off the leaves is a temporary fix. Most insecticides say they control them but for long term results dust with Diatomaceous Earth.


Hi John, I am confused about fertilizers for acid loving plants; products such as ‘Holly-Tone’ and ‘Ferti-lome Azalea, Camellia, Rhododendron 9-15-13?’ The Holly-Tone has numbers of 4-3-3, yet the Ferti-lome has a higher middle number? Why are they different and which one would you suggest for azaleas, gardenias, camellias, etc? Thanks!’ 6. April 2020

I think either is ok but the high middle number is phosphorus and our soil are typically high in phosphorus. I would recommend that you use 15-0-15. It will save you a lot of money and will probably get as good or better results.


I am located in Lee County and looking to direct sow seeds into my vegetable garden. One problem – we are expecting 5-6.5 inches of rain over the next two weeks. While there are dry days in there that I could potentially sow, I am concerned about too much moisture rotting my seeds. How much rain is too much rain for newly sown seeds? If I wait until after this rainy spell, I am concerned that it might be getting too late in the season for certain vegetables. I could start the seeds indoors and transplant later but I would rather avoid transplanting if I can. 6. April 2020

With that much rain I would not seed the veggie garden until the heavy rains are over. I often time start in pots and then transplant to the garden. I am afraid with that much rain the seed will wash everywhere.


Would you happen to know a good place in Alabama to get a young Meyer lemon tree? 1. April 2020

Meyers Garden Center, Hanna’s Garden Shop, and Warren Family Garden Center should be good sources. But, I would call first to make sure they have some that have not over wintered in their greenhouses


Looking for Elsie Lee azalea. Would you know good online supplier? 5. March 2020

Wilson Brothers has good credentials. Have not ordered from them.


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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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