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’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.


I have a brown turkey fig tree in a large pot next to a south facing brick wall. I’ve wrapped the pot with black plastic and stuffed pine straw between the plastic and the pot. Should I also wrap the tree limbs or is just protecting the roots enough to overwinter outside. It’s too heavy to move indoors. 23. November 2017

I am no expert on this subject but when I go to Petals From The Past and see how they protect their citrus from cold temperatures; they cover the entire plant. So my guess would be covering the whole plant is best.


Are Tulips difficult to grow in the Birmingham area? 10. November 2017

Not at all. I suggest that you plant them between mid-November after the weather cools through about the first two weeks in January, If you have purchased them and are not ready to plant, refrigerate but not in a plastic bag until you are ready to plant. I currently have mine on order and will refrigerate until we have continuous cold night probably plant in December


I have the ugliest mushrooms growing in my front yard and they smell awful an bugs feast on them !!!! Please help me my daughter is afraid to get out the car because of bugs an smell, thank you Brenda Mckenzie is my name my contact info is 5410275 14. October 2017

I think I have seen more mushroom types this year in yards than ever before. I put a plastic bag over them and pull them up and tie in a plastic bag bugs and all then discard it. Once the mushroom is removed, sevin might control the insects. Do not know for sure until I see an image of one but generally mushroom removal is the key to getting rid of bugs.


Is it okay to put out General Purpose Fertilizer 15-0-15 on (Aureo-Marginata) shrubs now? 20. September 2017

Yes but it is a bit late in the season.


My magnolia trees have lots of dead limbs on them. I’ve noticed others around town doing the same. What’s wrong? 17. September 2017

Well, I think we can blame it on two issues. One this is the natural time for dead branches to dehiss from the trees especially with the winds of recent days. Second, many of our trees were stressed last year in the drought so many of the already weak limbs died over the spring and summer causing additional dead limbs. I really do not think you need to worry about loosing the trees especially if they have looked healthy all summer.


Where do you buy your General Purpose Fertilizer 15-0-15. I can’t seem to locate it in a couple of nurseries and Lowes and Home Depot here in the Hoover area. 31. August 2017

Ewing Irrigation in Pelham


First, thank you for speaking to Alabama Hydrangea Society yesterday. I enjoyed your talk very much. Please tell me the Ortho Care product you recommended for shrubs instead of spraying. Also, I need to know the best fertilizer to use for shrubs.(Aureo-Marginata). Thanks.ro 25. August 2017

Ortho Tree and Shrub grandular insect control. My general fertilizer recommendation is 15-0-15 for most shrubs in our area as we generally have high levels of phosphorus in our soils. In spring if you want to foster additional growth you can increase the nitrogen number but I only do that is the plant looks poor.


I have just purchased a home and inherited these hydrangeas. How should I care for these to bring them back to a healthy state again? Also what variety are they? Thanks so much for any tips! 21. August 2017

If you sent an image I did not receive it.- john


We want to bring wild hydrangeas from the woods at our lake house in tallapossa county to our home in Hoover. When should we consider transplanting and what preparations should we make in Hoover? 21. August 2017

First, tag the ones you want to move now. If you can go around the drip line of the plant (the outer edge of the leaves) and insert a shovel in the soil to cut the roots if posssible. Then this winter dig the plants and transplant them to your garden.


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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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