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


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.


I had bamboo in a five gallon container and the drought hit it hard. The leaves kept some green in them, although with a lot of shriveling. Would it help to cut it low and plant it? I’ve continued to water it. Thanks very much. 20. November 2016

It should be ok in the container but remove the dead stalks. Then, in the spring, when new shoots appear remove any bad looking shoots. It always grows better in the ground vs a pot.


Will azaleas and hydrangeas that are crisp in this drought come back next spring Should they be trimmed back ? Will pachysandra come back if it appears to be dried up? 4. November 2016

Tough questions – I think if the azalea’s leaves are shriveled and then turn brown, chances are poor. Scratch the bark and see if there is any green under it; if not, my guess is they are dead. As for hydrangeas, even if they die back, oftentimes they will come back from the roots (hopefully). As for the pachysandra, I must declare it is dead unfortunately. With it being so dry now, I think many of our plants will be severely damaged.


Where will I find your sharing of Libby Rich 20. October 2016

When she commnets it is either in Ask John or Comments and she will identify herself-john


Armadillos…YUCK! We have one that has destroyed our back yard…. Assuming he was looking for grubs, we sprayed, we had army worms too that had reaked havoc also. My husband killed the little devil last night, but we are left with hundreds of divots… what do you recommend to repair this? Just fill the holes with dirt? thanks… Linda in Mt. Olive 5. October 2016

Broom rake the area where you killed the worms, or try removing with a blower. Instead of soil, I would use sand if the holes are severe. When I have had infestations in the past I would clean the area of dead worms the best I could, and then water the area well. Generally it filled the holes, and the yard returned to normal. As for the armadillos, removal from the area is the best solution.


Hi John, we have moles in our yard and between theirs tunnels and Tinkerbell trying to get them the back yard is a mess. What do we do? 4. October 2016

The moles are looking for grubs. I don’t really have a solution except to try to contol the grubs, and granular Sevin, applied according to label directions, will help with the grubs. As for Tinkerbell, I have no idea.


when to fertilize in Birmingham 4. October 2016

That really depends on the plant. Most plants enjoy being fertilized in spring, but many can be fertilized several times a year. If you have specific plants you are wondering about, let me know.


Will old fashioned petunias do well in containers 4. October 2016

They should do fine, but I am not sure they will reseed on an annual basis.


I planted a camellia maybe 6-8 month ago and it appears to be growing nicely. There a few long straggly limbs. Appears to be some buds also. Do I let these limbs just continue growing or trim them back to make the bush fuller. Thank you. 8. September 2016

I would wait and prune in early spring after the plants finished blooming. I think pruning anything but stray branches now might cause you to loose some of your flower buds.


Reading the question concerning ground cover on hills, my would be categorized as a slope, when is the best time to purchase and plant junipers? We have some blue low growing already on hill but need more to cover bare spots. Slope faces east 6+ hours sun each day with Clay Al hard red clay with slight top of topsoil. 2. September 2016

It is no question I would plant them in late winter or early spring. The real problem is the red clay soil. It can hold water in the planting holes in the winter and dry hard in summer. Since it is on a hill, dig extra big holes. Fill around the plants with a good organic matter that contains at least 25% sand. After planting, put a raised ring of soil around the edge of the hole to catch water. Mulch heavily. This method should encourage good root growth, and thus allow them to cover well.


Is Asiatic Jasmine appropriate for use in Birmingham, AL? If so, when should it be planted? 25. August 2016

Yes, it does well here as a ground cover. If using small potted plants, most landscape folks plant them any time of the year. I would say now is not a good time. I would wait until the weather cools this fall to plant. Of course, the best time is late spring, and that will advoid any cold weather damage its first year.


Wine and Rose Weigelia….should I prune it? Thanks Linda 25. August 2016

The best time to prune weigelia is after flowering in the spring. The only thing I would do now is to shape the plant if needed.


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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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